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LANG WANTS TO 'GET BACK TO BASICS' WITH LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL

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Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, opened the debate at the second meeting of the Local Government etc (Sco...
Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Scotland, opened the debate at the second meeting of the Local Government etc (Scotland) Bill in the House of Commons yesterday and later came under fire from opposition MPs who accused the government of 'gerrymandering' votes in Scotland.

'The reform of Scottish local government is a major undertaking, that will have far-reaching implications for the people of Scotland,' Mr Lang said. 'The present system is flawed, it is generally acknowledged to be flawed and the flaws are wide-ranging.

The system we have today is unduly and unnecessarily expensive. Nor can we allow Scotland to continue to be burdened with a system of local government which is ineffective, unaccountable and shrouded in apathy. With two councils for each area of Scotland, there is a weak democratic link between councils and their communities.

'Against that background it would be completely wrong to delay a restructuring exercise when all the evidence coming from all sides, points to the need for one.

'The fact that one organisation will have responsibility for the full range of services will be a major step forward on service delivery. The benefits of having social work and housing brought under one roof are well-known and much-anticipated, but many other areas of policy, such as leisure and recreation and education, environmental health and trading standards, will benefit from a single-tier structure.

'The Bill provides for the setting up of the three new public water and sewerage authorities and the customer protection body heralded in the White Paper. The proposals acknowledge the strength of feeling expressed during the consultation that the services should remain in public hands and at the same time they promote partnership with the private sector for the ultimate benefit of the consumer.

'The Customers Council will be a powerful voice on behalf of the consumer, and will exercise a particular role in the setting of charges as well as monitoring service standards. The Council will ensure that full expression is given to the principles of the Citizen's Charter in the operation of the restructured services.

'Restructuring was inevitable as a consequence of local government reform, and it has afforded us the opportunity to align water and sewerage services to the demands of the future. Twelve authorities currently deliver the services. Multiplying this number to 28 makes no economic sense. We have produced sensible measures in response to circumstances.

We want to get back to basics in local government. We want local authorities that are local. In this way we shall help to restore a true sense of local community and local identify and to give a new impetus to the growth of strong local democracy.'

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