Alexander promises council tax shake-up

EVERY private home in Scotland could be revalued as part of a raft of radical plans announced by Wendy Alexander yesterday as she took control of the Scottish Labour party.

The new leader said the party needed to change after losing power in Scotland for the first time in 50 years.

Jack McConnell, Ms Alexander's predecessor, was criticised during the election for failing to come up with detailed plans to reform the council tax.

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Yesterday the issue was pounced on by Ms Alexander as a key to reform.

A policy group will look at options, including a tax based on property valuation. This could include a revaluation of thousands of homes across Scotland.

That could increase bills for homeowners whose property has soared in value since the last valuation in 1991.

Ms Alexander criticised the SNP's plans for a local income tax which she said would give Scotland the highest rates of local taxation in the UK.

Last year, Sir Peter Burt, former head of Bank of Scotland, recommended to the Executive that Scotland replace the council tax with a levy based on the market value of homes. The then First Minister, Jack McConnell, rejected the idea.

Ms Alexander said the Labour party now needed to look at all the options again. "We need to look at council tax in future and make sure it is fit for purpose in the 21st century," she said.

An SNP spokesman said: "Wendy Alexander has only been in office for a matter of hours and blown another gaffe with yet another policy U-turn. Throughout the election they told voters they could keep the council tax without a revaluation."

She claimed as many as 750,000 households would pay more tax under such a plan.

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Council tax is one of a number of issues on which Ms Alexander is signalling a clear break with Mr McConnell.

"I will not pretend to a group of friends that we've always seen eye to eye," she told a meeting of Labour MSPs in Glasgow. She won a standing ovation after saying the party must learn lessons from losing the election.

This means bringing in outside expertise, including former John Lewis chief executive Patrick Macdonald, to shake up party structures.

Policy will be revised through a "virtual think tank", and consultation with members.

"For us to meet the people's aspirations, the road ahead for Labour must be the radical road," she said. "Through change and reform we will win back the trust of the Scottish people. This is the message that we must all take away today."

Despite her close ties to Westminster through her friendship with Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, and her brother Douglas Alexander, the international development minister, the MSP made clear "Labour in Scotland will be a party of Scotland, a party for Scotland."

She said: "The Scottish party must lead on those matters which are the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. I do not expect Westminster to be trespassing into devolved matters."