Patrick Harvie’s budget deal with SNP leads to more cash for council services

Greens’ Patrick Harvie; SNP’s Derek Mackay; Holyrood parliament building; Burgh Hall in Church Street, Dumbarton and Labour’s James Kelly.

By Bill Heaney

Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie, joint leader of the Green Party, struck a significant deal when he persuaded the SNP government to agree to changes in their draft budget for the next financial year.

Hard-pressed, poor-mouthed, cash-starved West Dunbartonshire Council, which deputy SNP administration leader Caroline McAllister claimed to be on its knees and so skint that it could not afford to meet the cost of a pay rise for its workers, will receive additional cash.

sturgeondochertyhughesando27hara4This is despite the fact that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, pictured right, has repeatedly said this was impossible to achieve unless money already allocated to another project was diverted to something else.

That would have been a case of the SNP robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay said he was “pleased to have reached an agreement” minutes before the Holyrood budget debate was due to begin this afternoon.

The new deal includes more core funding for councils and extra powers for them to levy local parking and tourist taxes.

Green co-convener Patrick Harvie said the deal was the result of “constructive politics”, and that his party had worked on for months to secure extra protection for local services and movement towards reform of local taxation.

Observers believe this could lead to boundary changes and councils such as West Dunbartonshire being merged with the likes of Inverclyde and East Dunbartonshire. Perhaps even Argyll and Bute.

The deal will see the Greens support the government throughout all three stages of the budget process.

Mr Mackay unveiled his plans in December, with his budget including extra funding for education, the health service and infrastructure alongside a widening of the tax gap for higher earners north and south of the border.

The Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats quickly ruled out backing the proposals, partly because the Scottish government has refused to rule out calling for another referendum on independence.

They have also highlighted what they say would be a £319m cut to council budgets – a figure the government contests.

The deal struck with the Greens – the third in consecutive years – includes:  £90m for the core local government settlement; a cap on council tax rises increased to 4.79% and a move to three-year local authority budgets, which could see job losses in council finance department.

There is legislation to allow councils to set a local “tourism tax “and power for councils to set a levy on workplace car parking spaces, which is a major problem in Dumbarton, near the council offices.

There will now be cross-party talks on replacing the council tax, although the eventual 4.7 per cent ceiling which is an increase on the current three per cent will inevitably lead to householders paying more.

How much more is yet to be decided.

Mr Mackay said the deal would “ensure our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement”.

He said: “These additional measures will deliver the most significant empowerment of local authorities since devolution and provide additional funding to support local services.

“This enhanced package offers up to £187m of increased funding and flexibility to councils, on top of the £11.1bn local government settlement.

“In total overall spending power for local authorities next year will be £620m higher than it is currently.”

Mr Harvie said the government had “seen sense” after “consistent Green pressure”.

He said: “Scottish Greens will always be firm but constructive in these situations. Scrapping the Tories’ council tax and giving councils more powers is a historic victory. All parties now have an opportunity to help bring about a fairer system of funding essential local services.

“On top of recent reforms to income tax, today’s deal shows yet again Scottish Greens are leading the change, making Scotland the fairer country we know we can be.”

Council umbrella body Cosla (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) said they “welcome that local government’s voice is being heard”.

The Scottish Conservatives said the SNP had broken promises to voters not to bring in a tourist tax –  or raise council taxes by more than three per cent.

Finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said the deal was a “triple tax bombshell which will do nothing for the competitiveness of the Scottish economy”.

Labour’s James Kelly said his party “would never sign up to a budget that has cuts to local services in it”.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said the Greens had been “bought cheaply”, adding that Mr Harvie had “settled for the vice-convenership of the car parking working group”.

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