Alex Neil MSP
Alex Neil has accused North Lanarkshire Council of “mismanagement” after discovering that the authority is owed £9.3 million in outstanding council tax and business rates from the last financial year.
The Airdrie & Shotts MSP says that the council – whose members must decide next month on cuts totalling £73 million – could avoid having to cut so many services and jobs “if they were more efficient in their collection of taxes”.
However, finance convener Councillor Bob Burrows hit back, insisting that collection rates are consistently around 96 per cent and calling the cabinet minister’s criticism “a disgrace”.
Mr Neil used freedom of information legislation to obtain figures for the outstanding rates owed to the council.
Uncollected council tax in North Lanarkshire ranges from £3.7 million for 2007-2008 up to £5.5 million for 2011-2012; while business charges stand at £2.5 million for five years ago, rising to £3.8 million for 2011-2012.
Mr Neil said: “The cuts facing North Lanarkshire are a result of their own mismanagement and it is time the leadership got a grip on the issue – we have jobs and vital services at stake, and yet they are allowing over £9 million in rates and taxes to be left uncollected.
“These figures yet again prove the cuts have nothing to do with the council tax freeze, which is fully funded, but are the result of a failure in leadership.
“For these figures to be rising is unforgivable, and for the council leader to say that his cuts are because of the council tax freeze is totally false.”
Councillor Burrows responded robustly, explaining that the council is still pursuing outstanding sums from previous years in addition to managing the current 2012-2013 collection.
The finance convener said: “Alex Neil is perfectly well aware that no council in Scotland has ever collected 100 per cent of the sums due in the same year.
“Compared to other councils we have an excellent record of year-on-year collection of tax owed; last year, we collected nearly 95 per cent of the tax and as of October this year, our collection rates are up.
“As well as the current collection, we also collected from previous years due and have collected at least 96 per cent of all council tax due from 12 previous years.
“We are fully accountable to the Audit Commission, who have ranked North Lanarkshire Council among the top three within its local authority grouping.
“We follow up non-payment, staff work hard to collect council tax and everyone will endeavour to raise the collection rate.
“Alex Neil is trying to cover his tracks on the funding shortfall faced by every local authority thanks to his Scottish Government; his continual attacks on this administration and the hard-working staff of North Lanarkshire are a disgrace.”
Councillors will convene next month to decide which of 281 suggested savings measures to implement in order to make the required savings over the next three years.