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New report says councils should have more powers

New report says councils should have more powers

Local authorities should be equipped with major tax raising powers, according to a “radical” new report.

With a month to go until Scotland decides its constitutional future, the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy has laid out new proposals to “rebuild Scottish democracy”, regardless of the referendum result.

The commission said local people should be able to decide levels of local taxation in relation to the services they want, adding that it is “completely inconsistent” with a strong local democracy for this to be determined or enforced nationally.

It wants councils to have full control of a whole range of property taxes and the freedom to use these in ways to suit local circumstances. Commissioners also called for a fundamental review of the structures, boundaries, functions and democratic arrangements of both local authorities and other local public services.

Councillor David O’Neill, chairman of the commission, said: “The report we publish today is the culmination of an intensive year of work.  We have thought long and hard, and engaged widely about the challenges facing our democracy as participation in elections at every level falters, and disaffection with politics grows.

“Be under no illusion. This report is radical, and sets out some big ideas that could really change Scotland.  All we ask is that people come to our findings with an open mind.  We understand how difficult it is to throw off the shackles of the current way of looking at democracy.  However, the reality is that if we are serious about making Scotland fairer, wealthier and healthier then we need to start putting local communities in control over what matters to them.”

The commission was set up by local government umbrella organisation COSLA to try to find ways of giving local communities more power.

Its findings say that for a country with Scotland’s relative wealth and strength, the level of inequality today is “simply intolerable”.

O’Neil continued: “Over the decades Scotland has become perhaps one of the most centralised countries in Europe.  We have built that view based on an open conversation over the last year with thousands of people across Scotland, the UK and Europe, and all of our evidence is publicly available.  It is little wonder that many have lost faith in the democratic system altogether.

“It is going to be a tough journey; after all, everyone who is active in public life today has only ever experienced the current way of working.  The challenge I would make to anyone engaging with this report is that if you agree with us, join us in building a better democracy.  I want one legacy of this Commission to be an alliance of voices that are ambitious together, and that together can push change forward and make it inevitable.  If we sit back we will get the democracy we allow; the current period of constitutional debate and creativity creates a real opportunity to get the democracy our communities deserve.”

Earlier this year the Green MSPs published a set of ideas for revitalising local democracy, including creating smaller units of government that have the power to raise the majority of their funding locally.

Green MSP Alison Johnstone welcomed today’s report and said: “This, along with our own ideas, will add momentum to the need to improve how we deliver local services and involve the public. While I think there’s a greater chance of devolving power to communities if we become an independent country, it’s essential we push the issue up the agenda whatever the result of the referendum.”

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