Centralisation v Local Democracy

The Times ran an article on Friday regarding a possible shake up of local Government in Scotland and this was picked up yesterday by the Yoon (Press) and Journal.

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It appears that the Scottish Government are looking at Transport Scotland taking over the maintainance of all roads, some shared services at local levels and individual towns being responsible for refuse collection. No doubt other services are being reviewed. Now of course the SLGP (Scottish Local Govenment Partnership), the local authorities who threw the dummy out the pram when the voters had the gaul to vote SNP and up and left COSLA because they weren’t getting their own way have went into SNP bad mode. SLGP convener, and Aberdeen council leader, Jenny Laing said: “The SNP’s centralising agenda knows no bounds. North-east Conservative MSP Ross Thomson said “ we have an SNP government embarking on an all out attack on local councils, removing decision making, power and funds.” Obviously, and as we have come to understand with the yoons, much of what they say is pretty much bollocks. But it does bring to the fore the debate about local Government.

David O’Neil, president of council umbrella body Cosla, said reform of local government was “vitally important”. The Scottish Government said: “In this parliament we will introduce a bill that will refresh local democracy by giving more power to local communities. “ We will review the roles and responsibilities of local authorities with an aim to transform our democratic landscape, protect and renew public services and refresh the relationship between citizens, communities and councils.”

Now I lean towards more powers being devolved down than up, every local authority is different with different needs and as many decisions should be made locally as possible. I am not against shared services at all, esp where this protects jobs and delivers better outcomes. I am less inclined to have centralised services, I was for the idea of Police Scotland but I am not convinced it has worked as well as we hoped it would, I accept that Police Scotland are in a no win situation with the yoons and the SNP bad media but it does seem to be distant from local accountability and while that may not be the case it appears to be that way from the outside looking in. I am also not for 32 local councils, while this may look more democratic, in some ways I think it is too many for the size of the country. I would like to see less, although there would be a lot of opposition to that I suspect, but I would not be upset if say Dundee were to become a part of Angus for example, sharing resources and possibly making things better across the board. However we would need to study this and compare across the UK and the EU to see what others do.

Devolution for me has been a fantastic thing for Scotland, total nightmare for Labour as they hoped it would end the independence debate, and a lifeline for the Conservatives and the Liberals as Holyrood has allowed the Liberals to remain on life support and the Tories to capture the yoon vote and stage a holding position, don’t forget Ruth Davidson continues to get less of a vote than her predecessors no matter what the yoon press say.

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As we lead up to the local council elections next year now is the time for a debate on the shape and future of local councils, esp given the continued onslaught of cuts from the Conservatives at Westminster and blamed on the SNP at Holyrood. I would not be against more decisions regarding health being taken at the local level involving local health care professionals and elected representatives, I would not be against more shared services and larger local councils coming down from 32, although I accept that reducing the number of local councils does little to make local democracy easier and a debate would need to be had. I would also like to see more fiscal autonomy to local councils, the changes to council tax are to be welcomed but councils need to be able to set the rate or decide on a freeze and be answerable to local people for the decisions they make. An interesting debate has been opened up by the usual yoon SNP bad media and opposition, but it is one we need to be having.

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10 comments

    • grumpyscottishman

      Alan

      I believe the Greens favour more and smaller councils and that certainly appears to be the norm in the EU, but I don’t think there is an appetite for more councils in the current climate so maybe larger with better services is a consideration. There are no easy answers and while I can’t stand the SNP bad mantra from the yoons it is a discussion that needs to be had but with all of us and not one just for the politicians. I’ll check out the link, thanks.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bruce

      • Alan

        I’d agree that there isn’t an appetite for more councils if they’re simply going to be carbon copies of current councils.

        What I’d like to see is devolution to the ward level at the same time the council tax is abolished or reformed. But I think that sort of reform is well beyond the capability of the present Scottish Parliament to provide and it may create one tier too many of governments for the average Scot to put up with if it’s implemented badly or uninspiringly(Just look at PCCs in England).

        It’s certainly something which should be discussed, I think, but unfortunately more of a back burner issue as long as a second referendum is hanging in the air.

        I do think even bigger and fewer councils would simply create rural-urban schisms as, like Tris points out, the needs of Dundee are quite different from the needs of the surrounding Angus towns. It’s for that reason the residents of East Riding of Yorkshire voted down a proposal to enlarge the boundary of Hull’s council overwhelmingly. http://www2.eastriding.gov.uk/council/elections-and-voting/elections/east-riding-boundary-referendum/

        • grumpyscottishman

          Alan

          I take your points on board. I don’t think we will ever see devolved powers to the ward level although there are some limited financial mechanism for grants at that level as part of the community planning process. I agree with you on council tax, it has had it’s day and should be replaced by a land tax or anything similar. I just hope that we do get some discussion rather then people burying their heads in the sand as usual.

