Marco Biagi MSP

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Marco Biagi MSP

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  • Member for: Edinburgh Central
  • Region: Lothian
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Marco is a member of the following Committees:

Marco is a member of the following Cross-Party Groups:

Parliamentary Activities

Search for other Speeches made by The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

Meeting of the Parliament 29 January 2015 : Thursday, January 29, 2015
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

I draw Gavin Brown’s attention to the fact that a committee consultation can, when there are strong views on an issue, attract a strong response. I recall that the Equal Opportunities Committee managed a 12,000-response consultation. The Finance Committee’s consultation pales in comparison.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 January 2015 : Thursday, January 29, 2015
Marco Biagi

Jackie Baillie will be interested to learn that, in 2013-14, nine of the 10 local authorities that had ceased collecting poll tax debts achieved rates that were above that level.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 January 2015 : Thursday, January 29, 2015
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

I thank everyone for a debate with many perspectives.

I want to take us back to the important starting point of the bill, where we were and the motivation to maintain the integrity of our electoral register. That is such an important point that we cannot overstate it. Doing that is the basis of not just my remarks, but of our elections, the structure of our constituencies and the democracy of this country.

Last year, people who had never taken part in an election dared to step forward and have their say on their nation’s future, and were hit by an unquiet remnant of our political past. There was an 85 per cent turnout and there were 4.3 million people on the register, which was an all-time high. However, if we listen to some people, they should have marched into the polling station and been handed a bill rather than a ballot paper.

There were different responses in the aftermath of the referendum, but I assure Malcolm Chisholm that there were responses that led to concerns. Some were gung-ho, but others expressed doubt and drew on the statutory duty on local authorities. The Abolition of Domestic Rates Etc (Scotland) Act 1987 and the Local Government Finance Act 1992 make it the duty of every local authority to collect the taxes that they are owed. I say to Jackie Baillie that that is why we must put the issue beyond doubt by extinguishing that liability entirely.

My second point is that the poll tax is a dead tax in a way—although in a way it is not. If I wanted to dare to contradict the Deputy First Minister, who has described it as a dead tax, maybe I would describe it as an undead tax. It is like a ghost that is clanking its chains in the night to disturb the living. Who is kept up at night by its howls? Surely by now it is not the people who had the ability to pay. It is time that the poll tax was laid to rest.

There is a difference between reward and recognising reality. Mark McDonald succinctly pointed out that bad debt is a concept in accountancy. I am sure that Gavin Brown, with his well-lauded finance background, is well aware of that. John Mason spoke about how electricity companies and utilities work.

The experience of debt write-off has been good for some. I have a note from the House of Commons library that cites a £5 billion debt write-off—in the prices of the day—in 1989, which was the notorious first year of the poll tax. That day, the water companies had their debts written off by the United Kingdom Conservative Government so that they could be privatised. Debt write-offs can be used as an instrument of policy. I may not have agreed with that one, but this is the time for that approach.

John Mason summed it up when he spoke about the principle of mercy. However, even in accountancy terms, when only £2 out of every £1,000 are collectable, administrators will say that it is time to liquidate. By doing that, the £425 million-worth of debt, which is not just a ghost but a phantom number, can finally be still.



Meeting of the Parliament 29 January 2015 : Thursday, January 29, 2015
Marco Biagi

Administrations have used write-off for different purposes, including housing debt and for privatisations. To respond to the thrust of what Gavin Brown has said—other than his seeming worship of the poll tax—of course I believe that people should pay their taxes.

Kenny MacAskill and Sandra White set out the campaign that the SNP ran at the time. It supported non-payment as a form of protest and said that people should withhold the tax temporarily until it was abolished and then pay it back—or, pay it back plus 10 per cent, in the case of some particularly enthusiastic protesters. As Alex Rowley said, we should recognise those who did that.

Liking it does not come into it. The tax was imposed by the mandate of a Parliament that had a right to rule, although this party has always sought—democratically—to remove that mandate.

When it comes to tax avoidance and the Conservatives, why are they showing such enthusiasm for this issue? Why the pleasure in harrying people to the modern-day equivalent of a debtors prison?

I saw a Citizens Advice Scotland briefing from September 2013 highlighting the UK Government figure for benefit fraud, which was £1.6 billion in 2012. Campaigners often contrast that with figures from the National Audit Office, for example, which, in 2012, reported that HM Revenue and Customs had 41,000 identified open tax-avoidance cases, totalling £10.2 billion. When the UK Conservative Government is better able to collect tax, perhaps we will be sure that its motivation is to have healthy public revenue rather than just to pick out a certain group of people for extra attention.

We must also remember that the bill is not the first step down this road. The Scottish Government will not be the first to take this action. At best, we will be the 11th, because 10 councils have taken the step and West Dunbartonshire has stated similar support. More than that, last year, 24 of 32 local authorities collected less than £10,000-worth of debt. That is no great spring of cash; it is a trickle that is drying up. Indeed, in 2009-10, £1.3 million was collected, followed by £1.2 million, £900,000, £512,000 and £327,000 in the subsequent years. The time will soon arrive when collection costs outweigh any remaining revenue.

