Councils want revolution in local democracy

Councils want revolution in local democracy
The Herald Scotland, by David Ross


Scotland’s cash-strapped councils are calling on politicians from all parties, to launch a revolution in local democracy within the first few months after May’s Holyrood election.


They accuse MSPs of spending too much time concentrating on cutbacks to police or teacher numbers, or telling local authorities how their budgets should be spent.


COSLA, the local authorities’ umbrella body, says the current political approach which has seen rows over the council tax freeze and huge cut-backs is ‘wasteful’ and does little to prevent problems.


In its ‘Manifesto for Stronger Scottish Democracy’ published today ahead of the election campaign, it says the next Scottish Parliament should put local communities more in control.


It says that 50 years ago, Scotland’s councils raised over 50 per cent of their expenditure through local taxation. Today that has fallen to 12%, which is out of step with the rest of Europe.


COSLA says “Not long ago we backed the radical vision put forward by the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy to empower local communities to decide on their priorities, their services, and their spending. We are determined to deliver change, no matter how difficult the ?nancial pressure gets and no matter what obstacles get in the way. We simply cannot afford to do anything else.”


So COSLA is calling on every candidate to commit to delivering five key pledges within the ?rst 100 days of their election:


Make Scotland’s public services local, through an immediate review to localise and simplify how all public services are governed and made accountable to communities.


Redraw the partnership between local and national government, beginning with a summit to deliver a new framework.


Give communities ?nancial choices, by putting local control at the heart of local taxation.


Open up Scottish democracy, by joining COSLA in establishing a constitutional convention to design a new approach to accountability.


Join up thinking on reform, by focusing the debate on local outcomes not sound bites.


The backcloth to the COSLA move is local councils across the land having to make huge cuts in spending. Glasgow City Council recently confirmed over half the £130million it needs to make in cuts and savings over the next two years, with reductions in service provision including police funding, community grants. It has a target of 1500 jobs to go in the next 12 months.


It came as more than 100 school janitors in the city were embarking on a three-day strike in a dispute over pay.


Meanwhile at the other end of the country Highland Council is looking for £30m cuts this year with around 300 jobs at least to go.


Speaking as he launched the Manifesto, COSLA’s President North Ayrshire councillor David O’Neill said: “In just over six weeks Scotland goes to the polls. It is a pivotal opportunity to think about the kind of country we want, and about the changes that could make a real difference to communities across the country.


“Like every elected local councillor, I already passionately believe in local democracy and see it as a real, meaningful and positive force for good in every part of Scotland. Local democracy also impacts on every single one of us in one way or another on a daily basis."


He said all in Scottish local government wanted to harness the power of a more local way of doing things, and overhaul participation in decision-making across the country by bringing democracy closer to people.


He said a series of independent reports had shown that it was time for "this new, radical, local approach."
"Communities around Europe are already feeling the benefits and there’s a buzz about what can be achieved here. It’s time to translate that energy into real action. However, we know that this simply won’t be possible without commitment from across the political spectrum and across all spheres of government.


“That’s why we’re asking every parliamentary candidate to sign up to five key pledges that will begin to put local democracy on the political map within Scotland."