FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon declines to rule out council tax hike

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Nicola Sturgeon refused to rule out council tax rises next year when challenged to do so at First Minister’s Questions.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson criticised the Scottish Government’s budget claiming it sent a high tax message that would harm business and deter investment in Scotland.

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government must be able to influence the UK's Brexit objectives. Picture SWNS

First Minster Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish Government must be able to influence the UK's Brexit objectives. Picture SWNS

This week Finance Secretary Derek Mackay forged a budget deal with the Green Party that will result in middle earners paying more income tax.

The deal will see more Scots pushed into the “higher” 41p tax bracket to help fund an extra £159.5 million for local authorities.

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At First Minister’s Questions, Ms Davidson referred to a contribution made by Green co-convener Patrick Harvie in Wednesday’s stage one budget debate.

During the debate, Mr Harvie gave notice that his party would be unable to enter negotiations on next year’s budget “unless meaningful progress has been made on local tax reform”.

Ms Davidson said Mr Harvie was demanding council tax rises and challenged Ms Sturgeon to rule them out.

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The Tory leader said: “We already know that the SNP has put up taxes on buying a house. It has put up business taxes and now it is putting up tax on ordinary working people, breaking its own manifesto promise to do so. Instead of listening to Scotland’s business community, the only person Nicola Sturgeon listens to is Patrick Harvie.

“The Greens passed her budget last year, they are passing her budget this year and they are already told her which tax they want her to put up to pass her budget next year. Yesterday Patrick Harvie told the chamber he wanted meaningful progress on local tax reform and translated that means next year he is coming for your council tax.

“Surely even for the First Minister that would be a tax rise too far. Will she rule it out?”

The First Minister declined to answer the question directly. Ms Sturgeon said: “Of course we have got lower average council tax bills in Scotland than in other parts of the UK. Increases in Scotland are capped at three per cent which is much less than the potential increases in the rest of the UK. The difference here between Ruth Davidson and this government is quite simple. We are interested in protecting our public services we are interested in making sure we have the revenue to invest in world class infrastructure and business support. We want to protect the most vulnerable in our society from the impact of Ruth Davidson’s Tory cuts, particularly to welfare.

“All Ruth Davidson is interested in is tax cuts for the very richest in our society. That is the difference. I have to say to Ruth Davidson, she is on the wrong side of public opinion on this and perhaps that is why her party has hit the buffers.”

Earlier the Tory leader said there were two views of Finance Secretary Derek Mackay’s budget. One was the Patrick Harvie view that it was “the best thing since sliced bread” and the Sir Tom Hunter view that it “sends a message that we are a high tax economy.”

“Who does the First Minister think Scotland should trust with their money – Harvie or Hunter?” asked Ms Davidson.

Ms Sturgeon replied that she thought the people of Scotland should trust Derek Mackay.

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