The Commission for local democracy has published its interim report. The key finding is that local democracy is under pressure as a result of a fifty year trend in centralising power and functions in Scotland. This also is as a result of and a continuation of a “centralist mind set”; where bodies at all levels hang on to powers and resources rather than empower individuals and communities.
The commission highlights the following as the key implications from evidence they have received:
· Definite loss of trust and confidence and participation in democracy: disadvantaged communities that need the most representation are least able to participate
· Link between representative and participatory democracy has become hard to bridge because of the gap between the scale of representative institutions and the community base for participation
· Big government and big local government have struggled to address inequalities because they occur at a “granular local community level” big systems also struggle to engage with the diversity of Scotland’s communities because they are so geared to uniformity and standardisation
The Commission believe to move forward:
· Scotland needs to change the way it thinks about democracy
· Strong democracy is both participatory and representative
· Services and decision making must fit communities
· Improving outcomes requires fiscal empowerment
The report makes interesting reading and the focus on democracy and delivering real change in communities rather than local government structures is welcome. It also gives a good overview of how local democracy operates elsewhere. What it also highlights is how uniform local government functions, responsibilities and electoral mechanisms are across Scotland when so many other countries operate very different solutions for example in villages towns and cities.
The focus on resources is also welcome. The report looks not at just funding for local government but at how to resource and empower communities.
There is a lot to think about in this interim report and very useful detail on how others operate local democracy. The hard work is yet to come though: designing and implementing solutions.
There will be a fuller briefing for branches next week.