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Last Updated: Friday, 16 November 2007, 17:35 GMT
Councils consider tax freeze deal
John Swinney
Mr Swinney offered councils backing for a freeze worth 70m

A deal which could freeze council tax will go to local authorities after their leaders unanimously agreed to take it forward.

It comes after an agreement with Finance Secretary John Swinney, which was reached prior to Wednesday's government spending review.

The government will provide an extra 70m of funding to councils to keep them at this year's level.

Council leaders will now put the agreement to their own authorities.

Each council will then decide whether the cash will allow them to freeze its council tax without damaging services.

I would encourage every local authority to take up the government's offer
John Swinney

Cosla president Pat Watters said: "Council leaders today unanimously agreed that this is the best possible deal for local government under the circumstances."

He added: "The deal will be taken back to councils by leaders for local determination."

The freeze would be in place for year, after which time Cosla said earlier this week that it would be open for negotiation again.

Mr Swinney said: "I am delighted that the concordat between Scottish Government and Cosla has been unanimously endorsed by the leaders meeting.

"The Scottish Government looks forward to working in partnership with all of Scotland's local authorities to implement this ambitious package of measures."

And he said: "I would encourage every local authority to take up the government's offer of adequate resources to deliver a council tax freeze."

Deal commitments

The agreement between Cosla and the government gives local authorities both greater flexibility and increased responsibility.

Under the agreement, councils will agree to deliver a set of commitments, including freezing council tax, reducing class sizes, increasing pre-school provision and making more police available in communities.

But there will be benefits for local authorities too, with less money being "ring-fenced" - or set aside for specific purposes.

Council tax
Council leaders will now present the deal to each authority

And for the first time councils will be able to keep all their efficiency savings.

The public sector has to make efficiency savings of 2% per annum and Mr Swinney has said councils, uniquely in the public sector, will be able to keep all the savings.

The 70m sum represents a tiny fraction of overall government funding, which will total almost 35bn over the next three years.

Councils can expect 11.1bn next year, 11.6bn the following year and 12bn in the third year as part of the budget.

But negotiations between Mr Swinney and leaders of Cosla, the local authority umbrella group, had continued just hours before the budget was announced on Wednesday, suggesting the deal was not achieved easily.

One local authority, West Dunbartonshire Council, has already committed itself to freezing council tax.

The City of Edinburgh Council said the deal would need to be examined in detail before it could make any commitments.

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