Watch­dog ‘was bul­lied by SNP to pull re­port’

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Michael Black­ley

THE Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment has been ac­cused of ‘bul­ly­ing’ af­ter a re­port re­veal­ing that half a mil­lion peo­ple had to pay more tax be­cause of SNP poli­cies was with­drawn when min­is­ters com­plained.

The Na­tional Au­dit Of­fice (NAO) can­celled pub­li­ca­tion of the doc­u­ment at the last minute af­ter its fig­ures were chal­lenged by civil ser­vants in Fi­nance Sec­re­tary Derek Mackay’s team.

Last night, the Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tives ac­cused min­is­ters of try­ing to ‘bully’ the pub­lic spend­ing watch­dog – a claim that was branded ‘ut­ter non­sense’ by Mr Mackay’s spokesman.

The re­port was re­leased to the me­dia on Mon­day, with an em­bargo pre­vent­ing pub­li­ca­tion un­til yes­ter­day. How­ever, late on Mon­day night, the NAO de­cided to pull it.

The re­port re­vealed that nearly one in five tax­pay­ers in Scot­land – 507,000 peo­ple – has al­ready had to pay more in­come tax as a re­sult of SNP re­forms in­tro­duced ear­lier this year.

This fig­ure is much higher than orig­i­nal es­ti­mates by the Gov­ern­ment, which said this month that there are around 366,000 peo­ple earn­ing more than £44,291 a year in Scot­land.

Yes­ter­day, a spokesman for the NAO said the or­gan­i­sa­tion wanted ‘to make sure our fig­ures are 100 per cent cor­rect be­fore pub­li­ca­tion’.

But Scot­tish Tory fi­nance spokesman Murdo Fraser said: ‘Once again we see this SNP Gov­ern­ment try­ing to bully any­one who they dis­agree with. It is clear that they have pres­surised the NAO into this climb­down, sim­ply be­cause the SNP didn’t like what they were hear­ing.

‘This was an in­de­pen­dent re­port that rightly high­lighted a huge num­ber of Scots will be pay­ing more tax thanks to the de­ci­sions of the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment.

‘The SNP have form for this and they need to learn that they can­not hide from their dread­ful record in gov­ern­ment.’

Scot­land be­came the high­est taxed part of the UK this year when the Gov­ern­ment froze the thresh­old for pay­ing the 40p higher rate of tax at £43,000, de­spite this ris­ing to £45,000 south of the Bor­der. The NAO re­port es­ti­mated that 507,000 Scot­tish tax­pay­ers must pay more as a re­sult of the changes – cost­ing them an av­er­age of £213 more than their coun­ter­parts in Eng­land.

When the Gov­ern­ment pub­lished new pro­pos­als for fur­ther tax rises this month, it said there were around 346,000 peo­ple in the higher-rate tax band, as well as a fur­ther 20,000 pay­ing the top rate of tax.

The NAO re­port also warned that if the gap widens be­tween Scot­land and the rest of the UK then peo­ple could at­tempt to avoid pay­ing. It said: ‘The risk of in­di­vid­u­als seek­ing to ma­nip­u­late their res­i­dency sta­tus in­creases if the tax rates and thresh­olds in Scot­land di­verge from those in the rest of the UK.’

It fur­ther claimed that HMRC ex­pects to spend an ex­tra £26.8mil­lion by 2019-20 on ad­min­is­ter­ing the Scot­tish rate of in­come tax.

When ini­tially pressed on the dif­fer­ence be­tween the watch­dog’s fig­ures and those of the Gov­ern­ment, an NAO spokesman de­fended its method­ol­ogy – but the agency dropped the re­port when it was chal­lenged by the Fi­nance Sec­re­tary’s team.

Re­spond­ing to Scot­tish Tory com­ments, a spokesman for Mr Mackay said: ‘Murdo Fraser’s claims are com­plete and ut­ter non­sense, and the Tories should apol­o­gise for im­pugn­ing the in­tegrity of hard-work­ing, im­par­tial civil ser­vants.’

‘Pres­surised’: Murdo Fraser

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