May 30, 2012
Our previous comments on the dire state of local democracy in Scotland struck a chord with many. There is clearly widespread dismay at the current state of affairs but few practical ideas as to the way ahead. Think tank, Reform Scotland, have had a go. It suggests that the way to tackle the most centralised system of local government in Europe is to have even fewer councils albeit with more powers than at present. Not sure about the logic of this one but at least it sparked some reaction.
The number of Scottish councils should be cut by almost half and their powers boosted to revitalise local government, a think tank has said.
Reform Scotland also said health and police boards should be scrapped, and their responsibility added to councils. It wants to see local authorities reduced from the current 32, to 19. The think tank said the “crisis” in local government was highlighted by poor turnouts at the 3 May council elections.
The recommendations were dismissed by local authority umbrella group Cosla and the Scottish government.
In a new report on renewing local government, Reform Scotland also proposed the election of mayors and the devolution of local taxes, all under plans to bring power closer to the people and “reverse the trend” of centralising power with government.
Under Reform Scotland’s proposals, some city councils and ones with large areas, like Edinburgh and Highland, would stay the same. But other neighbouring authorities, like North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire, would be merged into a new area simply known as “Lanarkshire”.
The new councils under the proposed structure would be:
• Ayrshire (comprising East, North and South Ayrshire)
• Dunbartonshire (comprising East and West Dunbartonshire)
• East and Midlothian (comprising East and Midlothian)
• Forth Valley (comprising Clackmannanshire, Falkirk, West Lothian and Stirling)
• Grampian (comprising Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray)
• Lanarkshire (comprising North and South Lanarkshire)
• Renfrewshire (comprising East Renfrewshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire)
• Tayside (comprising Dundee and Angus)
• Argyll and Bute, Perth and Kinross, Dumfries and Galloway, Edinburgh, Eilean Siar, Fife, Glasgow, Highland, Orkney, Shetland and Borders remain unchanged.
Reform Scotland chairman Ben Thomson said: “It is clear from the recent disappointing local election turnout that we have to take action against the erosion of local democracy in Scotland. This is not a party-political issue, and we hope to start a vital debate in this country which will result in a solution being found which empowers our councils, and which engages people at election-time.”
“It is certainly the case that there is too much confusion caused by the inconsistent number of councils, police boards and health boards, and, by making these boundaries the same and making local authorities more responsible for these essential services, we will take a big step in the right direction.”
A Cosla spokesman, described the Reform Scotland report as “disappointing” and said some of the thinking behind it was “woolly and piecemeal”.
He added: “It is also interesting and somewhat odd that a think tank that champions localism is trying to deny councils the opportunity to be truly local with some of the suggestions in this report.”
A Scottish government spokesman said: “Our approach to reforming Scotland’s public services, following on from the Christie Commission’s recommendations, is about making sure that they are consistently well-designed and delivered to the right people by the right people – it does not rely on wholesale structural reform.
“Local authorities are already finding innovative ways of collaborating and improving frontline services to deliver the best outcomes for the people of Scotland.”