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by Kate Shannon
05 January 2015
Short odds

Short odds

As we wave goodbye to 2014, with its referendum, dancing teacakes and unprecedented levels of political engagement, it’s time to ask that burning question: what will 2015 mean for Scottish local government?

Putting on my Mystic Meg hat for a minute, I foresee three big issues for local government.

Firstly, there is the question of whether there will be a split in local government umbrella organisation the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in the coming months.

Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire all look set to leave, while Inverclyde initially said it would go but has since reversed its decision.

Funding has been at the heart of the problem, with many councils disagreeing with the complex formula used by the Scottish Government to divide up the pot of money.

In recent months, the leaders of Aberdeen, Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire have been meeting to discuss a new Scottish Local Government Partnership which they hope will be in place by March.

My second prediction is this will be the year we sort out local government funding

The partnership has agreed a set of guiding principles and is currently establishing terms of reference. Its aim is "to promote and secure the legitimate role of its member councils in the governance of Scotland".

Moving on, my second prediction is this will be the year we sort out local government funding. Or at the very least start talking about it. In November, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced an independent commission will be set up to report on fairer alternatives to the council tax by autumn 2015. However, no-one seems to have told Labour leader Jim Murphy this as in the question and answer session following a speech in Edinburgh this morning, he said: "I also think we should have a Smith Commission-style review of the responsibilities of local government which then funding would follow responsibilities, whereas at the moment the SNP Government announce a new policy and the only cost for them is the cost of the press release and the local authorities have to pick up the cost of the policy."

Politicians have been talking about changing the way local government is funded for years but as yet, no-one has suggested a solution (apart from the Greens), so it’ll be interesting to see what this commission comes up with. It’s a difficult issue but definitely one which needs to be addressed.

Finally, who can forget the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill? It’s been a long time in the making, so I’m relieved this piece of legislation is finally moving through parliament and can hopefully start to help make a difference to people's lives. The independence referendum saw fantastic levels of public engagement and this must be maintained. Legislating in this area is tricky but I sincerely hope the Bill will help galvanise people and help make 2015 the year of community empowerment.

That’s it for now, if anyone wants predictions on lottery numbers or horse races*, I’m here all week.

*this is a joke

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