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SIC welcomes call to give councils more fiscal powers

THE LEADER of Shetland Islands Council has welcomed fresh calls from the Scottish Greens to give local authorities more powers over finance.

Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

Councillor Steven Coutts said the local authority is keen to hear more discussions on how fiscal powers can be increased.

It comes after Green MSP Andy Wightman reiterated his desire to see Scotland to align itself more with other European countries, “where it is normal for cities and regions to have extensive autonomy and choices over how to use fiscal powers”.

He is proposing that the European Charter of Local Self-Government should be incorporated into Scots law – something which Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) has backed.

COSLA said that “Scotland and the UK are almost unique amongst western democracies because local government’s basic powers and autonomy are not set out in law”.

The European Charter of Local Self-Government is a Council of Europe treaty which seeks to enshrine a series of legal rights for local government.

While the UK government signed up to the charter in 1998, it has never been enacted in domestic law.

Shetland council leader Coutts said that Scotland adopting the charter would be “something the council would very much welcome”.

While local authorities have received powers to increase council tax in recent years, core funding for Shetland from the Scottish Government has reduced.

“We welcome discussions on how additional fiscal powers could work and increase local democracy,” Coutts added.

“Alternatives must ensure that the council has sufficient funding to deliver the services needed to allow our community to thrive.”

The Greens said that Scottish councils have control over only around 12 per cent of their tax income compared to near 50 per cent across most countries in Europe.

Ahead of giving a presentation at a COSLA conference in St Andrew’s today (Thursday), Wightman said:

“Scotland needs to shift this power balance away from Edinburgh and toward communities to enable the kind of genuine autonomy that is commonplace across Europe.

“SNP ministers know that Green MSPs cannot enter into talks about the budget in December if they fail to make moves to give Scotland the kind of local democracy enjoyed by our European neighbours.”