Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw introduced a debate in the Parliament on localism His motion read: “That the Parliament notes with concern, despite the SNP administration’s rhetoric to the contrary, the increasing centralisation of power into the hands of ministers rather than to Scotland’s councils and local communities; deplores the growing number of decisions being made and initiatives being introduced by central government and imposed on local authorities and local communities, particularly those relating to planning and service provision; considers that the effect of this centralisation has had a counterproductive, stifling and damaging effect on local democracy and accountability, and supports measures that enhance localism and subsidiarity and that return decision-making to Scottish communities.”
Addressing the Parliament, he said: “Despite their professed rhetoric to the contrary, ministers in the Government believe at heart that they know best. For them, devolution is a one-way principle: it is the devolution of power down from Westminster to them and the devolution of decision making up from local councils to them. For Scottish Conservatives, as David Cameron stated in Dumfries last week, it is about “smashing through the old-school, centralising, power-hoarding establishment that has had its grip on Scottish life for too long.” “Nowhere is that centralising more consuming in its suffocation of local determination than in planning, which we have discussed in debates in the chamber that have been led by us and the Labour Party.
Councils are now overwhelmed with applications fuelled by subsidies and find that, whatever their local determination, it is likely that a refusal will be overturned.
“Scottish Conservatives would abolish the central councillors’ code of conduct and allow local authorities to bring forward their own codes, which, we believe, would have at their heart the notion that being elected to office is in itself a commitment to act in the public interest and that a forced objectivity in planning decisions is unnecessary. Communities are certainly bewildered by the fact that they cannot go to their councillor and have a meaningful discussion about a major application for a proposed development in their area because of the councillor’s belief that any determination that they might make would leave them barred from expressing an opinion.”
Derek Mackay, Minister for Local Government and Planning, added: “On localism, the United Kingdom Government has adopted the Big Society, but we know that that really means cuts to public services. However, the Scottish Government believes in growing the third sector and social enterprises and in working in partnership with people. People will remember Michael Forsyth talking about ‘real devolution’ in 1995. The Conservative concept of devolution is best exemplified through welfare reform. The Conservatives have not devolved the power on welfare to us so that we can create a more compassionate society; they have simply passed the burden to the weakest and most vulnerable in Scotland.”
25.04.12: Public services reform and local government
The Local Government and Regeneration Committee heard evidence on public service reform and local government.
Minister for Local Government and Planning, Derek Mackay, and Pat Watters, outgoing president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, addressed the committee.
Mackay opened by making a statement. He said: “We want to create a community planning framework that brings all parts of the public sector together to focus on outcomes and achieve the better Scotland to which we all aspire. The Government’s response to Christie and our whole focus on community planning are based on the four pillars of reform—prevention, integration, workforce development and improved performance—and they have very much been the driving force behind the review.
“A really important part of the review is the document ‘Community Planning Review—Statement of Ambition’, which describes how community planning should look in the future, including the introduction of more hard-edged single outcome agreements that will make a difference in local communities. The statement of ambition sought to ensure that we addressed a number of issues that your committee and other committees have raised about all the public sector working not only together but with the third sector and other partners, and it is with a sense of reassurance and excitement that we have established the statement and its framework as we head into the local government elections.”
Watters added: “I do not disagree with anything that Derek Mackay has said. It has long been local government’s view that, given the financial circumstances that the public sector in Scotland faces now and into the future, we must radically change service delivery. We have never felt that structural change was the only option available to the public sector in Scotland; we believe in better integration of services, which is why we welcome the opportunity to review community planning and to think about how we might reshape it to meet communities’ needs now and into the future.
“We think that the public sector will be in this financial situation for quite some time and community planning gives us the chance to have better integration and service delivery and to make an impact on communities. We are not saying that so that people do not bother us and just leave us to get on with things—we actually believe that it is important both to value and evaluate outcomes in communities, and I am very pleased that the Accounts Commission has come on board to look at how we might do that. We are very relaxed about the review and very happy to be part of it.”
Maureen Watt, Convener of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, opened a debate on homelessness.
She said: “I welcome the opportunity to open on behalf of the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee the debate on the committee’s report on progress towards the implementation of Scotland’s 2012 homelessness commitment. It has certainly been a day of contrast in the Scottish Parliament. It has probably not escaped members’ notice that, this morning, one of the world’s wealthiest and most high-profile businessmen gave evidence to one of our committees. This afternoon, we are in the chamber discussing how we ensure that we deliver on a commitment to improve the rights of one of the most vulnerable groups in our society.
“The 2012 commitment, which was created under the Homelessness etc (Scotland) Act 2003, entitles all unintentionally homeless people to settled accommodation by the end of this year. Currently, local authorities have to secure settled accommodation only for those homeless applicants who have been assessed as being unintentionally homeless and in priority need. The Act stipulates that the priority need distinction must be abolished by 31 December 2012. That means that, from the point of abolition, all unintentionally homeless households will be entitled to settled accommodation.”