£2.5 billion council tax freeze

- Credit: PA

As councils across Scotland prepare to set their budgets for next year there is one certainty: the council tax will not rise.

Since the financial year 2008-09, the SNP government at Holyrood has made sure that one tax at least has not gone up.

Their opponents have branded the move populist but there can be little doubt it is popular.

I found that out when I canvassed opinion on the streets of Dumfries this week.

A few people said the council tax should rise again. Most were content with it as it is.

There are, though, two key questions as the policy enters its eight year - the next financial year of 2015-16.

How much has the freeze cost and who has benefited the most?

To the first question the answer is a very large number. The total cost of the council tax freeze to Holyrood between 2008-09 and 2015-16 will be £2.52 billion. Yes, you read that correctly: £2.52 billion.

Why? Because, as the table shows, it initially cost the Scottish £70 million, but then it had to add on another £70 million every year.

For 2015-16 year alone the Scottish Parliament's researchers say the cost will be £560 million.

That's a lot of money at a time when the SNP complain that their budget has been cut significantly by Westminster.

As to who benefits the most, one of Scotland's best respected economists says it is the better off.

Prof David Bell of Stirling University has told me those in larger properties have done the best of of it - they would have paid more had council tax risen.

At the lower when those poorer people who are exempt from council tax payments anyway have not seen any gain, according to Prof Bell.

- Credit: PA

Today I asked the political parties, council leaders, and the Scottish government about the policy.

I asked three questions.

First, whether the policy justifies the £2.5bn sum which has been spent on the freeze?

Second, what their response was to Prof Bell's statements that the freeze benefits those who are better off.

Third, where they stood on an alternative to the council tax - the Scottish government is setting up a commission to look at the options.

These are the replies I received. You can judge for yourself if they have answered the questions.

A spokesman for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), the local government umbrella group said:

"The Council Tax Freeze does not meet the principles of our fiscal empowerment agenda. That is why we welcome the announcement on the Government’s Commission. We see this as an opportunity to push forward local governments agenda.

The COSLA position is clear on this:

· Council tax should be kept but reformed –with the additions of bands at top and bottom

· We need to re-band by adding at both the top and the bottom and there should be regular revaluations.

We will engage in discussions on alternatives and endeavour to put across our fundamental principles."