COUNCIL tax bills for 2017/18 have been dropping through people’s doors (or arriving in email inboxes) over the last few days.

For many of those living in households in the higher bands (E-H), the increase in this year’s bill will be a shock. The significant increases in these bands are the result of a change to council tax legislation made by the SNP Government last year.

After years of freezing the council tax, a decision which starved local services of additional income, ministers decided to increase the Council Tax multipliers for properties in bands E to H. They had intended to use the extra income to pay for their Scotland-wide pupil equity fund. After a concerted campaign by Labour councillors here and around Scotland, the SNP dropped those plans but went ahead with the band increases.

This must also be seen in the context of the fact that the SNP pledged to abolish the council tax when they came to power 10 years ago. Not only have they failed to deliver, now they have compounded it by introducing these arbitrary higher band increases. As long as the council tax remains in place, I accept the need for modest increases to maintain funding for local services.

The bigger issue here is how we deliver a fairer system of local government finance. At last year’s Holyrood election, I stood on a manifesto to scrap the council tax and replace it with a new local government tax based on property values, based on proposals from the First Minister’s own Commission on Local Tax Reform. Eighty per cent of households would been better off under our plans.

As we approach the local elections in May, it is clear that now, more than ever, East Lothian needs a Labour-led council to protect its services and support local communities against SNP cuts and centralisation.