ARGYLL and Bute’s sitting MP has warned one of his general election rivals that she “will have to explain and justify” her backing for a 10 per cent council tax rise to local voters.

Brendan O’Hara (SNP) was reacting after Conservative councillor Amanda Hampsey – his rival in the forthcoming UK general election – joined her colleagues on Argyll and Bute Council’s ruling coalition in voting for the hefty tax rise.

The decision was at odds with the announcement by Scotland’s First Minister Humza Yousaf in October that council tax would be frozen across the country in 2024/25.

Cllr Hampsey, who represents the Oban South and the Isles ward, said: “I didn’t enter local politics with the intention to increase people’s bills, but the savage cuts the SNP-Green government have imposed on Argyll and Bute Council left us in an impossible position.

“Over the last nine years, Argyll and Bute Council has had to find £70 million of savings due to Scottish government cuts. This left the council in an unenviable position where we were forced to cut funding for vital public services or raise the council tax.

“The SNP-led opposition group suggested slashing the health and social care monies by £3.1 million, cutting it by more than half. This would have been a death knell to NHS services and care facilities which we all rely on.

READ MORE: Argyll and Bute budget: Opposition councillors 'disgusted'

“Such a cut would have unproportionally affected the most vulnerable in our society and the Scottish Conservative council group and I would not allow for that.

“When Humza Yousaf announced a council tax freeze last year to score a much-needed cheer at his party’s conference, he showed clear contempt for councils across Scotland. He did not then mention that this would only be possible by cutting council budgets by extreme amounts.

“Councils deserve better than bullying treatment from the SNP-Green government who have short-changed us for years. They haven’t provided the funding necessary for a freeze, which backed us into a corner.

“I will continue to fight SNP council cuts every step of the way to stop leaving Argyll and Bute councillors faced with hitting people in the pocket and slashing vital services and it is time SNP ministers stopped passing the buck to us.”

Mr O’Hara responded: “Politics is about choices, and the inescapable truth for Cllr Amanda Hampsey is that she chose to raise the council tax by 10 per cent for the people of Argyll and Bute.

“No-one should be in any doubt, Cllr Hampsey did not need to this…she chose to do this.

“In the middle of the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, and when the people of Argyll and Bute are already having to cope with soaring energy cost, fuel prices, mortgage repayments and rampant food price inflation, Cllr Hampsey chose to raise our council tax by a whopping 10 per cent.

“Last week Cllr Hampsey had a choice to make.  She could have accepted the money on offer from the Scottish Government, and had the shortfall made up from the council’s own cash reserves, resulting in a council tax freeze.

“Or she could choose to pass the entire cost of the Tory/Lib Dem administration budget on to the hard-pressed people of Argyll and Bute.

“Cllr Hampsey chose to raise our council tax by 10 per cent, and her spurious claim that she did what she did to protect the Health and Social Care Partnership does not stand up to serious scrutiny. The competent budget put forward by the SNP protected the HSCP with £78 million for this and next year, rising to £81m the following year.

“If Ms Hampsey and her Tory/Lib Dem colleagues believe that imposing a massive tax hike at this time was the right course of action, then it shows just how out of touch they are with the needs of the people of Argyll and Bute.

“But as I said, politics is about choices. Cllr Hampsey chose to do this, and she will have to explain and justify that choice to the people of Argyll and Bute at the general election later this year.”

Liberal Democrat Alan Reid, the only other declared candidate to date for Argyll, Bute and South Lochaber in the general election, said:  “The decision by the SNP/Green Government to fine Argyll and Bute Council £4million every year until the next Holyrood election is a disgrace and I call on Argyll and Bute’s SNP MP and MSP to speak out against this bullying.

“Councils should be free to set their own level of council tax without the threat of being fined by the Scottish Government for doing so.

“The SNP/Green Government did not offer councils enough in grant funding to cover the cost of a council tax freeze.

“This has left all councils with the very difficult choice of putting up the council tax or making workers redundant and cutting services.”