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Scottish secretary Donald Dewar has challenged local government: seize the opportunities presented by devolution or...
Scottish secretary Donald Dewar has challenged local government: seize the opportunities presented by devolution or lose the support of the people you serve. He said that only by modernising can councils lead their local communities effectively and provide efficient local services.

Speaking at a COSLA community planning seminar in Edinburgh yesterday, Mr Dewar said:

'The Scottish parliament offers a future full of opportunity. Councils must not let themselves be left behind. Councils can lead, but only if they modernise and renew their ways of working and their contract with the people.

'This government wants to modernise the fabric of our democratic and constitutional life. Local government is an essential partner as we deliver that agenda. We must work now to renew its democratic mandate and legitimacy. This is crucial in securing its future.

'People need to know who is responsible for running local services. Councils need to be accountable to the public and the voters. Voters need to know whom to praise - and re elect - when things go well and they need to know whom to hold to account when things go wrong. The present working arrangements of local councils do not deliver this.

'I have made clear that we are prepared to look at the radical options:

- cabinet government to give clearer lines of communication and command

- directly elected civic heads to give clear and effective leadership

- new voting systems to make councils more representative and accountable

'I also want to see a local democracy which attracts new people. No matter how they are organised, councils can be no stronger than their members. It is very striking that councillors are now overwhelmingly male, elderly and economically inactive. Of course there are exceptions to that, but not enough of them. We must make our councils more representative of the community at large, and attract a wider range of people.

'There is a clear and pressing need for modernisation of local government. We must have clear lines of communication and command in councils. Only through reform and modernisation can councils truly lead the communities they are there to serve.'

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