by OUR INVESTIGATIONS TEAM
A widening gap between average Scottish and English council tax bills means residents in Band D properties in Coldstream will be more than £500 better off this year than their near neighbours in Cornhill village across the Tweed.
The council tax comparisons for 2018/19 give the lie to recent claims in the Right Wing press, and by Conservative politicians that taxpayers north of the Border were about to be hammered by Scotland's SNP Government.
Much has been made about new Scottish income tax rates which will see those earning £40,000 having to pay an extra £70 a year (that equates to £1.34 pence per week).
In an article in this Friday's Scottish Daily Mail, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson wrote: "From today anyone earning over £26,000 will see a rise - and that's before you take into account council tax hikes too".
But someone should have pointed out to Ms Davidson that average council tax rises in Northumberland - governed by her party from Westminster - will hammer hard working families to the tune of up to £88, even more than the SNP's additional income tax demands for those on £40,000 per annum.
It is also highly unlikely that residents of Band D properties in rural Northumberland will be in the £40,000-a-year bracket, so their budgets will be stretched even further after Westminster allowed English local authorities to let rip with inflation-busting council tax increases.
Research shows that householders in Coldstream, where council tax rises for 2018/19 have been restricted to three per cent by the SNP Government face a Band D "hike" of £35 to £1,150. Less than a mile away in Cornhill, governed from Westminster by the Conservatives, Band D bills have been increased by £88 to £1,764. The difference of £614 is equivalent to around £12 per week!
Similar rises have been imposed by Northumberland County Council across their territory. In Berwick-on-Tweed the new Band D level is £1,821 (+£87, and in the parish of Carham, close to the Scottish border, the bill will be £1,762 (also +£87).
While the Scottish Government has strictly controlled council tax rises in each of the last two years after a series of 'freezes' which saved taxpayers hundreds of pounds, the situation is starkly different in England.
There the 2010/11 average Band D figure of £1,439 was already higher than the current Scottish bill. And average "hikes" of £61 (4%) in 2017/18 and £80 (5.1%) in 2018/19 have taken the demands on a typical Band D property in England to £1,671.
A local government expert told us: "People living in Northumberland and elsewhere in England will be outraged if they realise they are paying over £500 extra each year for their shrinking council services. English council taxpayers do not enjoy a superior service to their Scottish counterparts so they deserve to be told why they are having to fork out so much more."
This month English residents also face another "hike" in NHS prescription charges. The new charge of £8.80 per item is 19% higher than it was in 2011 when the Scottish Government abolished the charges.
Meanwhile Scottish students attending Scottish universities will continue to benefit by being exempt from tuition fees. Their English counterparts will continue to pay up to £9,250 a year for their education.