INVERCLYDE residents will have their say on whether the local authority should reject Scottish Government plans to freeze council tax after an SNP bid to block a public consultation was defeated.

The council is to consider raising rates by up to 16 per cent over the next two years.

During a tense Municipal Buildings meeting local authority leader Stephen McCabe urged SNP elected members to ‘find a backbone’ and stand up to their government over what he dubbed a ‘regressive’ proposal to keep rates at their current level in 2024/25.

But SNP group leader Elizabeth Robertson made an impassioned defence of the government’s plans, claiming that the proposals would keep money in local people’s pockets.

READ MORE: Council tax could rise by up to 16 per cent in Inverclyde

The pair's exchange came at a full council meeting where councillors decided to launch a consultation to find out the public’s views on four potential options it could take to plug a funding gap of around £4.6m over the new two years.  

Greenock Telegraph: Stephen McCabe

Mr McCabe backed officials’ recommendations for a consultation on the options, which could see council tax rise by up to nine per cent next year or remain unchanged.

His motion defeated an amendment from Councillor Robertson - which would have seen the consultation SCRAPPED – by 14 votes to 7.

The council leader said: “The reality is that the council tax freeze is unfair and it’s regressive.

“It does not benefit those who are on the lowest incomes, and it’s opposed by anti-poverty groups, including the Poverty Alliance, who said ‘the Scottish Government’s tax freeze will hurt people on low income because the wealthiest households get the biggest benefit and the resulting damage to our local services affects all of us but especially those who need the most’.

“It also further undermines the financial sustainability of councils at a time when they have never faced greater financial insecurity.”

He added: “There cannot be one councillor in this room or in any part of Scotland who believes that a council tax freeze is the right policy.

“It’s the wrong policy at the wrong time.

“Very few seem to want to say that publicly, keeping their own counsel for fear of upsetting party leadership, but I have to say I think it’s time for all councillors to find a backbone and tell the first minister publicly that the emperor has no clothes on.”

READ MORE: Unison say Inverclyde council tax hike must be considered

Councillor McCabe noted that the local authority had already used its reserves to help shrink the funding gap it was facing, and warned his colleagues that larger tax hikes could come in future years as council coffers dwindle.

In response to Mr McCabe’s motion, Ms Robertson cited the rising costs people in the local community were facing in their day to day lives.

Greenock Telegraph: Councillor Elizabeth Robertson

She said: “I understand where my government is coming from in terms of consistently choosing to put and keep money in the pockets of people in this country through things like free prescriptions, free university tuition and travel costs, baby boxes.

“I understand that every day my government in Holyrood is mitigating harm that is caused by a series of very different choices that are made in Westminster.

“Choosing a council tax freeze I understand, it is another example of a manifestation of their desire to keep money in people’s pockets.

“Every penny is counting for a lot of families in our community.”

READ MORE: Letters: 'Council must find a balance on tax and cuts'

Explaining her group's decision to go against the public consultation, Councillor Robertson noted that the local authority had recently consulted the public about its budget.

She added: “We know where the public stand in terms of the cuts and savings that have been proposed and in terms of council tax.

“But this particular consultation that is being proposed at this particular time we feel is not going to be very helpful to us and the reason for that is because over the next few weeks between this meeting and our meeting at the end of February to finally set our budget things will have to change.”

Inverclyde Council is set to meet at the end of February to set its budget and council tax rates for 2024/25.