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Thursday, 24 January, 2002, 11:37 GMT
Tax dodgers owe millions
Money in till
Scottish councils collected 89% of the tax due last year
New figures have revealed council tax dodgers owed Scottish local authorities about 145m last year.

The report has been unveiled on the day Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan MSP renewed his call for the council tax to be scrapped.

The figures published by the Accounts Commission for Scotland showed that Scottish councils collected 89% of the tax due last year, a 1% improvement on the previous year.

Of the 1.34bn of council tax due in 2000/01, nearly 1.2bn was collected within the year.

This parliament has failed to tackle the obscene inequality of wealth which exists in this country

Tommy Sheridan MSP
The report revealed considerable variations among councils with the amount of tax collected ranging from 96% in the Orkney Islands to less than 80% in West Dunbartonshire.

Five councils, Highland, Angus, Shetland Islands, Glasgow City and Renfrewshire, have been commended for increasing their collection levels over the last five years.

However, the commission is concerned that six councils - Dundee City, Western Isles, Fife, Inverclyde, Moray and West Dunbartonshire - have reported lower collection levels than the previous year.

Wealth redistribution

Meanwhile, during a debate in the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Socialist leader Tommy Sheridan called for the council tax to be abolished in Scotland.

The Glasgow MSP said it should be replaced with an income-based Scottish Service Tax, which, he claimed, would lead to a greater redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor.

Mr Sheridan said it was the parliament's duty to tackle poverty across Scotland and that his proposals would lead to greater equality across the country.

Tommy Sheridan
Tommy Sheridan: Service tax call
He said: "This parliament has failed to tackle the obscene inequality of wealth which exists in this country and has failed to introduce redistributive policies to improve the disposable incomes of the lowest income families.

"That's why this measure is so important because it would replace an unfair, regressive council tax system."

Mr Sheridan described his proposal as "radical" and called on MSPs across the parliament to support it.

Responding for the Scottish Executive, Deputy Finance Minister Peter Peacock accused Mr Sheridan of "grandstanding" by using part of his debating time to air his idea.

'Simplistic' proposal

He said Mr Sheridan had done the same thing a year ago and added: "His proposals today are no more acceptable than they were last year."

The Scottish Service Tax would remove the accountability of local councils and take away the financial stability which he said the authorities enjoyed under the current set-up.

Mr Peacock went on: "The council tax supports vital local public services.

"Mr Sheridan's simplistic tax proposal does not provide any sensible alternative and it joins with many of his other simplistic ideas."

BBC Scotland's Craig Anderson
"Is it a simple divide between rich and poor?"
See also:

15 Feb 01 | Scotland
Council tax bills to rise
15 Feb 01 | Scotland
Council tax figures round-up
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