A SECOND Scottish council has followed Argyll and Bute's lead in voting through an increase in council tax rates for the coming year - flying in the face of the First Minister's pledge that council tax rates would be frozen across Scotland.

Argyll and Bute's ruling coalition of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and some independent councillors voted last week to bring in a 10 per cent increase in council tax rates from April.

The authority's budget for 2024-25 also includes a 6 per cent rise in the fees and charges imposed for using council services, while Scottish Water is increasing its water and sewerage charges, which are paid for by households alongside their council tax bill, by nearly 9 per cent.

The Argyll and Bute decision came after Humza Yousaf told SNP members at the party's annual conference in October that council tax rates would be frozen across the country in 2024-25.

Council leader Robin Currie said it was "the most difficult budget this council has ever faced", and insisted a 10 per cent rise - significantly more than the increase of 6.04 per cent that had been recommended by officials - was essential to fill a "massive" £30 million hole in the authority's capital investment programme.

Helensburgh Advertiser: Argyll and Bute Council leader Robin Currie said a 10 per cent council tax rise was essential to plug a £30m gap in the local authority's capital investment programmeArgyll and Bute Council leader Robin Currie said a 10 per cent council tax rise was essential to plug a £30m gap in the local authority's capital investment programme (Image: Argyll and Bute Council)

But Argyll and Bute is no longer a lone voice in defying the First Minister after members of a second Scottish local authority also voted in favour of increasing tax rates.

Just across the water from Helensburgh, members of Inverclyde Council voted in favour of an 8.2 per cent increase - and also backed a further rise of 6 per cent for 2025-26 - at their annual budget meeting, held on Thursday, February 29.

Inverclyde is led by a Labour administration, but the party does not have an overall majority, with only nine of the 22 seats in the council chamber.

Similarly to Argyll and Bute, Inverclyde's leader, Councillor Stephen McCabe, said it was the toughest budget he'd experienced in his 17 years as a councillor.

However, the decision to raise council taxes is not one being taken by all local authorities that aren't run by the SNP, with South Ayrshire Council - run by a minority Conservative administration with support from some independents - opting to freeze tax rates at its budget meeting, which was also held on February 29.

And Labour and the Conservatives both backed a tax freeze in East Renfrewshire - albeit "with some reluctance".

Argyll and Bute's decision to impose a 10 per cent rise in council tax sparked fury from opposition councillors in Helensburgh and Lomond, who called it "scandalous" and "despicable".

Helensburgh Advertiser: Inverclyde, led by Labour councillor Stephen McCabe (inset), set its council tax rate on Thursday, February 29Inverclyde, led by Labour councillor Stephen McCabe (inset), set its council tax rate on Thursday, February 29 (Image: Newsquest)

Mark Irvine (Independent, Lomond North) said he was "ashamed to have been part of a process where political point scoring took priority over the real needs of the residents of Argyll and Bute".

And Fiona Howard (Labour, Helensburgh Central) said the members of the ruling administration had "shown themselves to be without any humanity".

An alternative proposal, put forward by Argyll and Bute's Strategic Opposition Partnership - of whom Cllrs Irvine and Howard are part, alongside SNP, Green and some independent councillors - would have seen council taxes in the area frozen.

But the ruling administration's budget plans won the day by 18 votes to 16, with one abstention.

The Scottish Government offered the country's councils an additional £62.7m the day before Argyll and Bute's budget meeting.

But Helensburgh Central Conservative councillor Gary Mulvaney, who is also the authority's depute leader and its policy lead for finance and commercial services, said the government hadn't made clear the conditions attached to that extra funding - and accused the Scottish Government of behaviour "more akin to that of Dibley Parish Council".

Deputy first minister Shona Robison called Argyll and Bute's decision "disappointing", and said the funding offered for the council tax freeze, plus Argyll and Bute's share of the cash announced the day before the budget meeting, amounted to more than would have been raised by the 6.04 per cent increase recommended by officials.

Ms Robison later insisted that the council tax freeze pledge was not designed as a punishment, and said Scotland's 32 local authorities had been offered a combined £210 million to offset the need for tax rises.