HOUSEHOLDERS in Helensburgh and Lomond could be hit with a huge 10 per cent increase in their council tax this spring - despite a pledge from the First Minister that bills won't go up at all.

The ruling coalition group on Argyll and Bute Council claims it has "no choice" but to consider the whopping increase to protect vital public services, saying it faces an "enormous" challenge to balance the authority's budget.

Humza Yousaf promised at the SNP's conference in October that council tax bills across Scotland would be frozen at their current rates when the 2024-25 financial year begins in April.

The ruling TALIG coalition (The Argyll, Lomond and Islands Group), comprising Conservatives, Liberal Democracts and some independents, issued a statement on Tuesday outlining their position.

In it, Helensburgh Central Conservative councillor Gary Mulvaney, the authority's policy lead for finance and commercial services, said: "The council revenue budget has seen over £70million of cuts since 2010. 

"As it stands today, we still look over the precipice, with over a £20 million revenue gap projected in the next few years.

“In addition, the capital funding from the SNP government has significantly reduced over the years, and as a result of this, and pressures outwith our control, we are now faced with a current capital gap in excess of £20m.

"Meeting as a group last weekend, it was clear to us that the funding being offered by the Scottish Government to freeze council tax this year was inadequate.

“The Scottish Government speak of increases, but when you look at the detail and do the calculations, there are cuts, plain and simple. No amount of SNP spin can disguise that.

“Faced once again with unpalatable options for a balanced budget this year and with a need to think about next year too, we reluctantly considered that a council tax rise of 10 per cent would be needed to protect the services people in Argyll and Bute rely on."

“We will continue to do everything we can to deliver the essential services for our constituents as cost effectively as possible.”

The local authority's leader, Councillor Robin Currie (Liberal Democrat, Kintyre and the Islands), added: "Members have expressed real anger over the announcement of a council tax freeze at a party political conference last year.

"This shows a Scottish Government turning their backs on the Verity House agreement, which only a few months ago gave the promise of respect for local accountability and decision making.

"As an administration we will continue to work with COSLA (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) to press the Scottish Government for fair funding to save our services.

“However, with the current offer we will have no choice but to consider increasing council tax by 10 per cent.

"This is not a position I want, as I recognise there are huge pressure on household finances at this time.

“I would encourage people to seek advice to make sure they receive any council tax reductions they may be entitled to.  

"In addition, it may be possible to pay council tax over 12 months instead of 10, which could also help by giving a consistent lower payment each month to budget for.

"I know that a council tax rise will affect people across Argyll and Bute, but the buck for this rests well and truly with the Scottish Government.

"They have consistently failed to deliver the resources needed for the services run by councils, and this is the result.

“The alternative to not increase council tax would mean drastic cuts to many of the council services, indeed getting rid of some services altogether and I don’t think that is something our communities want.”

A 10 per cent increase would be double that voted through by the council at its last budget meeting in February 2023.

That 5 per cent increase was the biggest since the SNP Scottish Government decided in 2016 to end its policy of freezing council tax.

The council is due to set its budget for 2024-25 on Thursday, February 22.

Information is expected in the build-up to that meeting about what other service cuts and changes, if any, will be considered.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.