Councils and the Scottish Government must form a “new constitutional relationship” - Reform Scotland

Written by Kate Shannon on 18 April 2017 in News

Reform Scotland has proposed a complete overhaul of local governance via primary legislation 

Paper chain: Picture credit - Holyrood stock images

Scotland’s councils and the Scottish Government must form a “new constitutional relationship”, governed by legislation which recognises the importance of local government to democracy and the operation of public services, according to a think tank.

Reform Scotland has proposed a complete overhaul of local governance via primary legislation ahead of next month's local authority elections.

In publishing its Blueprint for Local Power document, it said local democracy has been “eroded by successive governments over many decades” and needs to be revitalised.


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Reform Scotland’s director Geoff Mawdsley said: “Successive governments at Holyrood and Westminster have paid lip service to the importance of local government, while centralising its power and reducing its autonomy and accountability.

“If there is any point in having a level of local government, and if we want it to mean anything, then we have to allow it to exercise power and with it take responsibility.

“That is why we are proposing legislation to cement local authorities’ place in the spectrum of governance in Scotland.

“If a task can more effectively be carried out at a local level, it should be devolved to local government instead of sitting at Holyrood.

“Critically, local authorities should be raising more of what they spend. At present, they raise only £1.40 of every £10 they spend. Council tax and business rates should be devolved to local authorities, and thereafter they should be able to introduce new taxes, or scrap existing ones, to fit their local circumstances.

“Local democracy is at a crossroads - it is time for politicians to follow decades of words with some action.”

The non-party think tank proposes the new constitutional relationship is based on three principles:

  • Local authorities will be responsible for all areas not specifically reserved to Holyrood - this is the same principle which governs the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood
  • Tasks should be carried out at the lowest level practical - the principle of subsidiarity, which would replace uniformity and drive forward on-the-ground innovation
  • Local authorities would provide clear and transparent information on their activities to ensure proper local accountability.

Reform Scotland also calls for councils to be given the responsibilities of quangos wherever possible, and to have complete control over the type and level of taxes levied on local residents.

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