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CONFERENCE REPORT -THE CIPFA SCOTLAND CONFERENCE IN GLASGOW

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Staff hail bill prospects ...
Staff hail bill prospects

Council finance staff have big hopes for the delayed local government bill, according to a survey by Zurich Municipal and CIPFA Scotland.

Seven out of 10 respondents felt the bill would achieve its aim of providing an effective framework to help councils improve services.

But around 65% said councils do not have enough financial freedoms to meet government and public expectations on improving services.

Although more than three-quarters of those asked said services will be provided by multi-agency partnerships in the next three years, a similar number said pressure to deliver services in new ways is jeopardising their ability to deliver core services.

CIPFA Scotland director Ian Doig said: 'The local government bill could deliver real improvements for Scotland's public services, but public service managers need new financial freedoms to match their new responsibilities if these reforms are to achieve their objectives.'

Minister outlines new powers in bill

Deputy public services minister Peter Peacock outlined the contents of the forthcoming local government bill at this year's CIPFA Scotland conference.

The bill, which was due to be published last week, has been delayed because civil servants have been unable to finalise the document.

Mr Peacock reiterated plans to introduce best value, a duty of community planning and a power of well-being, as well as a 'common reporting and intervention system and miscellaneous provisions' (LGC, 28 March).

He said best value legislation in the bill will include a duty to have 'public performance reporting' arrangements in place.

Councils will be able to enter into a contract to provide goods and services with any organisation in the UK, but there will be a statutory cap.

Mr Peacock promised ministers would only intervene in 'crisis cases'. Notices and directions would be issued for failing to deliver best value or a serious abuse of the power of well-being.

SNP in attack over funding failure

Scottish National Party finance spokesman Alisdair Morgan has attacked the Scottish Parliament for failing to invest in public services.

He told this year's CIPFA Scotland conference that investment in Scotland's public services has remained low for the last 30 years despite rising taxes.

Mr Morgan criticised the use of private finance to pay for public services and said capital spending through private finance initiatives and public/private partnerships has risen by 92% since 1999.

He added: 'A key argument for PFI and PPP is that it adds value to existing capital budgets and levers in additional resources. This is simply not the case.'

The SNP suggested setting up a Scottish Trust for Public Investment which would operate off balance sheet in the same way as private funding.

Mr Morgan added: 'We will only be able to deliver the best that Scotland can aspire to if we complete the powers of the Parliament and make it a truly national Parliament with full powers.'

Pensions to go in the balancesheet

CIPFA has published guidance forcing councils to disclose their pensions assets and liabilities with their balance sheets for the last financial year.

A statement from CIPFA said: 'The proposals represent a significant

step towards convergence between local authority and central government accounts.'

The proposals aim to make the costs of council pensions transparent.

The controversial pensions code could force councils to scale down staff pensions.

CIPFA policy and technical director Vernon Soare said the proposals 'will ensure that FRS17 is fully implemented in local authority accounts'.

Bring back the rates, says Glasgow chief

Glasgow City Council leader Charlie Gordon has criticised plans to introduce a local income tax and praised the rates system abolished in the late eighties.

Mr Gordon (Lab) said Scottish Socialist Party plans for a Scottish service tax would effectively be a national tax and hand control of funding to central government. Local income tax would have no link to services and would be 'an administrative nightmare', he said.

He said ideally the domestic rates system should be re-introduced, but admitted there is no chance of this happening.

He criticised the existing level of ring-fenced funding for councils and backed proposals from the Parliament's local government committee to re-value property and increase the number of council tax bands.

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