Highland democracy ‘too centralised’, finds commission

Written by Tom Freeman on 15 December 2017 in News

Call for more power to be devolved to community councils in the Highlands

Highland hill - creative commons

The democratic process in the Scottish Highlands is being held up by a concentration of power and a lack of cooperation between public agencies, an independent commission has found.

The Commission on Highland Democracy has presented a report to Highland Council which contains a number of recommendations based on interviews conducted across the area over the last two years.

These include more localised planning and a greater role for community councils.

Community councils "either have to be supported, developed and resourced in such a way that they can play a full and active part in representative democracy in the Highlands, or it must be recognised they don’t and can’t carry out this function,” according to the report.

Former COSLA chief Rory Mair, who chaired the commission, said: “We found that people consider decision making to be centralised, not because it takes place a long distance from them.

“Rather, they feel that centralisation occurs when a small group of highly empowered individuals take decisions in a way that has little reference to anybody outside the decision-making group and in an exclusive way.

“It matters little where decision makers are situated and much more how they go about their business. People want a relationship with decision makers in which they are involved and engaged on an ongoing basis.”

Responding, council leader Margaret Davidson said: “We know from our annual survey work that very few people in the region feel that they are involved in how the Council spends its money, or feel that they have any influence over decision making in their local area.

“Rory and his fellow Commissioners have worked hard to produce a report that is based on hearing what our communities have to say about this.”

The Highlands is the largest local authority area in the UK.

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