ONE of Scotland's leading church men has accused Holyrood ministers of "subsidising the rich" over their handling of the financial crisis facing councils.

In a highly unusual and provocative move, the Free Church of Scotland Moderator Rev David Robertson condemned the ongoing freeze on council tax, accusing the Scottish Government of being responsible for "a denigration of local democracy"

The Moderator also called for a greater interest in local democracy rather than a centralisation of power.

The Government has always maintained it has funded the council tax freeze and is seeking to replace the charge in the near future.

It has also claimed the long-standing policy has assisted the lower paid in the current financial climate.

Rev Robertson also argued that senior civil servants had far more power than elected officials, and urged a return to "more-balanced and localised politics".

He said: "We are in an era when the old balances and checks that existed in our country are being threatened by an increase in big government, run by parties funded by big corporations who purchase big media, and led by politicians with a Messianic complex.

"Despite the cries of democracy there is an increasing trend towards centralisation whether to Edinburgh, London or Brussels, and the victims in this are local communities and local councils.

"There is no doubt that many of Scotland's cities and councils are in crisis.

"They are being compelled to make savage cuts in basic services whilst being restrained from cutting others.

"My own city Dundee has to make a budget cut of some £28 million. We all know who will be affected the most. The poor, those who can afford to will go to private gyms, buy their own books and even send their children to private schools."

He added: "Meanwhile the Scottish Government is enslaved to a policy which seemed like a good idea at the time but is now handicapping councils, whilst subsidising the rich.

"The council tax freeze worked well as a temporary populist measure, but to have it as an indefinite policy in a time of austerity is the economics of fairyland.

"The removal of the abilities of local politicians to raise their own taxes is a removal of accountability and a denigration of local democracy."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The Scottish Government has funded the council tax freeze to the tune of almost £500 million since 2008 to ensure local authorities are able to continue to provide the essential services they are responsible for.

"We recognise the pressures on budgets across the whole of the public sector, and in households throughout Scotland, which is why it is important to maintain the council tax freeze... while we consider ways to replace it, as well as reimbursing local authorities.

"Pay for local government employees is a matter for local authorities, which as independent bodies accountable to their electorates are responsible for managing their own budgets."