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Independent Highland councillors call for tax rise

Independent councillors on Highland Council who want to raise council tax to ease budget cuts
Independent councillors on Highland Council who want to raise council tax to ease budget cuts

Raising council tax for the first time in more than seven years could protect frontline services from budget cuts, Highland opposition councillors said yesterday.

The Independent group wants to increase council tax bills by 5% in order to raise more than £5million.

They called on members of Highland Council’s administration to “lead the way” in ripping up the long-standing SNP policy, of a standstill council tax since 2007. Their proposed council tax increase would mean that people living in a Band C property would pay £1 a week more.

The Independents admit they would have to give around £3.5million back to the Scottish Government if they increase council tax

Group leader, Councillor Carolyn Wilson said that the remaining money would be ringfenced for frontline services.

And she is confident that some members of the coalition will support their motion to the full Highland Council on December 18, when councillors will be asked to agree the budget.

The group is also drawing up a list of alternative savings proposals ahead of the December meeting.

She said that being able to raise council tax this year would have raised an extra £20million.

Mrs Wilson added: “If we have been able to put up the council tax in line with inflation, we’re talking in the region of£20million this year.

“We’re asking services to continually slice what they are doing and we get to a point where things that are really precious to people like gritting, public toilets, parking charges being introduced in new areas, reducing secondary school teachers.

“What is the next step going to be?”

She added: “We are laying the gauntlet down and being brave enough to saying we should be doing this for what we think are the right reasons. It is an opportunity for others to support us.

“Do you value more what constituents in Highlands really need or do you value your membership of this coalition in the council?”

Mrs Wilson said that she was also concerned that the plans to shorten the school day had not been abandoned completely and could be reconsidered in future years.

But last night, the administration’s budget leader, Councillor Maxine Smith, of the SNP, accused the Independents of planning to “throw away £3.5million of taxpayers’ money”.

She also questioned the figures produced by the Independents.

Mrs Smith said: “They would be throwing away that £3.5million of taxpayers’ money. That is what we get for not putting it up in line with inflation.”

Their proposals come just a day after the administration announced a U-turn on cutting the length of the school week to save money.

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