Johann Lamont signals support for land tax plan

Johann Lamont: 'Unbelievably dispiriting' that SNP MSPs declined to debate problem of funding Scotland's services. Picture: PA
Johann Lamont: 'Unbelievably dispiriting' that SNP MSPs declined to debate problem of funding Scotland's services. Picture: PA
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SCOTTISH Labour leader ­Johann Lamont has signalled support for a new land tax as part of a shake-up of the way local services are provided in Scotland.

In an interview with Scotland on Sunday, Lamont praises research on the radical reform, under which tax is paid on the value of the land that people own, rather than the property on it.

Backers, such as the Scottish Greens, say the reform would cut bills on council-tax band A-D properties while also bringing an end to damaging speculation such as that seen before the 2008 crash.

However, such a plan is bound to be resisted by those in Scotland’s most expensive homes, who would be likely to pay more, and also among landowners and farmers. ­Every plot of land with property on it would have to be ­valuated before the system could come into effect.

Lamont claimed that the current council-tax model had been “killed” by the policy of an “underfunded freeze” in bills, put in place by the SNP government.

She also said it was “almost impossible” to begin a debate about tax reform when the ­levels of trust in politicians was so low. She said it was “unbelievably dispiriting” that SNP MSPs had declined to even debate the looming problem of funding Scotland’s services at a time of growing austerity and rising costs.

She declared that major ­reform was required.

“There is some interesting work being done on land-value taxation,” she said. “How can you get ‘buy-in’ for that? People need to know it is fair and that money will get spent on the things they care about.

“For example, when Glasgow invested in its primary school estate, it transformed it. I think that is what people are looking for.”

Her intervention comes after Business Secretary Vince Cable told the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last week that a land tax in England was also being considered by the UK coalition government.

He admitted that farmers and those with large land holdings could face higher bills, but added that exemptions might apply.

He also conceded that politicians were “terrified” of reforming the council tax because it would involve scrapping the popular freeze and a potential revaluation.

“The next step is for government to have a look at the practicalities,” he said.

Three years ago, a paper for the Scottish Greens written by land-reform campaigner Andy Wightman concluded that a tax of 3.16p in the pound would be enough to replace the council tax and the uniform business rate in Scotland.

Wightman said such a tax would reduce “urban blight” and “land banking”, and would benefit business.

He said: “Scotland’s existing property taxes are very badly designed as indeed the Scottish Government’s own economic adviser, Professor James Mirrlees has concluded.

“Council tax bands, for ­example, have never been ­revalued since 1991.”