By Bill Heaney
Councils, including West Dunbartonshire, would be able to raise more than £1 million a year if they were to double council tax on owners second homes in this country.
Labour appear to have been involved in a photo finish with the SNP to bring in this tax after Tom Arthur, the Minister for Community Wealth and Public Finance, revealed in the Holyrood parliament that the income would be £35 million.
This would amount to more than £1 million for each of Scotland’s 32 cash-strapped councils whose budgets have been cut to the bone by the SNP.
Particularly here in West Dunbartonshire, where we have had an SNP council and the SNP government slashing services, jobs and grant support, leaving the community down on its uppers.
It was little wonder then that the Labour MSP Mark Griffin asked how much additional revenue it anticipated that local authorities would be able to raise, in light of its reported proposals to enable them to double council tax on second homes.
Tom Arthur told him: “Our proposals would give councils discretionary powers to set fairer and more appropriate council tax levels to support thriving communities and to prioritise homes for living.
“That, in conjunction with other action such as owning investment in building an additional 110,000 affordable homes, will contribute to achieving our aim for everyone in Scotland to live in a safe, warm and secure home in the place where they want to be.”
Mark Griffin said enviously: “People say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I am delighted that the Government has decided to proceed with our proposals for an empty homes council tax escalator, which could raise an additional £30 million on top of the £35 million that the minister mentioned.
“The longer someone leaves a home empty, the more the absent owner should pay, but dragging out the doubling of council tax on second homes through yet more consultation is typical of the Government.
“It is wasting time, depriving our communities of cash that councils could be collecting right now.”
He added: “The Government already has the powers, so can the minister confirm that primary legislation to deliver a council tax escalator, which will be key to the Government’s new deal for local government, will be ready for councils to use in the next financial year?”
Tom Arthur told him: “The actions that we are taking reflect the commitments that we gave in our Housing to 2040 strategy and, indeed, in the Bute house agreement. I appreciate that, from the calm waters of Opposition, the member’s job is to simply call for things, but the Government has to deliver. In delivering legislation, we have a responsibility to consult, not least because engagement is a key part of our framework for tax.”
Mark Griffin was obviously not content with this. He said: “Yesterday the First Minister said in his announcement that the powers will help to free up housing, which is an ambition that we share, because we need to use the stock that we have in a better way.
“However, missing from the set of proposals are powers for local councillors to force the sale or rent of a property to deliver Labour’s £1 home scheme for aspiring home owners or even the First Minister’s key workers homes proposals.
“We should be creating a complete and comprehensive package of powers to tackle the issues of long-term empty homes and homelessness.”
He added: “The Government said that it would deliver compulsory rent and sale powers, and the Scottish Land Commission and the Scottish Empty Homes Partnership have agreed, so will the legislation that the minister talked about include those powers?”
But Tom Arthur was promising nothing. He replied: “I cannot speak to legislation that will emerge via the consultation process, but the member raised a number of serious issues. I am sure that my colleague Paul McLennan, the Minister for Housing, would be happy to engage with him on particular aspects relating to housing.
“On the matters relating to council tax and local taxation more generally—specifically, how such taxation can be used to achieve what I think are shared ambitions on housing—I would be more than happy to engage with the member on the detail during and after the consultation process. In the spirit of co-operation and being collegiate, I welcome the Labour Party’s support for the Scottish Government’s proposals.”
Top picture: Holiday homes like this one would attract double council tax to raise extra funds for Scotland’s cash-strapped councils. Pictures by Bill Heaney