Revisions to the Scottish income tax forecasts: what has driven them, and do they matter?

In its latest forecasts, published last week, the SFC revised down its forecast for Scottish income tax revenues by £209m compared to its previous forecast in December.

In questioning the SFC on Wednesday this week, MSPs on the Finance and Constitution Committee seemed unanimously incredulous about this. That a forecast could be revised, in a relatively short period of time, by what is (in political terms) a significant sum, seemed difficult to fathom – particularly when the broader forecasts of economic output and employment had remained unchanged.

So why was the forecast revised down by £209m? Is the justification for the revisions reasonable? How significant are the revisions? And to what extent are we likely to see revisions of similar scale at future budget events?Continue reading

June 7, 2018

How should we pay for water and sewerage services in Scotland?

The design and structure of both income tax and council tax have  been extensively debated in recent years. But the design of charging structures for water and sewerage services, which represent a lesser but nonetheless significant expense for many households, have received less attention.

The average household bill for combined water and sewerage services in Scotland was £360 in 2017/18. However, there is significant variation in the charge paid by different households. What are the principles on which the water and sewerage charges are based? And is the distribution of charges across households fair?Continue reading

February 22, 2018

Will increasing income tax rates harm Scottish economic growth?

It seems a near certainty that the Scottish Government will seek to increase income tax revenues in tomorrow’s budget – through a combination of changes to rates and thresholds. If this happens, it will kick-off a hotly contested debate about the impact on the Scottish economy.

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce have got their response in early, arguing that “at a time of sluggish growth and faltering business investment, a competitive Scotland cannot afford to be associated with higher taxes than elsewhere in the UK”. The Federation of Small Businesses has also warned about the impact of tax increases on the economy.Continue reading

December 13, 2017

Will slower economic growth in Scotland necessarily mean slower growth in income tax revenues?

David Eiser, Fraser of Allander Institute


The slowdown in Scotland’s rate of economic growth relative to the UK has been well documented. Whilst growth in UK GDP per head has been weak, growing at just 2.3% between Q1 2015 and Q2 2017, Scottish growth has been weaker still, with per capita GDP growing just 0.57%, over the same period (Chart 1).

Revenues from non-savings, non-dividend (NSND) income tax now form part of the Scottish budget. Under the Fiscal Framework, the Scottish budget will be better off than it would have been without tax devolution, if revenues per capita grow more quickly in Scotland than they do in the rest of the UK (rUK). Conversely, slower growth will translate into a smaller Scottish budget.

A critical question therefore is what slower growth in GDP per capita – in Scotland relative to rUK – might mean for the growth of income tax revenues per capita in Scotland relative to rUK. Does slower growth in GDP per capita necessarily mean slower growth in income tax revenues? How strong is the relationship and what factors might influence it?Continue reading

December 11, 2017