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18 February 2014
Local government inquiry launched

Local government inquiry launched

The future of local government in Scotland is to be examined in an inquiry launched by a Holyrood committee.

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Regeneration Committee will explore whether councils have the necessary flexibility, autonomy, and constitutional place to meet the ongoing and future needs of communities.

Committee convener Kevin Stewart MSP said: “Local democracy plays a vital role in the lives of people across Scotland. As we debate questions about Scotland’s constitutional future it is timely our committee take the opportunity to examine whether the local democratic structures currently in place are right for Scotland, no matter what the future may bring.

“Our committee will look at a range of issues during this inquiry and we want to hear from those with an interest in how local government operates as well as those living and working in communities about their experiences of local government.”

Issues such as the legal, constitutional and funding mechanisms in place will be explored during the course of the inquiry, which is expected to begin taking oral evidence in April.

The committee will consider public engagement and turnout at local elections, while also comparing the structures in place in Scotland with other jurisdictions. It will also look at how remote communities, such as rural or island communities, are accommodated within local government structures.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) has said progress on implementing reform “has ground to a near halt” in the two and a half years since the publication of the Christie Commission report.

SCVO policy officer Kate Wane said: “What would happen if we turned around to the Scottish Government and said: “You’ve got three years to get this done?” Would this be the prompt our policy makers need to drive progress on Christie forward?

“That’s not to say that we’ve done nothing since Christie but progress is slow and so far has been primarily focused on structural changes. The concepts of Christie have been grasped by our policy makers but practical implementation of these changes has been lacking.

“I’m not saying I don’t want careful, measured, consideration of change. Change is complicated and it’s hard. If we’re going to reform our public services let’s do it right. However, we cannot afford to adopt a lackadaisical attitude to reform.  In years to come we don’t want still to be discussing the change we want without having made any progress towards making it happen.”

Last week the Scottish Greens published a set of ideas for revitalising local government and local democracy.

The party is calling for a move towards much smaller units of government that would be able to raise the majority of their funding locally. The aim is to emulate the kind of stronger democracy other European countries such as Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands take for granted.

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