CANDIDATES for the leadership and deputy leadership of Scottish Labour will hold their first debate seeking support from members today.
Ken Macintosh and Kezia Dugdale are vying for the leadership, with fellow MSPs Alex Rowley and Richard Baker joining Glasgow City Council leader Gordon Matheson in the race for deputy leader.
Speaking ahead of the hustings, at Edinburgh’s Apex International Hotel, Mr Macintosh pledged to end the SNP’s “damaging approach to local government finance”.
He will say: “John Swinney refers to the council tax freeze as a ‘partnership approach’ but local councillors have been forced to accept budgets drawn up and imposed from Holyrood while our local authorities shed jobs in their thousands and public services are stretched to breaking point.”
He added: “In my own local authority, the Council is having to decide between selling off a care home, losing vital hours of dementia respite and support or closing down one of our learning disability centres. They have no alternative sources of finance and are not even allowed to look at raising the Council tax by £1 for every resident.
“For a government that is constantly arguing for full fiscal responsibility, it is entirely hypocritical to deny that choice to our directly elected local authorities.
“We need to give local councils more control including an alternative income stream to the Council tax, such as the tax on alcohol offered by social responsibility levy or the revenue from the newly devolved Crown Estate. The council tax freeze has helped families through a difficult economic time but we should allow local people to decide for themselves whether they want it to continue or not.”
He continued: “Council budgets are failing to keep pace with inflation which means that, year-on-year, the pot of money available to finance the basic services we need just to keep society functioning is getting smaller and smaller.
“John Swinney and Nicola Sturgeon claim the council tax freeze is popular among voters and they may be right, but bribing people to make them like you is not a responsible way to run a government.
“Devolution has empowered Scots to take more control of our own lives and we should not be centralising decision making for the whole of Scotland in Edinburgh. The next stage is double devolution: giving councils, communities and individuals more responsibility not less.”
SNP business convener Derek Mackay said: “In each and every budget, the SNP has delivered and defended free bus passes, free personal care, abolished tuition fees and introduced free prescriptions as well as the council tax freeze.
“By 2016, the Council Tax freeze will have saved households an average of £1,200 - with those on lowest incomes seeing the biggest savings as a proportion of their household income.
“It is for these reasons and our commitment to standing up for Scotland both at home and at Westminster which explains why the SNP’s support is at 60 per cent in the most recent poll, while Labour trail at only 19 per cent.”