After 20 years, most of the debt is simply not collectable—that is already the law. Debts expire, even taxes. The bill draws a line under the issue and says, “Enough.”

Malcolm Chisholm’s starting point—the singular unfairness of the poll tax—is my conclusion. Marx did not have many adherents in the UK Government in 1989. However, many professed to adhere to another philosopher: Adam Smith. His first maxim on tax said:

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities”.

Campaigners called it the poll tax because they knew the history of the poll tax and that it was the name given to taxes levied in England from 1377, as Richard Lyle mentioned, which required payment of the sum of a groat to finance the war on France. People did not stand for it and revolted.

We can go further back in history. Theophanes the Confessor chronicled that, in 722 AD, when the emperor in Constantinople sought to levy a poll tax on his domains in Italy, he was met by outrage and rebellion.

The poll tax was a tax so bad it not only made Wat Tyler burn the temples of London, but made Rome declare independence from the Roman empire. Anyone should have known better.

A Hansard answer in 1991-92 showed that 6.34 million people received some kind of benefit. That means that everyone else paid the same, whether they were the spiritual inheritor of Wat Tyler or lived in an imperial palace.

If I am talking about history here, that is because for me this is history. When the first poll tax bills dropped through doors in April 1989, I was more interested in the sandpit in Mrs Dougall’s classroom and whether Optimus Prime was the better leader of the Autobots. It is depressing that this supremely unfair tax is still being used.

Let us go back to where we started. Instead of dwelling on the matter, let us remember the participative outflow—the democratic spirit—of the referendum. If £869,000 to write off a bad debt is the price of our democratic renewal, it is one worth paying.



Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

I recognise Jamie McGrigor for bringing the motion to the chamber. The population summit that has been described stems from the work of a community planning partnership and, with my community empowerment hat on, I will take a moment to recognise a community planning partnership that is uniquely placed to provide a forum where all the public bodies that have an input on the matter can work together.

The Deputy First Minister—the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth at the time—was pleased to contribute to that summit by speaking and taking questions on how the Government can support the work that is being done.

Population decline does not come under the remit of any one authority or agency; it can be dealt with only through partnership. At a time when improvements to the work of CPPs have been coming forward from Audit Scotland, and when we are updating their role and function through the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, this is an example of the sort of cross-cutting issue that it is right to tackle in the forum of the CPP.

Looking at the demographics, we can clearly see the population challenges that are being faced, with an older, dispersed and gradually declining population. The picture is more mixed than might at first be obvious. That is not to take away from the direction of what is happening and the challenge that exists; it is to see in that the seeds of how, as a country and through local agencies, we can attract people.

In the 10 years to 2013, more people moved into Argyll and Bute than moved out. The population decline was brought about by deaths outnumbering births. In the past two years, Argyll and Bute had a net loss of people through out-migration in the 16-to-29 age group, which David Stewart pointed out, although there was a net gain in all the other working-age age groups from 30 to 65.

Making any place a sustainable and vibrant community depends on a whole set of factors coming together. That is as valid for a village or a county as it is for a country. I recognise the thrust of where members are coming from. The issue of opportunities for work involves the Government putting in place the right economic support and the right infrastructure and, more broadly, opportunities for a fulfilling life. That means schools, health facilities and the places where communities can come together. It also involves a physical environment that is conducive to all of that. In that regard, with the Arrochar Alps, Iona and Cowal, Argyll and Bute does not need much help from the Government to be an inspiring and beautiful place to choose to live.

On the other two matters, there is a lot that we can do and are doing. The programme for government sets out a range of measures that are very relevant to Argyll and Bute and will help to tackle inequality, ensuring that the region flourishes.

Transport links have been discussed extensively. Funding of £14.2 million is going towards improving the A82 between Pulpit Rock and Crianlarich; we have already improved the A83 at the Rest and Be Thankful, with £9 million; there are further works at Glen Kinglas and elsewhere; and the task force that has already been mentioned is addressing the problem of continuous access, which everyone recognises and would wish to be brought in. We are also rolling out road equivalent tariff to Bute to further boost connectivity.

Connectivity these days is not just about moving vehicles; it is also about internet connections.



Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
Marco Biagi

Yes indeed. We have a full roll-out in effect from October. The nature of Argyll and Bute means that sometimes I find that there are so many names on the list that I could spend the whole of my time going through it. I do not mean to leave anywhere out. Argyll and Bute includes a diverse set of communities, all of which will benefit.

I have for example a list of 17 places that are benefiting from community broadband, which I will not occupy my time by reading out. That support is there for those that are not being reached by the mainstream project, which has been referred to already as the largest such project in Europe. There will be 800km of new fibre on land and 400km of subsea cables. The project is vast.

It is important that the programme of extending broadband infrastructure will cover 85 per cent of premises, whereas wholly commercial development, without Government intervention, would have reached only 28 per cent. That is being brought about because of our Government intervention.



