Scrap council tax freeze, say rural experts
The Scottish Rural Commission is also calling for better broadband and an end to aviation taxes.
The group was established by the Conservatives, and party leader Ruth Davidson said she will “seriously consider” the call to ditch the council tax freeze ahead of the next election.
The plea is contained in 97 recommendations made by the group yesterday.
The Tories have argued for a freeze since 2003 and supported the SNP in imposing the policy from 2007.
But commission head Hugh Campbell Adamson said there “has to be local involvement in decision-making” as he launched the report yesterday.
“The council tax is so centrally subsidised and centrally capped you’ve lost that locality,” he said.
The Tory election manifesto for 2011 conceded that the freeze could go on forever and suggested local people might be given the power to stop increases above inflation in future.
Ms Davidson said: “I think there have been questions raised about the way in which taxation is working in this country.”
She said the suggestion was something that the party “will look very seriously at” when drawing up a future manifesto.
Cosla president David O’Neill recently suggested the freeze – which cost the Scottish Government £490 million this year to fund – cannot go on.
Spreading broadband connections across rural areas was identified by the commission as the top priority for politicians.
It also called for a looser planning system and better focus on tourism, as well as an end to air passenger duty which penalises Scotland because it is at the periphery of Europe.
“Nowhere is the urban-rural divide more obvious than in broadband provision across Scotland,” the report states.
“Access to the internet has evolved to being absolutely essential for individuals and communities, the public and independent sectors, for business, education, healthcare and leisure.”
The commission calls for a universal service obligation to be placed on broadband providers to ensure decent speeds.
On land reform, it urges the rejection of an absolute right to buy. The controversial policy, if implemented, would allow tenant farmers to buy out landowners even if they are unwilling to sell.
The report calls on Tories to consider altering the planning system which it describes as the biggest barrier to progress. Legislation could be used to allow community bodies to create “neighbourhood planning authorities”, it suggests.
SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said: “People in Scotland have overwhelmingly backed the SNP’s council tax freeze, not least those supporters of her own party who have given it their strong support in a recent opinion poll.”