Most councils agree to Swinney's tax freeze

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MORE than half of Scotland's local authorities had agreed to freeze the council tax as of last night, with the others expected to follow.

The decisions made yesterday by 18 councils to back the freeze marked a victory for John Swinney, the finance secretary, in a tough week for the minister. He was still smarting from being forced to ditch his local income tax proposal on Wednesday.

With four councils already signed up to the council tax freeze before yesterday, it leaves only ten more to confirm it in the coming weeks. Council leaders said yesterday it was unlikely any would decide not to support the freeze.

Pat Watters, the president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), yesterday said he expected his colleagues to give their support.

Local authority leaders have questioned whether any council would risk the wrath of voters by exceeding an inflation rise in the council tax at a time of a recession.

As the 70 million offered by Mr Swinney covers an inflation rise, which would be withdrawn from councils if they increased the council tax, the view is that it would be better to take the government's money.

One of Mr Watters's deputies in Cosla, Neil Fletcher, a Liberal Democrat Aberdeen councillor, told The Scotsman: "The Scottish Government will penalise financially any council that raises council tax, hence making it impossible to do so. The money is more than inflation, but less than any council will need during the current economic conditions."

It means threats of rebellions by some of the councils over refusing to freeze council tax have ultimately proven to be hollow.

Yesterday, Alex Salmond, the First Minister, was already celebrating the second council tax freeze in a row since the SNP came to power.

During First Minister's Questions, he mocked the Conservative leader, Annabel Goldie, about her party's record. He said: "We know that when the council tax was introduced by the Conservative Party they put it up by 40 per cent. In the ten years from 1997 it went up another 60 per cent.

"The reason the council tax freeze in Scotland is so widely welcomed is that these parties, the council tax parties, managed to double it between them."

The Scotsman had already been told by 27 of the 32 councils that they would be freezing the council tax. Among the councils to do so yesterday was North Lanarkshire.

The council's finance convener, John Pentland, said: "By freezing council tax levels, we should maintain our record as having the lowest council tax levels in the west of Scotland."

However, many councils have issued warnings over the economic climate, combined with the lack of flexibility by being "forced" to freeze the council tax. East Dunbartonshire has said it will need to find 6 million worth of cuts, and in Falkirk there will have to be 9 million of savings.

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