As part of the Commission’s evidence-gathering, Policy Scotland at the University of Glasgow was asked to complete an evidence review drawing on international evidence and experience about local taxation, different models of local taxes and, in particular, experience with local tax reform in recent years.
Professor Gibb’s review, conducted with Linda Christie of the University’s Policy Scotland institute, examined different systems of local taxation from around the world and their potential impact on the remit of the Commission’s work.
The work included an analysis of studies carried out for bodies including the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), International Monetary Fund and the United Nations. It also considered in greater detail a number of local tax systems across the UK, Europe, North America and Australia.
You can download a copy of the report:
You can also download a copy of the Executive Summary:
Among the conclusions in Professor Gibb’s report:
- There are many different forms of local taxation around the world, but common to all is the difficulty in delivering reform. The present Council Tax has had in-built problems from day one but the unwillingness to revalue and modify the system has stored up even greater problems for today’s policy makers.
- Property tax is used by almost all OECD countries as a local tax, but many people don’t understand why they are being taxed, or what they are being taxed on. Is it a tax on housing or wealth or is it a charge for services?
- There is academic consensus that property tax is a good local tax because it is stable, difficult to avoid, and can have desirable impacts on housing markets but it can be unpopular with the public because it is so visible, and because it is not directly linked to current income.
- Local income tax is also used in many countries around the world, and because it is levied on current income it is often thought to be ‘fairer’, but can create problems for local authorities who struggle to cope with fluctuating income streams and often there is little flexibility to vary rates locally to fund local priorities.
- The report also highlights that many countries use a range of additional taxes but this can be difficult and expensive for local authorities to manage, and for the taxpayer to accept.
- It is clear there is no magic bullet, and past experience from the UK and across the world shows that reform is always going to be difficult and will inevitably be bound up with the previous experiences and traumas of past reform. So whilst the current Council Tax has many acknowledged deficiencies, change and reform is a major undertaking.