William Eichler 18 April 2017

Think tank calls for ‘overhaul’ of local democracy in Scotland

A think tank has published a ‘blueprint’ for a complete overhaul of local governance in Scotland via the introduction of primary legislation.

Reform Scotland has argued that local democracy has been eroded by successive governments ‘over many decades’ and ‘needs to be revitalised.’

Its report, Blueprint for Local Power, calls for a new constitutional relationship between local and central government.

This would be governed by a new piece of legislation which recognises the importance of local government to democracy and the operation of public services.

The think tanks said the new constitutional relationship should be based on three clear principles. Local authorities should be responsible for all areas not specifically reserved to Holyrood.

Tasks should also be carried out at the lowest level practical. This ‘principle of subsidiarity’ would, the think tank said, replace uniformity and drive forward on-the-ground innovation.

Finally, local authorities would provide clear and transparent information on their activities to ensure proper local accountability.

The report also called for councils to be given the responsibilities of quangos wherever possible, and to have complete control over the type and level of taxes levied on local residents.

‘Successive governments at Holyrood and Westminster have paid lip service to the importance of local government, while centralising its power and reducing its autonomy and accountability,’ said Reform Scotland’s director Geoff Mawdsley.

‘If there is any point in having a level of local government, and if we want it to mean anything, then we have to allow it to exercise power and with it take responsibility.

‘That is why we are proposing legislation to cement local authorities’ place in the spectrum of governance in Scotland.’

‘Local democracy is at a crossroads – it is time for politicians to follow decades of words with some action,’ he added.

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