SCOTTISH councils have received more money than they need to fund the council tax freeze, finance secretary John Swinney today indicated.
The SNP minister rejected claims that the measure has seen seen disabled Scots suffer through massive hikes in charges for care services as cash-strapped local authorities try to bolster dwindling budgets.
The council tax has been frozen since the SNP came to power in 2007 and will continue until 2016, but has prompted concerns that councils are being left without the money to pay for key services.
A report today by the Accounts Commission indicates it has led to a hike in charges for a range of council services like leisure centres and adult day care.
Labour’s Siobhan MacMahon today said charging for the care of disabled people has shot up up 12.5 per cent in recent years, with some councils now charging 100 per cent of the “spare income allowance” to individuals.
She told Mr Swinney during a meeting of Holyrood’s equal opportunities committee today that MSPs have been previoulsy heard concerns from disabled representatives about the impact.
Bill Scott of Inclusion previously told the committee that the freeze was “being partially funded by increased charges on disabled people”, adding that this group is an “easy target.”
Pam Duncan of Independent Living in Scotland also told MSPs earlier this month that the council tax as a “regressive form of taxation, but you need to unfreeze it because the freeze is not sustainable.”
Tressa Burke from the Glasgow Disability Alliance had said the freeze has meant that “for the past seven years, apart from disabled people, nobody has paid any money towards what are rising costs - we feel social care should be free at the point of delivery.”
Mr Swinney said he respected the views of the previous witnesses at the committee.
But he said: “I don’t agree with them.”
“The Scottish Government has fully funded the council tax freeze at a level of £70 million per annum,” he added.
This has often exceeded the inflation level, he added.
“I could make the argument that the Government was actually giving local authorities more money than they required to freeze the council tax because inflation was not as high as the 3.2 per cent which envisaged when
I set out the £70 million support in 2007/08.
He added that over the past five years the money that councils are free to spend - not their overall budgerts - has increased 8.9 per cent compared with 6.4 per cent for the Scottish Government.
“The argument that suggests somehow local authorities have not been properly supported and have then had to go to a charging approach is ill-founded,” he said.