securing service delivery and accountability at a local level, Keith Geddes, president of COSLA, said today in a speech at a seminar on community planning.
'Community planning allows us to move away from the debate about
whether it should be local government or central government which
the third way,' says cllr Geddes.
'It provides a new alternative for a new Scotland. I believe it
secures local service delivery and local accountability at a local
level. I believe that it can work and that it will work and that
today's conference can be the starting point in developing a new and
better way of meeting the needs of all of Scotland's communities.'
And he says that the Scottish parliament should not become a super
local authority which sees its role as running things from the centre.
'If the parliament goes down the road of centralisation then the whole
principle of devolution and subsidiarity will be lost. It would be
goodbye to local people taking local decisions and influencing local
policy at a local level.
'Communities throughout Scotland would have a diminished view of the
worth of Scotland's new parliament if it were to remove from local
communities the right to the final say as to how education, police,
social work and other services were delivered in policy and practical
terms at a local level. So I hope and believe that the new parliament
will not listen to those who see its creation as a means of
Mrr Geddes identified three areas where councils could develop
their unique status as democratically elected bodies - developing a
vision for their localities; providing a focus for partnership and
guaranteeing quality services for all.
But he says that as well as providing an enormous opportunity,
community planning also presents a challenge for local government and
its partner organisations: 'The first challenge for local government
is to make space for it to happen. Community planning will need time,
energy and commitment from both members and officers if it is to be
'To make its introduction successful we have to give community
planning the priority it deserves. We can do this by further
redefining what our core business should be. Deciding which key
services local government wants to be in the business of delivering
directly and which services are best delivered by others or delivered
by a partnership of local government and other agencies.
Mr Geddes also identified the loss of some 2,300 corporate
posts in local government since 1996 as another difficulty: 'We need
to fill that gap by freeing up senior managers time and where
appropriate recruit new people with skills necessary to make community
planning happen. We have argued too long for a duty of community
planning; local government simply cannot afford community planning to
The second challenge of community planning, he says, is the need to
develop new skills: 'We talk partnership but partnership skills
cannot be taken for granted. They need to be developed across the
public sector. We are all good at our own professional skills, we
need to develop skills to become good partners where the skills of
influencing, networking and sharing power are seen as a common set of
skills which we all should have.
'Thirdly,' Mr Geddes said, 'In local government we need to
show by our leadership style that our leadership is not about
dictation or a takeover, it is about facilitating a partnership. It
is about never losing sight of the fact that it is not ultimately
institutions or institutional boundaries that are important, it is
always the interests of our communities. Communities first,
institutions second should be a common password in community
He also identified the need for written plans to be realistic and
credible saying that councils will fail if the commitment of written
plans is not translated into genuine action: 'If the plan simply
becomes a bureaucratic paperchase we will breed cynicism, not only
within our own organisation but, most importantly with our
'Our plans need to be challenging but realistic, aspirational but
credible and we must be able to measure our success. If we cannot do
that then it is not worth doing.'
And finally, Mr Geddes called for the partners to have respect
for each other: 'We have different cultures, different
decision-making processes and different decision-making timescales.
'Geographical boundaries may not coincide, our planning cycles may
differ and the role of the board members and councillors may also
differ. We need to recognise these constraints, recognise these
differences and work to overcome them. Indeed there is a paradox
here, increasingly it is being recognised that management and indeed
political skills across the public sector in Scotland are common and
are likely to be increasingly so in the context of a Scottish
parliament. Yet there is hardly any movement between councils and
health boards, councils or LECs or between local and central
'Tony Blair, in a recent speech, talked about a single career route
between Whitehall and the town hall. Secondments, mutual exchanges
can help break down those barriers. If it can't be done in Scotland,
where can it be done?'
1. Cllr Geddes was speaking at a joint COSLA/Scottish Office seminar on Community Planning at Edinburgh's Carlton Highland Hotel today.
2. Copies of the full text of Councillor Geddes' speech are
available from COSLA's public affairs office or on COSLA's website -