THE SNP’s announcement council tax would be frozen next year “was not handled well”, the Green co-leaders have said, as they expressed their “deep frustration” with a lack of reform.

Patrick Harvie told the Holyrood Weekly podcast that councillors in his party remain “very concerned” about the policy, and see it as akin to the UK Government telling the Scottish Government what rates devolved taxes should be set at.

He added there needed to be “new momentum” injected into the idea of ditching council tax - something that has been floated since he became an MSP 20 years ago, but has never come to fruition.

Lorna Slater, meanwhile, said she hoped bringing in a fairer form of taxation could be accelerated after Humza Yousaf suggested there was a need for a greater commitment to fundamental reform.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison revealed after the SNP’s conference that the decision to freeze council tax was only made in the 24 to 48 hours before Yousaf’s speech.

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The Greens – who the SNP are in a co-operation agreement with – were not consulted on the move and immediately voiced concerns about it, with Ross Greer saying he was worried about “the effect this freeze could have on already-strained frontline public services if it is not properly funded". 

Asked how he felt after the announcement, Harvie told the podcast: “I don’t think it was handled well and I think the First Minister has acknowledged that he didn’t think it was handled well, the way it was sprung not just on us, but I’ve seen SNP local government colleagues expressing the same disquiet.

“It left a lot to be desired.

“Green councillors across the country are very concerned about eroding local government’s ability to make local government decisions.

“We have argued for a long time that it would not be acceptable for the UK Government to come and tell the Scottish Government ‘now you’ve got some devolved taxes, we’ll tell you what rates to set’.

“I was relieved that the First Minister actually stated the need for a greater commitment to fundamental reform of council tax, that's where we need to be going with this.

“Since 1999 we’ve had the ability to replace council tax with something that’s fair, modern and workable and it hasn’t happened. We need to inject new momentum into that.”

The National: Humza Yousaf confirmed council tax would be frozen next year at SNP conference Humza Yousaf confirmed council tax would be frozen next year at SNP conference (Image: PA)

Yousaf pledged to stop any rise in council tax next year in a bid to help households with the cost of living crisis, but walked out of The Event Complex in Aberdeen to a huge backlash from local government body Cosla, as he was accused of going against the Verity House Agreement (VHA) with council leaders.

The VHA was designed to “reset the relationship” between councils and the Scottish Government and included a pledge of “improved engagement” on budgetary matters.

Cosla – which was also not consulted – described the move as “deplorable”.

The Association of Scottish Green Councillors are set to move an emergency motion at the party’s conference in Dunfermline on Saturday, which describes the freeze as “unacceptable”.

The party says while the freeze will be “fully funded”, it must equate to a “fair settlement” for local authorities, with councils and Cosla involved in deciding how that is delivered.

Slater said the current council tax structure is not fit for purpose and there needed to be faster movement on pledges in the Bute House Agreement for reform.

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She said: “It doesn't provide councils with enough flexibility. It doesn't provide them with a way of implementing progressive taxation.

“The root cause of the issue here is a lack of reform for council tax. I'm glad that the First Minister has recommitted to that process. The Bute House Agreement said we would start this process but I’m hoping we can accelerate that so we can work together to understand what fair taxation looks like and what properly funded councils looks like.”

Harvie added he could not foresee any major changes to council tax in the immediate future but hoped action could still be ignited before the end of the parliamentary term.  

He said: “It’s deeply frustrating that session after session of the Scottish Parliament, there’s not been a willingness to achieve consensus [on reforming council tax].

“Ideally, what you want is to get change through with more than just a bare majority in parliament. That’s really difficult at the best of times in Scottish politics with the polarisation that we have, and it's even more difficult right at the moment in the run up to a UK election, where Labour feel that they're on the verge of replacing a discredited toxic Tory government.

“So it may be difficult in the immediate months ahead to achieve that kind of cross party consensus, but I think if we can also re-mobilise the public appetite for change there, that may help to move us all into a space where we actually get the momentum into this agenda and make real progress during this parliamentary session.”