Dundee residents should not be left to foot the bill for a council financial black hole of up to £14 million, it has been claimed.
Opposition councillors say the prospect of a hike in monthly fees paid by households will only add to pre-existing concerns brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and other pressures.
But Dundee City Council says an increase may be needed due to the impact of coronavirus, Brexit, inflation and the availability of support grants.
Council tax previously frozen
All Scottish councils froze council tax earlier this year after the Scottish Government offered incentives in return for keeping the bills at the same level.
Finance secretary Kate Forbes will reveal the government’s spending plans on December 9 when financial support for councils will be announced.
Some other councils have already stated they will wait until after this date before deciding on a potential council tax rise.
The last rise was in April 2020 when it went up 4.8%, meaning some homeowners saw a hike as big as £150.
£14 million hole is ‘enormous’
Labour group leader Kevin Keenan, who was once leader of Dundee City Council, says he knows that discussions will have taken place to try to put a figure on how much of the cash will need to come from council tax.
Mr Keenan said: “The council will need to make assumptions at this stage on how much money they need to balance the books next year and in to the future.
“The population is living in very uncertain times and this is not what they want to hear.
“With blunders like the roofing situation, it’s hardly surprising that the public want answers.
“£14m is an enormous gap.”
The black hole also comes as the council needs to fork out more than £4m on repairing the Olympia swimming pools.
Mr Keenan says that an increase in the amount households now have to pay to get brown bins emptied — branded a “garden tax” by critics — is another example of locals bearing the brunt of the council’s financial situation.
“That was a huge increase,” he said.
“A rise from £35 to £40 per bin works out at a 14% hike. That seems like a bit of a stealth tax.”
Council tax rise a ‘very unsellable prospect’
Liberal Democrat group leader Fraser Macpherson says he still hopes a council tax rise can be avoided with assistance from the Scottish Government.
He said: “It’s a very unsellable prospect to tell people your council tax is going up but your level of service is going down.
“That would be completely unacceptable.
“I will be making the case that we should press the Scottish Government to get the best possible level of settlement for councils this year.
“If we are facing a shortfall of £14m then there is a very clear case for further funding.”
SNP councillor Willie Sawers, the council’s deputy policy and resources convener and finance spokesperson, has confirmed the council is considering a council tax rise, as well as other savings.
He said: “There are a number of options we will need to consider, which includes the prospect of a rise in council tax to bring down savings.
These are tough times, and we will no doubt have to take tough decisions.
“We are facing a unique position and the council is working hard to limit the impact on services to the people of Dundee.
“I will be watching the Scottish budget closely on December 9 and a further report will come before councillors in January outlining our actual grant settlement.
“These are tough times, and we will no doubt have to take tough decisions.”
Scottish Government budget to set out spending
A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said: “Decisions on local government budget allocations are subject to the outcome of the on-going discussions with COSLA, the results of which will be confirmed in the Scottish Budget on December 9.
“The 2022-23 draft Scottish Budget will set out how we will deliver our new Programme for Government, reflecting the challenges facing households, communities and businesses as Scotland continues to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.
“This year’s budget is expected to be challenging as a result of the continued pressure facing our public services and no additional COVID-19 funding from the UK Government.
“However, Ministers will ensure all investment is focused on helping people across the country.”