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Scrap “discredited” council tax says prominent group

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​Group of campaigners and academics forms to offer an alternative to the council tax

Scotland’s “discredited” council tax should be abolished – to be replaced by a fairer, more equitable property tax, says a newly formed campaign group.

Scottish Property Tax Reform (SPTR) said it has been formed to make the case for a fair system of property taxation, believing the council tax undermines local democracy.

It comes as the Scottish Government launched a commission to seek an alternative to the council tax with SPTR aiming to influence its work and put forward propositions for replacements.

Members of the group include Professor Mark Stephens, Professor Glen Bramley and Professor Mike Danson of Heriot Watt University; land activist Andy Wightman; Professor Richard Kerley of Queen Margaret University; Professor Ken Gibb of Glasgow University and Professor Jim Gallagher of Nuffield College, Oxford.

They say property taxes can help make housing more affordable – reversing the trend that has priced more and more people out of housing.

Property taxes also reduce boom-and-bust cycles in the housing market they claim.

These cycles allow a few people to get rich, but at the cost of leaving thousands of people in negative equity and having their homes repossessed when prices fall, says the group.

It is based on property values that are almost a quarter of a century out of date

Professor Mark Stephens, who is the convenor of the new group, said: “The council tax is unfair, but politicians have been reluctant to reform it.

"It is based on property values that are almost a quarter of a century out of date. It is now so discredited that it has been frozen for years and this is undermining local democracy in Scotland.

“Members of the group are concerned about the lack of understanding about how property taxes work.

“It intends to provide information and briefings for politicians and political parties, as well as improving the quality of information and analysis available to the public through the media and other sources.”

The council tax was introduced in Scotland in April 1993, when it replaced the poll tax, which in turn replaced domestic rates in 1989.

Intended to be a hybrid property tax and charge for local services, the tax places properties into one of eight bands, based on their 1991 value – a system that is outdated claims SPTR.

The SNP was committed to introducing a form of income tax to replace the council tax in its 2007 manifesto.

Its proposal to use the Scottish Government’s tax varying powers meant that this would have in effect been a national tax, and failed to gain the support of the Liberal Democrats which support a local income tax.

But these plans were abandoned by the SNP once in government.

Stephens added: “We must move away from the idea that economic prosperity can be founded on artificially inflated house prices,” he said.

“It is time to shift the burden of taxation away from unproductive assets and back into the real economy.”