Ian Gray has called it wrong on council tax

I know I am the new burd on the blog and probably should not be ruffling feathers but….

I disagree with SNP Tactical Voting – Ian Gray has called it wrong on council tax.  I don’t necessarily disagree with the thrust of his post, that the tone of the SNP’s response is unhelpful nor that the mud-slinging can in any way be considered good political debate.

I disagree because the post fundamentally misses the point.  No one needs to be calling for council tax rises.  All the political parties – and bloggers and commentators too – should be demanding that local authorities gather more of the council tax already due to them. 

The percentage of council tax collected in any year is one of the indicators by which the Accounts Commission measures the performance of our local authorities.  The indicators are very much input and output focused but this one actually provides us with useful information.  And it does not make for pretty reading.

In 2008-09 – the last year for which the Commission published data – the amount of council tax collected fell in over half of local authority areas.  And 17 of the 32 councils failed to collect 95% of the tax due to them.   There are lots of caveats.  The data is not totally uptodate and peformance may have improved dramatically in 2009-10.  I doubt it.  Any increases and decreases in collection rates are actually pretty marginal.  In most council areas, the figures have been largely static over a much longer time frame.

It may well be that local authorities have already spotted this chance to bring in more money next year.  I’d like to hope so.  But then I was ever the optimist…..

So before we all take sides in the political mudslinging, we should focus on the issue at hand.  Local authorities will need every pound and penny they can lay their hands on.  No one is disputing that.  Perhaps though, they’d like to collect all – or at least more of – the money currently due to them before shouting for the right to raise more.  

One way they could do that, as I suggested in an earlier post, is by making sure everyone who is entitled to council tax benefit is receiving it.  That way, in a cunning ruse, we’d be levering more money from the UK Treasury into council coffers, while helping hard pressed individuals and families all over Scotland. 

What d’ya reckon Jeff?