Watchdog ‘was bullied by SNP to pull report’
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of ‘bullying’ after a report revealing that half a million people had to pay more tax because of SNP policies was withdrawn when ministers complained.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