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FEATURES-TROUBLED WATTERS

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COSLA president Pat Watters has much to do if he is to triumph in his new post, says Jon Hanlon ...
COSLA president Pat Watters has much to do if he is to triumph in his new post, says Jon Hanlon

There are several schools of thought when it comes to Pat Watters' ascendancy to the presidency at the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

These broadly relate to individual councils' relationship with the convention, depending on whether they have withdrawn from the organisation, are still members,

or are wavering in their commitment.

Clackmannanshire Council, Falkirk Council, and Glasgow City Council are dubious about Mr Watters' merits. Some see him as more hard-line than Norman Murray, who resigned after the three councils quit.

'There's no love lost between Charlie Gordon (Glasgow City Council's Labour leader) and Pat Watters' is a phrase oft repeated in offices around Scotland and does not bode well for the prospects of the renegade council rejoining.

Mr Watters (Lab), a corporate resources chair at South Lanarkshire Council, has been criticised for comments reputedly made about the convention being 'better off without Glasgow' - just before it pulled out.

Others are more open to persuasion. The Scottish National Party's shadow local government minister Tricia Marwick is in talks which could eventually lead to Clackmannanshire and Falkirk Councils rejoining, but there is still a long way to go.

Others are singing the praises of the new president. Stirling Council chief executive Keith Yates says: 'He made a very powerful inaugural speech and has promised to re-dress the balance between local government and the Scottish Executive.'

One thing is agreed. Mr Watters has a lot to do, and bringing back the three renegade councils is central to his success.

Mr Watters says: 'COSLA needs to represent all councils in Scotland, but we have to do a lot more work to encourage these three back in. The organisation's main role is to articulate the views of local government to the people it represents. There should be parity between local government and the Scottish Executive.'

This statement shows his awareness of two important issues. First, local government is struggling to find its place in post-devolution Scotland.

Many claimed the organisation simply acted as a public relations department for the Scottish Executive under previous president Norman Murray (Lab). Indeed, the COSLA review highlights a need to find a new identity and purpose.

This is closely related to the second issue, which could save Mr Watters from a similar fate as his predecessor. He recognises the need for the convention to reconnect with local communities.

He talks of his own community in East Kilbride with pride, saying: 'We have to be accountable. People recognise me when I go to the shop. They know councillors are responsible for services. At the same time, you pick up the views of local people. Politics is more personal in Scotland and that is the way it should be.'

The convention's move away from the personal and into the arms of the executive was the main reason for thewidespread feeling of disillusion.

After pulling out, Glasgow's Mr Gordon said: 'What matters to me is social justice for the people of Glasgow.'

What mattered to COSLA, it seemed, was a good relationship with the executive.

This has begun to change with the convention's criticism of the level of specific grants to councils.

Mr Watters says: 'It is inevitable that sometimes we will agree with the executive and sometimes we will disagree. I can promise COSLA will fight very strongly for the rights of local government.'

Mr Watters will have to prove

he is winning the fight for local government in order to triumph

in his new post and sustain the much-needed 'single voice for Scottish councils'.

Scottish leaders on COSLA's new president:

'He will make a good leader. He's very sharp, he knows the system well and has experience.'

Jim Harkins (Lab), leader, Renfrewshire Council

'It's time for COSLA to show more resolve.'

Corrie McChord (Lab), leader, Stirling Council

'COSLA is a sister organisation and I hope authorities in Scotland can see the merits of being part of a national organisation.'

Brian Briscoe, chief executive, Local Government Association

'He is a respected figure and is passionately committed to delivering high quality services. He is faced with a difficult task.'

Donald Anderson (Lab), leader, City of Edinburgh Council

'We are not part of COSLA so have nothing to say about this appointment.'

Spokesman for Charlie Gordon (Lab), leader, Glasgow City Council

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