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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 February, 2004, 15:32 GMT
Scrap council tax, says Swinney
John Swinney
John Swinney says the poorest are being asked to pay too much
SNP leader John Swinney has called on First Minister Jack McConnell to back his calls for the scrapping of the council tax.

Mr Swinney said the tax unfairly penalised the poorest Scots and urged Mr McConnell to support his demands for it to be replaced.

He wants an income-based local charge instead of the property-based levy.

But Mr McConnell insisted he would not pre-empt the outcome of a review taking place into local government finances.

The clash involving the two leaders came during question time exchanges in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday.

Mr Swinney said: "I don't think the first minister has in any way tackled the problem of the burden of council tax on the poorest families.

"Over the last few years the burden for richer families has remained almost static, but the increase for people on lower incomes has been three-fold.

'Easy to collect'

"That is an enormous burden on lower income households, even when you take council tax benefit into account.

"Now that we know that council tax hits the poorest hardest, we know we're going to have a review, can the first minister tell me what form of local taxation he will argue for in that independent review?

"Will he argue for the abolition, the retention or the amendment of the council tax in Scotland?"

Mr McConnell said he believed that property-based taxation, like the council tax, "has a place" in local government funding.

Council tax form
Council tax bills rose by an average of 4.4% across Scotland
He added: "It is easy to collect, it is broadly related to people's wealth and that is an important factor.

"I also believe that there are other issues in the local government finance system that require to be tackled.

"As first minister I have a duty to establish an independent review of local government finance, not pre-empt the outcome of the review in advance and I've no intention of doing so."

Mr Swinney continued to press the Mr McConnell by saying there was a "concensus" building around Scotland against the council tax and in favour of a form of local income tax.

He said: "What's now clear is that the council tax attacks the poorest the most in our society.

"Is the first minister going to defend the system that penalises the poorest in our society or is he going to join the concensus in Scotland and support a system based on ability to pay?"

Mr McConnell said the Labour Party was in favour of a reformed council tax and would argue for that in the ongoing review.

He added: "We work in a chamber here where power is shared with other parties and we're prepared to put our ideas into the independent review on local government finance and let's all wait and see what the outcome is."

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