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A taxing decision: Survey reveals voters want spending review before tax hikes

Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP with Nicola Sturgeon (Allan Milligan)
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay MSP with Nicola Sturgeon (Allan Milligan)

THE majority of Scots want a comprehensive public spending review before they are asked to pay more tax, a Sunday Post opinion poll reveals today.

The Scottish Government is expected to increase income tax rates for better-off Scots on Thursday in a bid, ministers say, to bolster public services like health and education.

Our poll shows only 28% of Scots are against tax increases but the survey, conducted by leading polling firm Survation, also shows 61% of Scots want a public spending review first.

The findings also reveal most Scots fear standards in some of the most important public services have worsened over the last 10 years and almost half – 46% – are willing to pay more tax to improve the services.

The poll of 1006 Scots was carried out in the first five days of December and found that 46% of respondents were in favour of increasing income tax to try to raise hundreds of millions of pounds more for public services.

However, 35% thought the move would not improve public services compared to 47% who thought it would improve standards.

Our poll also asked: “Which of the following do you think the Scottish Government should do first in order to raise money for public services?”

A total of 61% of voters backed a spending review, 22% said SNP ministers should raise income tax and the rest said neither or didn’t know.

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The Scottish Government last month released a range of options for changing tax bands, including plans where those earning more than £24,000 could pay more.

The paper outlined a series of scenarios, all of which involved increasing the 40p higher rate and the 45p top rate of income tax in April next year.

Three of the scenarios suggested a penny rise in the 20p basic rate and a 50p top rate.

The scenarios also saw the creation of new income tax bands in a move which could raise up to £290 million.

However, Russell Gunson, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research Scotland, warned any joy for those hoping to protect public services from cuts might be shortlived.

He said: “The Scottish Government has outlined some options it is considering for tax changes, which will bring in around £290m per year at most. While this might help next year, taxes would have to go up again in the following year to give public services more than a year’s respite.

“To end spending cuts in Scotland in the short term, we may need to see increased taxes, but this will only help for a year or two. In the longer term we need to see Scotland’s economy strengthened so that we have the money we need to invest in public services and end spending cuts.”

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Alison Payne, research director of Reform Scotland, warned the Scottish Government could do more harm than good by hiking income tax.

The think tank argues that even after Holyrood gains income tax powers, it still raises only around 40% of what it spends and needs control of all taxes – including VAT and Corporation Tax – in order to make meaningful changes to the tax system.

Mrs Payne said: “Altering the income tax rate to make it different from Westminster, far from being beneficial, could be detrimental to Scotland’s economic performance and lead to a drop in revenue.

“The Scottish Government has itself acknowledged the potential for adverse behavioural change in response to income tax policies.”

The Survation poll also asked if standards had improved or got worse over the last 10 years in a range of public services. Tourism and sport had improved but a further 10 areas of public services had stood still or worsened, according to the respondents.

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THE NHS

65% of Scots say it is greatly in need of extra funding. Only 14% think the the health service has got better over the last 10 years while 58% think it has got worse.

HOUSING

43% of Scots say it is greatly in need of extra funding. Only 12% think housing situation has got better over the last 10 years while 54% think it has got worse.

Welfare and Social Services

42% of Scots say it is greatly in need of extra funding. Only 10% think welfare and social services has got better over the last 10 years while 55% think it has got worse.

SCHOOLS

39% of Scots say it is greatly in need of extra funding. Only 14% think welfare and social services has got better over the last 10 years while 46% think it has got worse.

LAW AND ORDER

23% of Scots say it is greatly in need of extra funding. Only 13% think welfare and social services has got better over the last 10 years while 42% think it has got worse.