Scotland's council tax system should end, in favour of a system drawing local taxation from multiple sources, according to a cross-party report published today.
Established jointly by the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), the cross-party Commission on Local Tax Reform concludes that there is "no one ideal local tax", but that local taxation can be made fairer and more progressive through a combination of different types.
However it believes that there should continue to be a general system of local taxation, with rates set locally wherever possible, rather than a series of charges for specific services.
The report, Just Change: A New Approach to Local Taxation, examines three alternative types of tax system that could be applied at local level – taxes on property, taxes on land and taxes on income. It analyses the potential impact of each on different households and how the tax might be administered, and considers the impacts each would have on the financial accountability of local government, concluding that “A well-designed local tax system drawing revenue from multiple sources would provide more options for local democracy, delivering greater financial accountability and autonomy to Local Government.”
Commenting that "A broadening of the local authority tax base would be advantageous, and would make Scotland more consistent with most OECD countries", the report adds that there is no reason in principle why the local tax base could not be broadened to include "environmental, resource, sales or tourist taxes, as appropriate to local circumstances and local authority decision".
The Commission believes that its membership, comprising experts in public finance, law, housing, welfare and equalities as well as representatives of four political parties, results in “an opportunity not to be missed” in local taxation reform. It calls for the report to inform the development of alternative local taxation policies which will be put to the electorate in the Scottish parliamentary election in May 2016, recognising that political parties will attach different weights to the considerations for each alternative local tax.
It does not set out tax rates or recommend levels of taxation.
Welcoming the report, Marco Biagi MSP, Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment, and co-chair of the Commission said: “In publishing our report today, we put to the Scottish people the most comprehensive quantitative analysis ever undertaken to understand the links between different forms of local taxation, backed by an extensive programme of public engagement.
“From the outset – having agreed that the present system is unfair and in need of reform – we have worked together in a spirit of consensus to understand the alternatives available to us and to put to the people of Scotland a report that clearly sets out the steps that can be taken to deliver change.
“It is now up to politicians from across the political spectrum, to take today’s report and to use it to put to the Scottish people alternatives that are fair, workable and empowering for local communities.”
Councillor David O’Neill, President of COSLA and co-chair of the Commission added: “We have conducted more in-depth analysis of potential alternatives to the present system of council tax than ever before, with the aim of promoting understanding and stimulating debate among the public and politicians on the future of local taxation.
“As a result of our work, there is now a real prospect that Scotland’s politicians are on the cusp of delivering lasting and meaningful reform.
“The opportunity to deliver lasting reform is one that must not be missed.”