SCOTLAND’S main party leaders are under pressure to re-evaluate property across the country as a critical step towards local taxation reform.

An open letter addressed to Humza Yousaf, Patrick Harvie, Lorna Slater, Anas Sarwar, Douglas Ross and Alex Cole-Hamilton has been signed by more than 40 individuals, organisations and charities, including by a prominent group within the SNP.

Led by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), the letter states that the “foundations of Scottish society are being eroded” by local taxation failures, which have resulted in homes across the country being placed in the wrong council tax band.

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The signatories to the letter say that while they may have different views about how council tax should be replaced or reformed, they all agree that “a revaluation is a necessary first step for meaningful local tax reform”.

Simon Barrow, national secretary of the SNP trade union group – the party’s largest affiliate, with 12,000 members – co-signed the letter with the group’s convenor, Bill Ramsey.

The National: GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 07: A large SNP cut-out sign is reflected in the floor at the SNP's Annual National Conference at SECC on October 7, 2018 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Ken Jack - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images).

Barrow told The National that there needed to be “much more boldness” from the Scottish Government in its approach to tax reform.

He also criticised the Scottish Government’s plans to freeze council tax, which trade unionists have opposed since the announcement was made in October.

Speaking to The National about why he signed the open letter alongside Ramsey, Barrow said: "Following discussion at a members' meeting on a wide range of tax reforms last year, our executive was unanimous in wanting to back this appeal to the Scottish Government.

"A revaluation of property values is the minimum needed to address the problems of a regressive, outdated and inequitable council tax system.

“In fact we want to see much more fundamental reform, along with other measures to increase the ability of local councils to raise revenue and consideration of a land value tax.

“As trade unionists, we have been pushing hard for these changes within the party for the past three years.

"The Scottish Government has moved slowly in the right direction on tax issues, but there needs to be much more boldness.

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“Simply trying to freeze an unjust tax is not the way forward, especially at a time when many local authorities are continuing to struggle with funding services, as Cosla resources spokesperson and SNP councillor Katie Hagmann has been pointing out."

Other signatories include trade unions Unison, Unite, GMB, Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Fire Brigades Union (FBU) the Musicians’ Union and tenants’ union Living Rent, alongside charities and campaign groups such as Oxfam Scotland, Poverty Alliance and the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The level of council tax paid by people in Scotland is meant to be linked to the valuation of their property. However, the last time a property valuation was carried out was in 1991.

It is estimated that 57% of all properties in Scotland would have changed band if a revaluation had taken place in 2014. Half of these properties are believed to be in too high a band, and the other half too low.

Those behind the letter said they hope it directly challenges Scotland's political parties.

The STUC’s general secretary, Roz Foyer (below), said tax reform was not a party political issue, but was "essential to reduce poverty, inequality and give working people the public services they deserve”.

The National: Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC, pictured at the STUC's new offices in Bridgeton, Glasgow
Photograph by Colin Mearns, Jan 22, 2022

Foyer said: “The lack of investment for our public services has become a national scandal. With councils tied to a regressive council tax system – based upon rates last updated when John Major was prime minister and there was still a Soviet Union – it’s little wonder our public services are fundamentally broken.

“A wholesale rates revaluation must happen urgently. This is a red-line issue for our movement. We cannot ever hope to build a progressive, more equal Scotland with world-class public services at its heart if there is not the sustained public investment to match.

“STUC figures show that, using a proportional property tax of 0.7%, we raise £783 million more for local authorities whilst also giving the most hard-pressed folks a rebate. But this reform, or any other, can only proceed following a revaluation of property across the country.

“Scotland’s failing local tax system may be an indictment on Scotland’s political class, but the solution doesn’t need to be party political. We need buy-in from across the political spectrum. Everyone across the Scottish Parliament can seize the initiative and work together.

“In doing so and reevaluating rates across the country, we can work collectively to reduce poverty, inequality and give working people the public services they deserve.”

The open letter was published ahead of the Stage 1 debate on the Scottish Budget in Holyrood on Thursday.