Exclusive:Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison hold crunch talks with council leaders

It comes amid anger from local authorities over budgets and a proposed council tax freeze

Humza Yousaf and his deputy Shona Robison have told local authority leaders they are continuing to prioritise the council tax freeze as they held crunch talks amid an ongoing row over budgets.

The First Minister and Ms Robison, who is also the finance secretary, held an online meeting with Cosla, the council umbrella body, on Friday morning.

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It comes after Ms Robison warned local authorities they would not receive money to cover a council tax freeze if they opt to increase the levy.

Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesHumza Yousaf and Shona Robison. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

She said authorities would not get a share of the £147 million the Scottish Government has pledged to fund a council tax freeze equivalent to 5 per cent if they increase the tax.

Ms Robison said the latest meeting was “constructive”, adding: “In addition to the £147m allocated in the Scottish Budget for the council tax freeze, the Scottish Budget 2024/25 makes available record funding for local government with a 3.2 per cent real-terms increase on this year’s Budget.

“We are clear though that the Scottish Government’s priorities remain the council tax freeze, which would benefit council taxpayers across Scotland, and protecting teacher numbers, which is an important part of closing the poverty-related attainment gap.”

Earlier this week, Ms Robison told the BBC the budget settlement for councils was “fair” in the context of what she described as a “real-terms cut” in the Scottish Government budget from UK ministers.

She said political leaders in Cosla had said they wanted the money for the council tax freeze, “plus a number of other asks, which isn’t a very reasonable negotiating position”.

“We had been making progress, I thought, to date, but political leaders have passed a motion that makes that very challenging,” she said earlier this week.

“We will continue to discuss with Cosla where there are areas of further compromise, but it has to be reasonable, it has to be fair to the rest of the public sector, it has to be fair to council taxpayers.”

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Last week, Cosla agreed the council tax freeze should be on a “voluntary basis” and the £147m earmarked by the Scottish Government for this purpose should be distributed to all councils with flexibility to raise council tax by up to 5 per cent.

Mr Yousaf announced a council tax freeze at the SNP party conference in October last year without consulting council leaders – a move Cosla described as having caused “real anger” among members at the time.

Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie previously accused the Scottish Government of “bullying” and “stomping all over democratically elected councils”.

The Scottish Greens, who have a power-sharing agreement with the SNP, have also been critical of the freeze. Green MSP Ross Greer told one newspaper: "The Scottish Greens, categorically, will not be supporting future freezes to the council tax.” He said it “shouldn't be for national government to make decisions like this”.

The SNP previously froze council tax for several years after it came to power in 2007. The revival of the policy was seen as an attempt to win support ahead of the next general election.



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