          Thanks for commenting.

          Bruce

  1. trispw

    I’m against most centralization, although in matters like the police, it made economic sense to share resources. I can see that, and particularly when the government has less and less money to work with, that makes sense.

    But your absolutely right when you talk about the different needs of different areas. Dundee, as part of Angus, is a non-starter. Dundee is a large (by Scottish standards) post-industrial city. The Angus towns are small country or seaside towns. Of course there are similarities and there are ways in which councils could, and should, be encouraged to share facilities. But the needs of Kirriemuir and Dundee are very different in many ways.

    Of course it would also be fair to say that the needs of Kirkton and Broughty Ferry are different, or the Hilltown and the Perth Road.

    Wiser heads than mine will decide, but, at least we have a minority government in Scotland. The SNP can’t be blamed for pushing something through. They will need votes from other parties.

    • grumpyscottishman

      Tris

      You make a lot of fair points, as I said to Alan, I don’t think people will go for more and smaller councils and I see what you mean about Angus but I suppose it’s a discussion that can’t be put off much longer. I hope the yoons don’t make a mockery of any debate but that won’t happen will it, but also any debate must include all of us. The climate is very diffcult just now and working in local government I see cuts and their effects every day, I also see increased workloads and the effects this is certainly having in Dundee, myself included. Something has to give and it is time we started to really talk about it.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bruce

      • trispw

        I think everyone is suffering from cuts. I’m not going to start the blame game. There is less money. The block grant has been heavily reduced since the bankers stuffed the economy. Scotland gets less; the councils get less from Scotland.

        We do have the opportunity for the government to increase income tax. of course that’s a nightmare because it can;t be balanced by any other tax.

        It would be interesting if the SNP proposed it, would Labour vote with them, and take the flack, or would they vote with the Tories?

        • grumpyscottishman

          Tris

          The SNP can’t win and the Tories and the other Tory Parties would brick it if they were in Government just now and would no doubt make a complete arse of it. There are no easy solutions and I totally get that and that is why we all have to be involved in the discussion as best we can. We all need to take responsibility and stop the blame game like Ruth Davidson, Kezia Dugdale and wee Willie Rennie.

          Thanks for commenting.

          Bruce

  2. Dave

    I worked for 6 councils in my long and unillustrious (is that a word?) career and have seen a great many changes. It often felt that the changes came so thick and fast that many projects didn’t get a chance before the goal posts changed. Being answerable tae the cooncillors who didn’t like complaints, created such a risk averse culture that often departments would be paralysed into inactivity. What in my opinion arose as the result of this was an organisation that’s primary function was to serve itself first and the public second. I’ve worked for them when big was good because of spending power etc.. and when this went out of fashion they were split up and made smaller. Both looked after themselves first.

    Then came the cuts which happened for councils well before any bankers fucked up. With the cuts came autocratic senior management who were not to be questioned. This in my humble is a weakness because an inability to challenge saps morale, stifles creativity and excludes the folk down the chain who know the job from contributing. In fairness to the senior manager role (not the people) the job is so impossible what with huge cuts and increasing expectations that candidates have to lie to get the jobs. They then fasten it down tight in a reign of terror to keep the lid on in the hope they either retire or get another job before the shit hits the fan. I along with my colleagues managed to survive a number of these people.

    For me improving our councils isn’t so much about size, yes it matters but it’s more about having modern management practice. It’s also about having an ethos which is customer friendly and this is properly promoted as the way council work. But lastly and more importantly it’s about having an honest dialogue with the public because it’s no use trying to pretend that everything’s ok when there’s no money. This I think is at the root of why councils piss everyone off so much. It’s not about how its run or streamlined any more, were past that. Basic frontline services can barely function for lack of resources. Just try really needing them and you’ll get it right away. Say for example by getting old.

    • grumpyscottishman

      Dave

      I am currently working for a local authority and we are constantly going through change while being in constant fear for our jobs the last 6 years and with more cuts on the way I am not sure I will survive much longer to be honest. To be fair management has been trimmed where I am through voluntary redundancy and early retirement but it’s fair to say that as many staff at the coal face have gone also, if not more. I don’t think there are any long term visions for the local authoreity now, I think they go from year to year doing their best in most cases but fighting a losing battle. Services in the longer term will go and there needs to be a wide ranging diuscussion about that and people need to understand why. We also have to be clear that the cuts are a result of mainly unionist cuts, we cannot allow the various tory parties or the unionist media to lay the blame sowly at the door of the SNP, can things better under the SNP watch, probably, but they are reacting to cuts also and that needs to be a part of the debate. Things are going to get worse either way.

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bruce

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