04 March 2020

S5M-21090 Scottish Rate Resolution

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-21090, in the name of Ben Macpherson, on the Scottish rate resolution.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I want to pick up on a few issues that other members have raised in the debate. I will go through them chronologically.

Let me start with Donald Cameron. He seems not to be here to hear me, but I am sure that he is listening somewhere. It was exceptionally brave of him to raise the issue of council tax, given that the average band D household council tax in England is £429 higher than the average band D council tax in Scotland. Donald Cameron therefore gets full marks for bravery and, perhaps, a few odd bonus marks for effrontery.

Rhoda Grant seemed to suggest that, under the proposals, I will pay less tax than I used to. I will consult the Official Report later, because I cannot really believe that she said that. I have gone into my database, got out my tax returns, and have found—I have various sources of income—that I am now paying £2,051 more per annum than I previously paid. I am happy to do so, as would many people with a social conscience in Scotland.

Rhoda Grant also criticised the relationship between the SNP Government and councils. There is a key thing that we did in 2007. When the SNP Government came in, we found that the Labour Party had left us with a situation in which 25 per cent of the money that councils got was ring fenced. We cut that amount dramatically. It has crept up a wee bit, subsequently, but councils have freedom that they very much welcome.

Willie Rennie—the man who never takes an intervention because he knows that it will hurt too much—criticised capital spending. When the Liberal Democrats came to me, when I was a Government minister, about the replacement Forth crossing, the budget was £3.4 billion to £4.3 billion. When the crossing went into the Official Journal of the European Union for bids, the top was £2.3 billion and the floor was £1.9 billion. We built it for less than £1.4 billion—half a billion pounds below budget. Willie Rennie, as a Fife MSP, should tak tent.

Alexander Burnett said so much that I am not sure that I have time to deal with it. Let us start with one of the crippling things that the Tories have done for local authorities across the UK: they have doubled the Public Works Loan Board interest rate. How will that help councils across the UK? It was done simply to tackle the abuse of borrowing powers by a couple of councils in England, which put money into commercial investments. The Tories could have dealt with that in another way.

Alexander Burnett criticised the position of Aberdeenshire Council. I have looked at Audit Scotland’s 2019 report on Aberdeenshire Council. In the period from 2013-14 to 2018-19, it did extremely well in improving its position—only West Lothian Council and Midlothian Council did better. Moray Council, which covers the other council area that I have the privilege to represent, was next. The Scottish Government is therefore undoing historical wrongs in council funding. Members will get that information on page 19 of the Audit Scotland report.

As I approach the end of the four minutes that I have, it is perhaps worth reminding members that the subject of income tax is fascinating. When did income tax start? The answer to that question is 1798. Who introduced it? It was William Pitt the younger—a Tory.


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