Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Flexibility and accountability in Scottish local government

The Scottish Parliament Local Government and Regeneration Committee has produced a report on their inquiry into flexibility and autonomy in local government.

The main findings include:

  • There should be no increase in the number of councils because voters are apparently more interested in how powers are exercised than ratios. Scotland has fewer councils than any other EU country per head of population.
  • There should be more delegation of powers and budgets to communities and the powers already exist to do this, although progress is patchy.
  • There should be an independent cross party commission to look at the future financing of local government. Existing restrictions imposed centrally should be relaxed allowing local authorities to determine what is appropriate for local circumstances.
  • Island authorities should have more devolved powers.
  • There should be core national standards and services, but after these have been met it should be a matter for local democracy. Even if that looks like a postcode lottery.
  • Control by the centre, whether at local or central government needs to be addressed. Unless authorities and communities perceive they have the freedom to make decisions without control being exercised at a higher level there will always be a resistance to innovation, taking risks and delivering localised services to meet differing needs.

This report gives welcome support for local democracy rather than centralisation and standardisation. UNISON has always opposed a one size fits all approach - one person's postcode lottery is another's local priority. The recommendation on removing central controls is particularly welcome.

The committee is right to point out that the powers already exist to devolve services to communities. This was also highlighted in the Christie Commission report, three years ago last weekend.

The headline recommendation is a cross party commission on council funding. UNISON called for a cross party approach to break the current policy log jam, so this is particularly welcome. This does not have to be a long drawn out process and the heavy lifting on this issue was done by the Burt Commission in 2006. Very little has changed in terms of the options.

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