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14.08.14

Scottish councils should be given greater powers – report reveals

Councils in Scotland should be given greater powers to fund the money they spend from local taxation, a new report by the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy has stated.

The Commission, set up by local government Cosla, has spent a year gathering evidence and producing its report on finding ways to give local communities more power.

One of the recommendations in the report is that local government should have full local control of the whole suite of property taxes, including Council Tax; Business Rates; and Land and Property Transaction Tax, and the freedom to set these in ways that suit local circumstances.

The report also called for at least 50% of income to be raised locally as it was 50 years ago, in contrast to the 18% to which it has since dropped.

It was stated that local people should also decide on levels of local taxation in relation to the services they want. The report argued: “It is completely inconsistent with a strong local democracy for this to be determined or enforced nationally.”

Cllr David O’Neill, chair of the Commission, said: “This report is radical, and sets out some big ideas that could really change Scotland. All we ask is that people come to our findings with an open mind. We understand how difficult it is to throw off the shackles of the current way of looking at democracy.

“However, the reality is that if we are serious about making Scotland fairer, wealthier and healthier then we need to start putting local communities in control over what matters to them. “

The report added that the transition from over 200 local councils in 1974 to only 32 “local” councils in 1996 was one of the most radical programmes of delocalisation identifiable anywhere in the world.

However, it recommended that many different options exist for taking this forward. For instance, one could be a single tier system with a (much) larger number of smaller local governments responsible for all of the local services that can be governed, planned and delivered at local level.

Alternatively, a two (or more) tier system could have a smaller number of large local governments responsible for large-scale services, and a larger number of more local or community governments responsible at a highly local level for smaller service functions. In practice this might be the current 32 council structure with a consolidated and empowered tier of 150 – 200community governments with responsibility for local community services.

Cllr O’Neill said: “Over the decades Scotland has become perhaps one of the most centralised countries in Europe. We have built that view based on an open conversation over the last year with people across Scotland, the UK and Europe, and all of our evidence is publicly available.  It is little wonder that many have lost faith in the democratic system altogether.

“That is why a major transformation in local democracy should appeal to anyone committed to better and more equal outcomes for people in Scotland. It is going to be a tough journey; after all, everyone who is active in public life today has only ever experienced the current way of working. The challenge I would make to anyone engaging with this report is that if you agree with us, join us in building a better democracy.”

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