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Breaking up is hard to do, especially after a marriage of more than 25 years. ...
Breaking up is hard to do, especially after a marriage of more than 25 years.
But in the end their differences proved too much. Divorce proceedings began as City of Glasgow Council's ruling Labour group voted to opt out of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
The full council's unanimous ratification of the decision and the withdrawal of its£300,000 annual affiliation fee is a huge blow to COSLA. But further devastation has come. Dundee City Council followed suit, taking£74,000 out of the kitty. Clackmannanshire Council is also leaving, along with its fees of£25,000. Falkirk Council takes£71,000 when it leaves at the end of March. And this is out of a convention budget of£2.5m.
Several more councils are reviewing their membership, citing everything from personal differences to ideas around setting up alternative bodies. Many others remain staunchly loyal.
The loss of funds, along with valuable officers and members, means COSLA will cease to exist in any currently recognisable form.
But while in the short term the coffers will swell at these rebel councils, in the long term local government in Scotland will suffer. COSLA has lobbied hard on behalf of councils in Scotland. It helped secure funding from the Executive for the recommendations in the McCrone report into teachers' pay and conditions.
It has achieved a new community initiative for councils. It lobbied for a three-year finance settlement, allowing councils to plan spending well ahead of schedule. Expenditure guidelines have been removed. COSLA has helped develop a best value regime distinct from that in England and Wales and represents employers in pay negotiations with unions which have now lasted nearly six months.
It gives councils a collective voice and allows leaders and chief executives to discuss policies at a time when the buzzwords of 'partnership' and 'joint working' are paramount.
Councils reviewing their membership are almost bound to conclude they would rather have the extra cash, but this ignores the long-term benefits of belonging to a single organisation with councils' best interests at heart.
Without COSLA, there is no collective voice for local government. Policy will be decided by the Executive in isolation.
The Executive would, of course, consult individual councils despite its current ambiguous and contradictory statements to the contrary. But in the words of Fife leader Christine May: 'It will simply pick and choose the views it likes.'
COSLA is partly to blame for its current dilemma. President Norman Murray and vice president Pat Watters should have done more to ensure Glasgow stayed in the organisation. Comments about the convention being stronger without Glasgow did little to defuse a volatile situation.
But local government in Scotland will be severely weakened without COSLA. The gripes of some councils are understandable, but they should reform the organisation from within, not destroy it.
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