Addressing the CIPFA Scottish Branch Annual Conference at the Gleneagles Hotel, the Minister said:
'While the job of improving council efficiency falls mainly to councils themselves, central government does sometimes have an important contribution to make.
'You will recall the recent report by the Accounts Commission that highlighted the need to improve council tax collection rates and, more particularly, that Scottish councils are not performing as well on average as their counterparts south of the Border. I believe most councils are responding to this challenge and today I am pleased to announce that we have set up a joint working group with COSLA on council tax collection to scrutinise and find legislative solutions to a series of proposals from COSLA to enhance the level of tax collected. This is another example where partnership between central and local government can work to the wider public benefit.'
'The Nolan Committee report of July last year concluded that there was a confusion of rules, roles and responsibilities about local government conduct. The Government agrees that the system should be clarified, strengthened and made simpler.
'The Government has consulted on the Nolan recommendations, and we are almost ready to publish Scottish proposals for a new ethical framework. These will be broadly similar in principle to those published by John Prescott in England at the beginning of the month, but will take account of differences already existing in Scotland - for example, in the audit regime. Our proposals will be published in the form of a consultation paper, and we look forward to hearing views from experts on what we propose.
'Much in the same way as our democratisation agenda, Best Value calls for a massive shift in attitude, and that is happening.
'I am especially pleased that all councils are committed to a service review process that will ensure every local authority activity in Scotland will be subjected to rigorous scrutiny at some point over the next few years. I look forward to seeing these reviews produce real
improvements in the quality and cost of service delivery. I will seek evidence of improvement in the appraisal round this autumn.'
1. The joint working group on council tax collection membership comprises COSLA and Scottish Office officials. the remit is to try to find legislative solutions to a list of measures formally proposed by COSLA in the Accounts Commissions' recent report on council tax collection. These measures include:
- Joint billing and collection of council tax with rent
- Reduction in the debt level for sequestration to that which previously applied
- Prohibit the sale of council housing under 'Right to Buy' arrangements for community charge and council tax debtors
- Bypass the summary warrant procedure for debtors who agree to a direct deduction of their debt from their income support.
2. Some of these measures are very technical in nature and The Scottish Office will consult on any proposals to emerge from the group. Any legislative recommendations will be for the Scottish Parliament to decide and implement.