Council Tax freeze confirmed for Falkirk residents

Council tax in Falkirk will be frozen this year, after councillors agreed to accept Scottish Government funding in its place.
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Members of Falkirk Council unanimously agreed to accept the equivalent of a three per cent rise as they took the unprecedented step of setting the council tax a full week earlier than the budget.

Council leader, the SNP's Cecil Meiklejohn, said: "The pandemic has had an impact on everyone and every household, and helping everyone to some degree with no increase in council tax - having been fully funded by the Scottish Government - is the right thing to do."

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However, members of all three parties also agreed to write to the Scottish Government finance secretary Kate Forbes, asking for reassurance that the increase would be baselined - meaning this year's increase would be built-in to future settlements.

alkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.alkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.
alkirk Council Leader Cecil Meiklejohn.

Mrs Meiklejohn proposed writing the joint letter, saying a decision would remove at least some of the uncertainty facing local government finance at the moment.

The Labour group agreed with both proposals, with leader Robert Bissett saying the freeze would help families in the short term.

He particularly welcomed the move to seek assurances that it would be baselined, to avoid problems next year.

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The Conservative group also agreed to both - their leader James Kerr saying the freeze would help "thousands of people who are struggling".

The decision means that Falkirk Council will still have a band D charge of £1,225.58 which is the fifth lowest in mainland Scotland.

This was the first time that the decision to set the council tax has been taken separately from the budget, so next Thursday, the full council will meet again to agree the rest of the package for the year ahead.

Legally, members must set council tax by March 11 each year, but in practice this has to be done as early as possible to ensure bills can be sent out in time.

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Chief finance officer Bryan Smail said that the decision to split the two had "been triggered by unique circumstances relating to the lack of information available this year".

In particular, the Scottish Government's draft budget has not yet been agreed and in previous years this has had a big impact on local government finance.

The exceptional circumstances around Covid means that the administration is proposing to use £1.5 million of the council's reserves to help balance the budget.

This will take them down to £7.5 million, the recommended floor for Falkirk's reserves.

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There are other options to be discussed next week - such as harnessing capital funds and taking a loan payment holiday - that could also help cushion the finanical impact Covid has had.

The proposals do not contain any charges for brown bins or special uplifts, despite reports circulating on social media recently.

Mrs Meiklejohn made a plea to her political opponents in the chamber to have a constructive debate next week.

She said: "There are only so many ways you can cut the cake - but if there's not enough cake to go round, you have to make the best of what you have."

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