government with the publication of two discussion papers on political
leadership and democratic renewal.
The two papers will inform the debate on COSLA's submission to the
parliament, and are the work of two member/officer task groups.
New styles of political leadership are seen as one way of achieving
more interest in local government and greater public understanding of
and support for local government, and the report of the Task Group on
Options for Political Leadership considers a wide range of options.
In its report, the group concludes that there is a no `cure all'
solution, and says: 'There is no one dimensional solution to the
challenges facing Scottish local government to be found simply in
reforming the decision-making structure.'
Two clear challenges for leadership are identified - low turnout at
elections and general lack of interest in local government and the
public's wish to have a clear understanding of where accountability
lies in a council.
The report looks at a series of issues, including the need for
training for councillors to improve their strategic capacity and makes
comments on the existing committee system compared with alternatives
such as the cabinet system, elected provosts and combining the posts
of civic and political heads of the council.
The group's discussions led them to believe that leadership reform
could not be a `bolt on' but must be part of a wider package of reform
which must also address electoral reform and the reform of local
The report also suggests that there should be experimentation with
these ideas to reflect the diverse nature of Scottish local
government, and from that to learn the best ways of improving local
The Task Group on Democratic Renewal also looked at strengthening
local democracy, recognising that low turnout at elections damages the
democratic legitimacy of local government and says: 'If local
democracy is to be strengthened and if local government is to make the
case for a greater role, influence and control over its own affairs in
equal partnership with the Scottish parliament then steps must be
taken to increase the electoral turn-out in local elections; and
further promote the widest local involvement in and ownership of a
council's business and so underpin more strongly a council's
relationship with its community.'
But the report stresses that this is not just a matter for local
government: 'Democratic renewal must be seen in the context of a
`two-way street.' Central government must also recognise its role in
making local government worth voting for and participating in,' the
report says, calling on the government to give councils powers of
community governance and greater control over their financial
It also suggests that COSLA support the principle of electoral reform:
'It would be very difficult to resist the logic of applying PR to
Scottish local government given that it will apply to the Scottish and
European parliamentary elections.'
The report recommends encouraging all councils to do more to promote
the electoral system, suggesting the development of 'civic education,'
leafleting, providing better access for minority groups, enhancing
facilities for voting and means of voting other by attending at
polling stations and working with other councils to conduct more
effective voter participation campaigns.
And it suggests that there should be greater flexibility in the
arrangement of local elections to make it easier for electors to cast
their vote, task group members believing that unless this happens
there will be little impact on turnouts.
Proposals examined by the group, and which they say should be further
investigated, include a rolling register, updated at monthly
intervals; an 'anonymous' electoral register; and the introduction of
new voting methods.
The group concluded that a rolling programme of annual elections was
not right for Scottish local government and that there should be a
return to the four-year term of office for councillors.
Turning to the need to attract more high calibre people to seek
election, the group makes a number of suggestions - increased
allowances to provide for childcare costs; the introduction of
legislation which would require employers to allow employees time off
to serve in local government; and the need to achieve social mix and
The reports will now be considered by COSLA's strategy forum which
meets on June 12.
1. Copies of the Task Group reports on Options for Political
Leadership and Democratic Renewal are available by contacting the
COSLA Public Affairs Office.
2. The Task Group membership was:
Options for Political Leadership: Councillor Robert Jack (Scottish
Councillor Barry McCulloch (North Lanarkshire)
Councillor Angus Graham (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar)
Councillor George Purcell (Midlothian)
Councillor Bruce Crawford (Perth & Kinross) Councillor
Corrie McChord (Stirling) Councillor Alex Rowley (Fife)
Councillor Peter Peacock (Highland) John Markland (Chief
Executive, Fife) Sandy Watson (Chief Executive, Angus) David
Montgomery (Chief Executive, East Ayrshire) Douglas Sinclair
(Chief Executive, COSLA)
Democratic Renewal: Councillor Joan Mitchell (Dumfries and
Councillor Margaret Miller (Fife)
Councillor David Green (Highland)
Councillor Bill Anderson (Midlothian)
Councillor Ewan Dow (Perth and Kinross)
Councillor Gillie Thomson (Stirling)
Bob Allan (Chief Executive, Clackmannanshire)
Danny Cepok (Corporate Policy Officer, Falkirk)
Trevor Muir (Chief Executive, Midlothian)
Jon Harris (Head of Policy Development, COSLA)
Jon Jordan (European and International Affairs Officer,