MICHAEL Gove is the “last person” who should be intervening in a row over the council tax freeze, says Scotland’s Deputy First Minister.

We previously told how Labour council leaders in Inverclyde and West Dunbartonshire wrote to the Levelling Up Secretary and called for him to stage an “urgent intervention” over the Scottish Government’s freeze of the levy.

It came after Shona Robison had warned authorities who did not accept the freeze and opted to hike the tax, as Inverclyde did last week, they would not be given funding from Holyrood.

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Gove told the Herald on Sunday that he would be happy to meet with local authority leaders but did not want to “upset the devolution settlement”.

Stephen McCabe, Inverclyde leader, and Martin Rooney, West Dunbartonshire leader, both wrote to Gove as authorities across Scotland voted on their Budgets. Inverclyde and Argyll and Bute, run by a coalition of Tory, LibDem and Independent councillors, are the only two authorities so far to ignore the freeze and push ahead with council tax rises.

Asked about the issue on the Sunday Show, Robison hit out at the Levelling Up Secretary.

“Well, to be honest, Martin, I think Michael Gove would be the last person to be giving any advice on local government finance,” she told the programme.

The National:

“Look at the positions of English councils - eight have gone bust, four of them under Michael Gove’s watch over the last year and a bit.

“And in fact, a recent survey of English council leaders said that 50% of them were predicting that they will go bust in the next five years.

“So I think Michael Gove is the last person…in fact there will be a queue of English council leaders wanting to have some face time with Michael Gove for the very area he is responsible for.

“I would suggest that might be a better use of Michael Gove’s time.”

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Robison also responded to accusations that the Scottish Government is treating local authorities in the same way that they are treated by Westminster.

The DFM offered £147 million in funding to keep the levy at current levels, with an additional £45m incoming expected from the UK Government’s Budget in the coming weeks.

The extra funding is expected to come from increases in funding on adult social care, which falls under the portfolio of Gove.

Robison had warned authorities who rejected the freeze that they would not be given funding from Holyrood.


Asked if Holyrood was treating councils the same way Westminster does Scottish ministers, Robison said: “No, I don't believe so. I think we've worked very hard with local government to address some of the key issues that they face.”

She pointed to two key asks from councillors - the removal of almost a billion pounds worth of ring fencing from budgets and a larger share of the overall Budget.

“We have delivered that,” Robison added. “But times are difficult for the whole of the public sector, so we will continue to work with local government supporting them in the best way that we can.

“All eyes are now on Wednesday [Spring Budget], in terms of whether the funding available to us is going to be impacted negatively, which it could be, or whether we get the additional capital investment that we so badly need.”

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It comes as Gove told the Herald on Sunday that councils had been “denigrated and defunded” by Humza Yousaf and Robison.

“What I do want to do is to talk to all the councils in Scotland through Cosla in order to see what more we can do to help,” Gove added.

Asked if he would intervene, Gove said: “I know local government in Scotland is having a tough time. And the SNP council tax freeze policy has meant that the money that we handed to the Scottish Government quite rightly for them to pass on to local government, they're holding back in certain circumstances.

“I don't think that's the right approach by the Scottish Government. But I respect the devolution settlement, so that's a matter for them.

“What I do want to do is to talk to all the councils in Scotland through Cosla in order to see what more we can do to help.”

He said it was “significant” that the two leaders who had come forward were Labour members and said he will “see what we can do”.

We told how Robison slammed the Labour figures' calls for a UK Government intervention as “ridiculous” and said they were simply “playing politics”.

Speaking on The National’s Holyrood Weekly podcast, the DFM said: “It’s quite a spectacle, isn't it, of Labour council leaders running to a Tory minister to ask him to bypass the democratic institution of the Scottish Parliament? That's quite a look.”

And, McCabe told a meeting of councillors in Inverclyde that he had defied Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar over the freeze. Sarwar has previously advocated for it.