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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 06:41 GMT
Councils tax collection rates up
Council tax card and money
500m is still outstanding across Scotland
Scotland's local councils have improved their council tax collection levels to the highest figure since 1996, watchdogs have said.

But Glasgow has the poorest collection levels, notching up its lowest rate since local government reorganisation in 1996, while Orkney had the highest.

Scotland's biggest city is also owed the most in unpaid council taxes, with 128m currently outstanding.

The figures came in a report by the Accounts Commission.

Improved performance

Across Scotland, councils collected more than 91% of the council tax due last year - 1.38bn from a total 1.5bn.

Collection levels improved in 29 of Scotland's 32 councils, with only Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, and the Scottish Borders failing to improve on their previous year's collection levels.

But there were huge differences between councils - Glasgow had the lowest collection rate, at 83.7%, while Orkney had the highest, at 97.7%.

Since local government reorganisation in 1996, councils have collected 93.7% of the money due them, said Audit Scotland, which prepared the report for the Accounts Commission.

But the study revealed more than 550m is still outstanding.

Councils have performed better this year than ever before by collecting a higher proportion of the council tax due
Accounts Commission

The report said the five councils that reported the lowest collection levels for the period from 1996 to last year - East Ayrshire (90.5%), Glasgow (84.4%), Inverclyde (91.3%), North Ayrshire (91.9%) and West Dunbartonshire (87.8%) - were also the councils with the lowest annual collection levels.

"Glasgow (128m outstanding) and West Dunbartonshire (almost 20m outstanding) collected the lowest percentages of council tax due since 1996," said the report.

But Alastair MacNish, chairman of the Accounts Commission, praised the overall improvement.

"Councils have performed better this year than ever before by collecting a higher proportion of the council tax due," he said.

"The year-on-year improvement by most councils is very encouraging. However the outstanding debt from previous years is still very significant.

"We urge councils to do as much as they can to collect council tax in the year that it is due, because the longer debts are outstanding, the harder they are to collect."

'Kick in the teeth'

The report also found councils are becoming quicker at processing benefit claims as well as paying their invoices on time.

The authorities have also kept staff sickness levels to an average 12 days sick leave a year, the same as in previous years.

Finance Minister Andy Kerr welcomed the report as "encouraging".

"These statistics are welcome - improved levels of council tax collection in particular," said Mr Kerr.

But the Conservatives accused the minister of complacency.

Tory local government spokesman Brian Monteith said council tax had increased by nearly 50% since Labour took office, and the outstanding 500m represented "a kick in the teeth".

He added: "Not only have people had to put up with massive rises in tax despite receiving no noticeable improvement in the services they pay for, but it is now clear that they continue having to pay through the nose because their council seems unable to collect tax properly."


SEE ALSO:
Budget rise for Scottish councils
17 Dec 03  |  Scotland
Councils urged to contain tax
04 Dec 02  |  Scotland


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