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By G.A.Ponsonby
 
The Labour group at Stirling Council has been accused of threatening the pledge of a living wage for council workers after they joined with the Tories in order to block the SNP’s budget proposals.
 
Amongst the policies contained in the Lab/Tory alternative budget was a commitment to cut the council tax which will hit the local authority’s ability to fund services.

The SNP group runs a minority administration at the council and the vote was the second in two weeks that has seen Labour join the Conservatives.

Last week, amid chaotic scenes, Labour councillors voted against their own amendments in order to block the SNP budget.

The latest pact between Labour and the Conservatives was condemned by the SNP group who claimed that the cut will hit public services and threaten plans for a living wage.

The SNP group's Finance spokesman Councillor Scott Farmer claimed that Labour had abandoned the last of their principles in order to support a budget that he said would slash funding for council services for the Stirling area.

He said: “The 1 per cent tax cut they conceded so cheaply to the Tories will benefit the average Stirling household by a mere 23p per week, but means that the Council’s budget to deliver vital services will be slashed by £445,000 in the year to come.

“The inevitable cuts to services that will result will be a sorry reminder of Labour’s shame and the betrayal of those who voted for them.

“Stirling’s Labour turkeys have voted for Christmas. Let’s see how their deal with the Tory devil goes down with the voters of Stirling in May.”

The council tax cut was supported by the Stirling Labour group despite senior members of the party attacking the SNP’s five year freeze.

Speaking in December last year Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont attacked a freeze and claimed it was 'reckless' and should be scrapped.

When Deputy to Iain Gray, Ms Lamont said: "It looks like the SNP is asking the housing industry and local communities to pay the price to protect its own party political priorities, like the centrally imposed Council Tax freeze."

Labour’s Finance Spokesman, Richard Baker, said last September: "They [SNP] are freezing the council tax, awarding Local Government a settlement which is a real terms cut of over £700 million over the Spending Review period, while at the same time instructing councils to meet the SNP’s election pledges.  The result will be huge cuts to local services, particularly in education and social work."

Labour's Local Government spokesman Michael McMahon has said a Council Tax freeze equals cuts: "The Council Tax freeze means that Councils have been forced to make cuts that they know will damage local services."

Leader of Glasgow Council Gordon Matheson called for a rise in council tax in August 2010 claiming a freeze meant “brutal” cuts that threatened public services.  The leader of the Labour group said that to cut an existing council budget would be “vindictive”.

Also critical of continuing the freeze was Labour leader of Cosla, Pat Watters, who claimed people would not welcome any freeze that harmed public services.

Local Government Minister and SNP Business Convener Derek MacKay said that Labour’s attacks on the council tax freeze were now “completely shattered”.

"Never again can Labour say that Scotland's local authorities have had anything but the best possible settlement from the Scottish Government if they think this tax cut is a responsible one.” he said and added:

"Labour have put a short term pact with the Tories ahead of delivering a living wage, breakfast clubs and local transport improvements.”

The council tax freeze was funded by the Scottish Government who awarded local authorities a more enhanced funding package.  Any reduction in council tax will mean that council’s budget shrinks accordingly, with no extra funding from central government.

Labour group leader Corrie McChord rejected claims that the party's amendment was "imprudent".

"In the last two or three years we have supported cuts in council tax because it had grown more than in other areas of Scotland" he said.

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