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COSLA WIDENS DEBATE ON FUTURE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT

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COSLA has today widened the debate on the future of local ...
COSLA has today widened the debate on the future of local

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

Independent Commission on Local Government and the Scottish

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

financial accountability.

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

democracy.

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

arrangements.

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

balance.

The reports will now be considered by COSLA's strategy forum which

meets on June 12.

NOTES

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

Borders)

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

Galloway)

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,

COSLA)

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