Page last updated at 13:30 GMT, Friday, 17 October 2008 14:30 UK

Funding for council tax freezes

John Swinney
The finance secretary said there would be funding for the freeze

Funds to freeze council tax for another year are being made available and small businesses are to be offered 100% rates relief, the finance secretary has said.

John Swinney told delegates at the SNP party conference in Perth that "tens of thousands" of the country's smallest firms would benefit from rate cuts.

The reductions will be introduced from April next year.

Local authority group Cosla said a tax freeze was open for discussion but would be down to individual councils.

Mr Swinney said a council tax freeze would help those facing rises in other bills during the economic crisis.

He added: "In challenging times we cannot rest on what we have already done.

When other bills are rising the people of Scotland can rely on the Scottish Government to freeze the council tax
John Swinney
Finance secretary

"We must do more to help people and businesses deal with the new economic conditions.

"That means fighting to protect jobs and decision-making in every single part of the Scottish economy but particularly at this time in financial services - and specifically on Halifax Bank of Scotland."

He added: "When other bills are rising the people of Scotland can rely on the Scottish Government to freeze the council tax.

"The Scottish Government - on your side."

Cosla president Councillor Pat Watters said: "Cosla will be happy to discuss a potential council tax freeze with government and make an assessment if the funds available from government are adequate to cover service provision to communities.

"But the actual decision to freeze council tax is of course a matter for individual local authorities."

Mr Swinney also insisted the Holyrood Government was doing its bit to help the country through the economic crisis.

It had reshaped its building plans to help the construction sector, was improving the planning system to remove barriers to development and was promoting Scotland as a tourist and business destination, he said.

'No sense'

He also repeated demands made by First Minister Alex Salmond in his conference opening, that the Treasury release Scotland's share of the fossil fuel levy.

Mr Swinney said: "Ofgem don't want the money, it's Scotland's money, but daft accounting rules as part of the United Kingdom mean that for every 1 we take from that fund, the Treasury in London will take 1 from our block grant.

"We cannot in effect use or touch that money that is indisputably ours.

"This makes no sense in today's economic climate."

He added that there was so much they could use the money for - like delivering low-cost renewable energy.

That, he said, would mean lower bills and more jobs for Scotland.

'Real powers'

Mr Swinney attacked the economic record of the Labour party, saying it had brought the country to the brink of recession, with rising unemployment, rising inflation and the banking system in crisis.

He also called for Scotland to have "real powers for the economy" so real differences could be made to the lives of Scots.

He said: "We must have financial powers that give the same responsibilities and opportunities to Scotland as other small independent countries have at their disposal.

"It is even more important for our nation, for our families and for our future that we move to the same independence that is at the root of all nations' resilience and success."

Mr Swinney also spoke of the Climate Change Bill due to be published later in the year, claiming it would be a bill able to lead international action.

He said ministers had listened to the mood of the country and would demonstrate action on emission reductions.

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