SIC council tax rise among lowest in Scotland, chief executive says

SHETLAND’s council tax rise of 4.5 per cent is among the lowest in Scotland, according to chief executive Maggie Sandison.

A rise of 10 per cent, for example, has now been approved in Orkney, while Western Isles council will increase its fee by five per cent – the same as Aberdeen.

Some other local authorities are imposing a higher hike – East Lothian is going up by seven per cent, for example.

But only a few have so far gone for a lower rate than Shetland – Perth and Kinross is increasing council tax by 3.9 per cent, while Highland is four per cent.

Shetland councillors made the decision to increase council tax by 4.5 per cent in February.

There was some concern voiced on social media regarding the impact this could have on the community during the cost of living crisis, but elected members had already frozen the rate last year, and rising inflation meant the majority of councillors sided with the 4.5 per cent rise.

In the council chamber Shetland Central councillor Ian Scott proposed another freeze, citing the value of the local authority’s reserves, but this was comprehensively beaten in a vote after only being supported by Labour member Tom Morton.

Sandison said when it comes what Band D properties pay in council tax, Shetland is the “lowest level in Scotland”.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

It comes as the council highlights a significant budget challenge as it prepares to set its financial position for the 2023/24 financial year.

It has already issued a list of possible options councillors will consider in the budget setting process to save money whilst also increasing income.

At Orkney Islands Council the hope is that a 10 per cent council tax increase, and drawing a record amount from reserves, will mean no cuts to services this coming year. But officers there are warning that service reductions may be inevitable if a funding disparity is not resolved by the government in the future.

SIC chief Sandison said the cost of living crisis was “very much in our minds when we were setting the proposed level to recommend to members”.

“I think we were thinking about what was the range of affordability, recognising that people on the lowest income have direct access to council tax benefits to help them,” she added.

“But also recognising that the funding gap that we have in terms of services – if we can’t maintain services for people, the people who will be hit the hardest are the people who are struggling to live well in Shetland.”

Sandison said it is the “people on lowest incomes who benefit often from our services”.

She suggested that in some ways charging people for council tax “enables us to help people most, and support them.”

The 4.5 per cent increase would bring in an extra £463,788 a year to the council, but in a report presented to February’s full council meeting a funding gap of more than £4.7 million was highlighted.

Sandison said some services to support vulnerable people are not statutory services, so “they’re not things we get funded for”.

“We’d pay for that through our own income or council tax,” the chief executive said – referring to the early intervention and prevention work in the Anchor Project as an example.

In terms of the budget setting which will take place next week, Sandison said officers have identified some ways of saving money instantly, while some proposals would involve reviews which would go out to consultation before being reported back to elected members.

She added that a focus of the council’s financial approach will be vacancy management – such as whether unfilled posts be frozen.

Sandison highlighted that “we used to budget for being fully staffed, so it has been underspent historically”.

Shetland News