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Scottish Office minister Malcolm Chisholm gave a clear indication to Scottish chief executives last week that decen...
Scottish Office minister Malcolm Chisholm gave a clear indication to Scottish chief executives last week that decentralisation would be a key focus of the Labour government.

In a speech to the annual Scottish conference of the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, Mr Chisholm said the government had no intention of being prescriptive on decentralisation.

But he said he was very keen to see some kind of analysis of the decentralisation plans submitted by the new unitary authorities in Scotland to the previous government.

'Obviously it is political decentralisation which is contentious, and I am most interested in that,' Mr Chisholm said.

It was a subject ideally suited for consideration by Scotland's independent commission, he said. This body will advise on democratic renewal and the relationship between local government and the Scottish parliament.

Mr Chisholm said the commission would examine 'other fundamentals for the maintenance of a vibrant local government'.

'For instance, does the way councils go about their business inhibit citizens from standing for election? Would people's loyalty to local government be strengthened if they could directly elect the council's provost? How can we ensure a good turnout in elections to give councils the firm foundation of democratic legitimacy?'

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Chisholm stressed the importance the Labour Party attached to probity. He acknowledged that some Nolan committee recommendations, currently being consulted on by the government, were controversial - in particular that standards committees of members be appointed.

'I think that might run into problems with the public as well as with councillors,' he said. 'That is not a conclusion from government but an issue about which a concern is being expressed.'

The minister also expressed some sympathy for chief executives' concerns about trying to implement best value, with its three-year planning framework, in a system of annual budgeting.

But chancellor Gordon Brown's comprehensive spending review, and its likely influence on 1999-2000, made immediate changes unlikely, he said.

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