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Last Updated: Thursday, 12 February, 2004, 18:10 GMT
Pensioners protest at tax rises
Council tax protest
Charities claim pensioners are being discriminated against
Pensioners have staged a protest in Aberdeen as the north east of Scotland saw the largest council tax rises in the country.

About 50 people took part in a march to voice anger at the 8.6% increase, which was backed by city councillors.

Nearby Moray will see the largest tax hike in the country, with bills rising by 9.8% in the coming year.

Bill Knight, chair of march organisers Grampian Senior Citizens Forum, said the scale of the rise was "horrific".

"It will mean a great deal of hardship for pensioners," he told BBC News Online Scotland.

Council tax form

"We warned the councillors that it means people cannot pay - not that they won't pay, but they cannot pay when they take it up to that level."

He said part of the blame lay with the "under-funding" of the council by the Scottish Executive.

And he predicted that opposition to the tax would start to kick off in light of such increases.

"We are not going to give it up because it is horrific for a Labour government to impose this on the poorest people in the community," said Mr Knight.

"Pensions only go up with the cost of living each year."

Mr Knight said he was pleased with the turn-out at the march, which was organised to show city councillors the strength of feeling as they arrived for the meeting.

Average grant

Aberdeen City Council, which is run by a Liberal Democrat/Tory administration, said it had been affected by Scottish Executive under-funding.

Council leader Kate Dean said the council would have received an additional 39m if it had been given the average grant per head of population.

"This new administration is determined to break this long-term cycle of under-funding Aberdeen," she said.

"We have continued and stepped up the dialogue with the Scottish Executive about the under-funding.

There should be something fairer, something more equitable, something which does not discriminate against older people
Help the Aged spokesman
"The problem is clearly a regional one and we are working in conjunction with Aberdeenshire Council and will also engage other parts of the public sector which suffer similar problems."

In Moray - an area which is also covered by the Grampian forum - bills will rise by almost 10%.

The council said there were a number of factors driving the need for a large tax increase.

The most expensive was the increasing cost of road maintenance, which has seen the council double its budget by 3m.

There are also rising costs of tackling flood defences and maintaining local water courses, while an extra 1m was needed to fund services for children with special educational needs.

Moray Council added that householders in the area already paid one of the country's lowest council tax rates.

I am interested, in order to ensure efficiency and value for money for local people, in why they went against national trends
Andy Kerr
Finance Minister
Across Scotland the increases have averaged about 5%.

Help the Aged said elderly people were continuing to lose out.

"There should be something fairer, something more equitable, something which does not discriminate against older people," said a spokesman.

The pensioners charity is planning a petition which would call on the Scottish Parliament to appoint an expert body to examine the fairness of the council tax and look at the viability of replacements.

Ministers said the current system would be examined as part of the forthcoming local government review.

Finance Minister Andy Kerr said he was "surprised" that two councils' bills were not in line with expectations.

"I respect the right of councils to make local decisions but I am interested, in order to ensure efficiency and value for money for local people, in why they went against national trends," he said.

BBC Scotland's Brian Taylor
"The entire tax system is now under attack"

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