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Unison evidence to Scottish Parliament Finance Committee...
Unison evidence to Scottish Parliament Finance Committee

Reformed council tax is way ahead

Unison today called on the Scottish Executive to fund councils sufficiently so they can pay low-paid women compensation for past pay discrimination, and modernise their pay scales for the future. Giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament finance committee's enquiry into this topic, the union pointed out that the Executive had failed to include funding for this purpose in its recent local authority grant settlement despite that making up 80% of local council funds. If this funding does not happen local authorities will be forced to cut services, increase council tax and/or cut staff pay and conditions, in order to pay an estimated£500,000 plus compensation across Scotland.

Carol Judge, Unison's Scottish organiser (local government) said:

'It is time the Executive treated local councils fairly. The extremely tight local government funding settlement does not take account of the costs of equal pay and fair compensation. Government is responsible for delivering equal pay in the public sector and has accepted those responsibilities in health, education and other public services. Given that government also failed to update the equal pay laws adequately before the agreement we signed to deliver equal pay, this means they have considerable responsibility for the plight of councils and of low-paid women workers.'

Unison points out that current equal pay liability is 250% higher than could have been forecast in 1999, because the government failed to legislate on equal pay in line with European law before 2003 - despite having the opportunity in 1993.

However, many councils are also to blame, either for not negotiating on compensation or new pay scales with their trade unions ñ or for refusing to give unions the results of job evaluation exercises, forcing them to put in freedom of information requests and referring complaints to the Scottish information commissioner.

Ms Judge said: 'Councils should treat staff and their representatives properly, sharing information, agreeing fair compensation and equality-proofed pay scales, and decent protection for staff who may lose out. The Equal Pay Act does not say you can sack a man to create equal pay with a woman. It is based on levelling up, not down. Such threats, or widespread substantial pay cuts are unacceptable and will inevitably lead to further disputes.'

Unison's response to the finance committee's enquiry is available on the UNISONScotland website.

Reformed council tax is way ahead

Unison today urged MSPs not to support the replacement of the council tax, but instead to reform it so it better protects low income households. In a briefing sent to all MSPs before today's stage 1 debate on the Scottish Service Tax, the union argues that a property tax is an important element in overall taxation.

Dave Watson, Unison's Scottish organiser - policy said:

'Whilst it is true that the current council tax needs considerable reform to more accurately reflect peoples circumstances, to replace it with another income-based tax will hit working couples and families, and allow many well-off landowners to avoid more tax. You can't move a property abroad to a tax haven, whereas many landowners stay abroad and would avoid paying either a service tax or a local income tax.'

The union calls for more council tax bands to be introduced both at the lower and upper levels to more accurately reflect the difference in wealth.

They also say that business rates should be returned to local councils.

Mr Watson said:

'In fact a reformed council tax would be a fairer tax burden than the Service Tax or a local income tax. Many two-income households would be worse-off under the service tax than under the council tax.'

Unison is also worried that creating another income-based tax threatens to break the link between those who use local services and elected councillors.

Mr Watson said:

'The temptation to use the current income tax system to administer a local income-based tax would be irresistible, and this would centralise further powers and accountability away from local level. We urge more powers for councils by allowing them to control business rates, not to remove powers from them by taking away council tax as well.'

The union argues that non-property based taxes would not make the tax system fairer and urges MSPs to reject the Service tax bill.

The MSP Briefing is available website.

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