COSLA is still an effective organisation, says president
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) remains an effective organisation, despite its current difficulties, according to the organisation’s president.
In his speech to the joint COSLA and Improvement Service conference in St Andrews last week, David O’Neill told delegates that COSLA “is effective because of the way we work internally and externally, not in spite of it”.
Seven councils – Aberdeen, Dumfries and Galloway, Renfrewshire, Inverclyde, South Lanarkshire, West Lothian and Glasgow – have given notice to quit COSLA in April 2015. All the councils are controlled by Labour administrations. Concerns about the financial settlement the authorities receive from the Scottish Government are at the heart of their decision to break with COSLA.
He said: “Despite conditions in Scotland which cannot be described as conducive to successful lobbying, a majority government at Holyrood, diminishing financial resources and a COSLA politics which delivers no overall control to a single party, our successes have been considerable.
“At a time when public confidence in politicians is not high…what does it say about us if our way of working is to be consensual only up to the point where we don’t individually get what we want and at that point we spit the dummy out and threaten never to speak to our political colleagues again?
“Furthermore, if one of our colleagues does that, what does it say about the rest of us if rather than encouraging them back into the fold we just say ‘if you’re leaving, we’re going as well’.
“It seems to me that COSLA’s current difficulties are caused by too many people forgetting the founding principle that drives any national/local government association anywhere in Europe.
“That principle is there is a common good for local government and therefore local people and it can only be protected, enhanced and developed by consensus, joint working, mature discussion and decision making, and when it comes right down to it, a willingness to accept the fact that a common good is just that – something that is the best for everybody, not just the best for a few.”
O’Neill said all COSLA’s decisions, whether they are split by voting or not, are corporate decisions owned by all of the 32 councils not just by some. He added: “All of COSLA’s successes are owned by all 32 councils, not just by some and all COSLA’s failures are owned by all 32, not just by some. There is no avoiding this collective responsibility because constitutionally and in reality, there are no spectators in COSLA.
“This country is still rife with inequality. Whether it is inequality in health, inequality in education and jobs or inequality in that most basic measure, life expectancy, Scotland is still not closing the gap between the best off and the worst off. I am passionate about that gap being closed and I am sure that no other form of relationship than a partnership between all spheres of government and all agencies can possibly be effective in this regard.”