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COSLA PUTS ITS CASE ON DEVOLUTION PLANS

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The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities responded this week to government hints of a forthcoming devolution of...
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities responded this week to government hints of a forthcoming devolution of power to councils by issuing a 52-point 'shopping list'.

Cosla outlined controls which could be removed or relaxed to make local government operate more effectively.

The list includes abolishing capping, devolving responsibility for trunk roads to councils, giving councils the right to bid for transferred housing stock, removing central government controls on school closures and amalgamations, and voluntary rather than compulsory tendering.

Suggestions were invited by Scottish secretary Michael Forsyth shortly after his appointment this summer.

Mr Forsyth and prime minister John Major raised the issue again last week in comments which indicated the Conservative Party was willing to look at changes to Parliamentary procedures to bring government closer to the Scottish people.

It was suggested that this could also include hiving off powers from the Scottish Office to the new unitary authorities.

However, Scottish authorities are privately sceptical about the extent of any shift in power.

Keith Geddes, senior vice-president of Cosla, said the Conservatives had had 16 years to make changes. The anticipated announcement was widely regarded as 'too little too late', he said.

A spokeswoman for Cosla also pointed out that Mr Forsyth's record in office over the past six months was far from one of radical change. 'He would appear to be seeking to establish more control over local authorities again,' she said, referring to Mr Forsyth's rulings on the structure and staffing of unitary authorities.

In presenting the shopping list, Cosla president Rosemary McKenna called for a more thorough review of central and local government relationships.

'We need to replace the unstable environment of the recent past, agree the respective roles of central and local government and secure a stable environment in which central and local government can work in partnership,' she said.

Scottish councils have highlighted their wish to see a relaxation of relatively minor controls, with a view to speeding up the decision-making process, as well as more substantial changes.

These include allowing councils to remove obstructions to footways without the need to serve notices, a relaxation of the planning system of serving notice of intention to develop, and allowing licensing boards to set fees locally.

Mr Forsyth is due to announce his plans for giving more powers to the Scottish Grand Committee of MPs on 30 November.

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