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Sturgeon prepares to outline Scottish Government's priorities

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaking at an event in Stirling Credit: PA

Scotland's First Minister is about to set out her government's priorities for the coming year.

Visiting the site of a new school building in Edinburgh this morning, Nicola Sturgeon said education and the economy would be top of her agenda.

She's also expected to confirm her pledge to deliver superfast broadband to all Scottish properties by 2020.

Her opponents are warning against further moves towards a second independence referendum and calling for her to 'get on with the day job' of running the country:

Well the economy and education will be at the heart of the programme for government. We need to boost the economy in wake of the Brexit vote. Education is the defining mission of the government I lead. I'm her in Boroughmuir high school one of 29 new schools that will open of the course of next year. That's the biggest number of any year of the programme so far.

– Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister


Sturgeon and Johnson to headline television EU debate

Credit: Andrew Milligan/ PA Wire/ Press Association Images

Boris Johnson and Nicola Sturgeon are set to debate whether Britain should remain in the EU, in a major live television debate tonight on ITV.

Nicola Sturgeon will make the case for Britain Stronger in Europe, opposed by the former London mayor who will represent the case for Brexit.

The ITV Referendum Debate debate will be screened tonight between between 8.00pm and 10.00pm.


Peter MacMahon BLOG: Sturgeon's radical council tax reforms. Up to a point, First Minister.

Politicians of all parties like to present themselves as radical. They unveil radical policies, radical initiatives, radical proposals.

In reality they often put caution and political calculation ahead of radicalism. It's what politicians do. They have to win elections.

Today I put it to Nicola Sturgeon her move to end the council tax freeze and increase council tax rise for those in the highest four property bands was "timid". She told me it was..."radical".

And it was. But only up to a point First Minister. Ending the Council tax freeze after nine years is a big change.

Changing the top tax bands will mean a council tax rise for 25% of Scottish households.

But the radical initiative, if I can use that phrase, was also laced with a large dose of caution, not to mention party political consideration.

Ms Sturgeon made the announcement as First Minister, though it looked rather like a manifesto pledge as its implementation depends on theSNP being re-elected in May.

And there can be little doubt electoral considerations played a part in the SNP government's move, even if the proposals were drafted by politically neutral civil servants.

The First Minister was able to pledge £100 million extra money raised to education, thereby wounding if not shooting Labour's one penny in the pound tax rise fox.

But the corollary of 25% paying more council tax is that 75% won't. Helpful when you are about to face the voters.

And Ms Sturgeon could say she was handing local government greater freedom of movement by ending the council tax freeze - though they will only be able to raise it by 3%.

Oh and the SNP can say council tax continues to be lower than in other places like...let's think of somewhere...well England, as it happens. That is pretty much the election script we will hear from the SNP when it comes to local government, and local taxation, in the run up to May's vote which polls suggests will result in another Nationalist majority.

But if the plan is only radical up to a point, how much more radical might this proposal have been?

Well, the SNP could have stuck to a promise they made in 2007 to introduce a local income tax. That's gone, filed under too difficult in terms of administration and possible across the board tax rises.

The Nationalist administration could have gone ahead with re-valuing the properties across Scotland on which council tax charges are calculated.

It is, their opponents say, a nonsense that the values were last calculated in 1991. The government's own commission on local government funding pointed out that more than half the total properties in Scotland could be wrongly valued.

But no, that particular radical move was not implement and Ms Sturgeon told me today that if re-elected she "did not plan to do a revaluation...". Her critics, her radical critics that is, say that is because there could have been too many losers and not enough winners.

But Ms Sturgeon and indeed most of the other parties with the exception of the Greens, know their political history.

When the rates existed a revaluation panicked the Tories, then in power, and the result was a 'radical' new plan, the community charge or 'poll tax'. As we all know that did not turn out well, and Tory ministers of the time like Sir Malcolm Rifkind now admit they made a "mistake".

Ms Sturgeon could also have been more 'radical' in terms of allowing councils complete freedom on raising, or indeed in theory lowering, council tax.

Her answer to that is she remembers when council taxes were soaring when the SNP was in opposition at Holyrood and how unpopular that was with voters.

She will not quite put it like this, but it appears she simply does not trust councils not to hike to the council tax if they got the chance, and she thinks that the public will be on her side on that one.

In the longer term there is a plan for councils to be allocated a share of the income tax raised locally and for them to benefit more in terms of tax take from economic development.

Now 'assigning' some of the local revenues of income tax would, the SNP say, give councils and incentive to grown their local economy.

But, and it is a big but, there are councils - Dumfries and Galloway and Scottish Borders for example - which have a large numbers of lower paid workers.

Therefore it would be much harder for them to gain from this assignment income tax.

Other areas - say Edinburgh - have above average number of higher paid workers and they would benefit more from the idea.

So there would have to be some kind of 'fiscal framework' for local government to compensate the poorer councils.

And that's complicated as the recent negotiations between Holyrood and Westminster over the fiscal framework needed for the new tax powers coming the the Scottish parliament show.

Scotland's council tax freeze is to be brought to an end

Scotland's council tax freeze is to be brought to an end at the same time as payments for those living in more expensive homes are to be increased, the Scottish First Minister has announced.

Nicola Sturgeon revealed higher charges are to be brought in for those living in properties from Band E through to Band H - a move which will bring in extra cash of £100 million a year for schools.

In addition the council tax freeze, which has been in place since 2007, is to be ended from April next year.

From that point councils will be able to increase the charge by a maximum of 3% a year, potentially allowing authorities to raise up to £70 million to help fund local services across Scotland.

But ministers stress three quarters of families who live in homes which are in Band D or below would not be affected by the change to the band system. In addition some £54,000 low income households who are living in Band E to H homes will be entitled to an exemption through the council tax reduction scheme.

"These reforms to council tax bands will mean no change for three out of every four Scottish households, with those in lower banded properties paying no more than they do now.

"Households will also still, on average, pay less than those on equivalent bands in England and less than they would be paying had the council tax freeze not been in place."

"We are choosing to do this in a reasonable and balanced way that will also generate £100 million of additional revenue to invest in schools."

– First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
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