Meeting of the Parliament 22 January 2015 : Thursday, January 22, 2015
Marco Biagi

I certainly agree that it is very important for any business to be able to connect. As I referred to before, community broadband Scotland is targeting the work for community broadband solutions. That will affect communities and localities and bring that benefit to those that will not benefit from the mainstream roll-out. That is our way of ensuring that broadband of the proper quality that is demanded by these communities can reach every possible corner of Scotland, including in Argyll and Bute.

That is not the only thing that is vital for the economy. There is regeneration going on, through the regeneration capital fund to improve Dunoon pier and tax increment financing for Oban north pier. The people and communities fund is supporting people across the region. The empowering communities fund, which will shortly be detailed by the Government, will undoubtedly offer more opportunities. The small business bonus scheme in Argyll and Bute is helping a tremendous proportion. More than half of all business properties are now paying zero or reduced business rates—one of the higher figures in the country. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, which I am trying to put through Parliament, will allow the local council to adopt local business rates schemes to further build on that. That will help local authorities tackle areas that need additional business rates support.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise has in the first three quarters of 2014-15 created or retained 97 full-time equivalent jobs. There has been a £5 million increase in business turnover. We have the European marine science park and the Scottish Power renewables investment in the Sound of Islay.

There are all kinds of business projects going on, but perhaps what we need is an overarching strategy, with everybody continuing to come together. Recognising the challenges and the need for effective partnership, Argyll and Bute Council is setting up an economic forum, which is due to meet next month. There is a tourism summit on 17 March. I will be visiting Argyll and Bute very soon to discuss how we can further boost the economy and keep working together to ensure that the whole region flourishes. I will be sure to raise there all the important issues that have been aired in today’s debate.

13:04 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—  

Meeting of the Parliament 08 January 2015 : Thursday, January 08, 2015
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

Local authorities must use resources as efficiently as possible and deliver services effectively to ensure that taxpayers get the best possible value. The Accounts Commission published a best-value report on South Ayrshire Council in February 2014 and a further report in December 2014. The latter report notes that the council has made a good start on developing an improved framework to help it to demonstrate best value. The council now needs to continue the improvements that it has started in order to deliver improved services and achieve better outcomes for the people of South Ayrshire.

The local government minister normally writes to the relevant council leader when a best-value report is published, and I did so in the case of South Ayrshire. In my letter, I noted the progress that has been made and reiterated the Accounts Commission’s findings on the need for effective implementation and sustained improvements. I will take a close interest in the council’s progress and in the further report that the controller of audit has been asked to prepare within 18 months.



Meeting of the Parliament 08 January 2015 : Thursday, January 08, 2015
Marco Biagi

Councils must publish performance information that the Accounts Commission specifies. Under the 2014 direction, which was published in December, there are three headline indicators regarding corporate management, service performance and how much reporting is taking place against the requirements of the local government benchmarking framework. A lot of that is published online with support from councils.

The Scottish Government supports that approach, but any council is free to be proactive in publishing and promoting such performance data, especially when it is already collected. That could only help to ensure greater transparency, to ensure that local citizens have an idea of how their council is performing and to ensure that local government is paired with an informed local democracy.



Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to reducing inequality and poverty across Scotland. The national performance framework sets out in the purpose and the national outcomes a clear and unified vision of the kind of Scotland we want to see and how our actions will improve the quality of life for the people of Scotland. It uses a wide range of indicators that provide a broad measure of national and societal wellbeing, and it incorporates a range of economic, social and environmental indicators and targets. Local authorities and their partner bodies in community planning partnerships are expected to ensure that each of their local priorities aligns with one or more of the national outcomes.

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-12182.1 Alex Fergusson: The Chilcot Inquiry—As an amendment to motion S4M-12182 in the name of N
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NoDefeated

S4M-12182 Nicola Sturgeon: The Chilcot Inquiry—That the Parliament calls for Sir John Chilcot’s offi
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12176 John Swinney: Community Charge Debt (Scotland) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the gene
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.2 Michael Matheson: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Kez
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12160.3 Margaret Mitchell: Women Offenders—As an amendment to motion S4M-12160 in the name of Ke
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12160 Kezia Dugdale: Women Offenders—That the Parliament welcomes the decision of the Scottish G
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12154.1 Lewis Macdonald: Partnership Action for Continuing Employment (PACE) – Supporting Indivi
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12120.1 Jenny Marra: 2020 Vision, the Strategic Forward Direction of the NHS—As an amendment to
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-12101 John Swinney: Budget (Scotland) (No.4) Bill—That the Parliament agrees to the general prin
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-12095.4 Ken Macintosh: Tackling Inequalities—As an amendment to motion S4M-12095 in the name of
>> Show more
NoDefeated

Search for other Motions lodged by Marco Biagi
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11597: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11537: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11342: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11341: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11324: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11237: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11218: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 15/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11194: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11193: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11154: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 08/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
This Member currently holds a ministerial post. First Minister and Ministers cannot ask the Government questions which is why no recent questions are displaying here. Please use the full search to find details of previous questions by this Member.
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03642: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03574: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03499: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03457: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22195: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21920: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03337: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02142: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03268: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 19/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03242: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Question >>

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