Pounds 800m That's How Much Our Councils Were Underspent Last Year.So How Come Council Tax Is Going Up?; SCOTLAND'S FINANCIAL MUDDLE

The Mirror (London, England), April 8, 2004 | Go to article overview

Pounds 800m That's How Much Our Councils Were Underspent Last Year.So How Come Council Tax Is Going Up?; SCOTLAND'S FINANCIAL MUDDLE


Byline: KEVIN SCHOFIELD

SCOTLAND'S local authorities were accused of hoarding cash while raising taxes yesterday after it emerged they hold more than pounds 800million in reserves.

A report by Audit Scotland showed the nation's 32 councils had put aside pounds 839million in 2002/03, compared to pounds 686million the year before.

Councils' overall expenditure was pounds 9billion.

In the report, the Accounts Commission chairman Alastair MacNish said the reserve total is "high", although Orkney and Shetland Councils accounted for more than pounds 500million on their own.

Shetland Council put aside pounds 379million, while Orkney held pounds 185million in reserve.

Earlier this year, councils increased Council Taxes by an average of around five percent across the country.

Tory finance spokesman Brian Monteith said that, when put alongside pounds 550million in uncollected council taxes, the reserves could have paid for a reduction in this year's bills.

He said: "This highlights the fact the debate over what we call the tax misses the point.

"It is the level of tax that causes so much avoidable pain.

"With 15 per cent of council income coming from tax, the scope for cuts is massive.

"Labour taxes are too high and the Lib Dem and SNP local income tax plans would cost thousands of Scots more of their hard-earned money.

"They are the high tax, low return parties. Scotland has suffered enough."

But a spokesman for the local authority umbrella group Cosla defended the high level of cash reserves.

He said: "That kind of level of reserves shows that councils are taking a prudent approach to financial management.

"Councils have to take account of potential unforeseen circumstances and areas such as pensions, which require fairly good reserves to ensure we are not caught out at the end of the financial year."

The report also revealed that housing and Council Tax fraud in 2002/2003 was pounds 5.3million - down from pounds 6.5million in the previous financial year.

Auditors have also pledged to keep council pension funds under review after falls in the stock market saw them lose around 20 per cent of their value in 2002/2003.

Elsewhere, the report said Scottish councils had continued to improve their financial performance, but it called on more councils to set up their own audit committees to keep a close eye on budgets. …

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