By Richard Johnstone | 7 October 2013
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities has launched a council-led commission looking at how to localise public services and reform town hall funding in Scotland.
The 20-member commission has been tasked with devising ‘a route map to deliver the full benefits of a shift in power towards local democracy for people in Scotland’ as the country prepares to vote on independence next September.
The group, which is chaired by Cosla president David O’Neill and includes six council leaders, will make ‘recommendations that set a course for putting stronger local democracy at the heart of Scotland’s constitutional future’, according to its remit.
It will examine potential reforms in two stages, with the aim of recommending how to improve outcomes in Scottish communities.
First it will consider what services should be delivered locally, and how Scotland compares to other countries in its approach to local democracy. A second phase will consider what ‘building blocks’ will be needed to deliver greater localism, and how these could be implemented depending on the outcome of the independence vote on September 18 next year.
A final report will be produced next spring, and it is also expected the commission will make interim reports in both phases. In particular, these will consider how local government funding in Scotland could be reformed to improve local democratic control and accountability, and how to create ‘a joint approach to policy making’ between central and local government.
Announcing the commission ahead of its first meeting in Edinburgh on Friday, O’Neill said it would be ‘ambitious’ with its reforms, as well as open and inclusive.
He added: ‘With one year to go until the referendum, it’s time for the debate about Scotland’s future to focus on the questions that local people, not politicians, are asking.
'Everyone knows that, regardless of the outcome of the referendum, the status quo will not prevail in Scotland, but there has been very little consideration of what this should mean for local people and local decision making.
'I think we have a duty to turn that situation around. That is why as the president of Cosla I am taking the unprecedented move of bringing together some of Scotland’s most senior councillors, wider civic society, and a range of experts to understand why local services and local accountability matter.’
People in Scotland want the constitutional debate to ‘break new ground’ and consider possible reforms to create ‘effective local democracy’, he added.
'The reality is that improving lives in our communities means empowering local democracy and letting local people decide on their priorities, their services, and their spending. Nothing else works, and that is why we must have local services and local decision that is stronger and not weaker in the future.
'The commission I am launching today will stay true to those principles and ensure that whatever the outcome of the referendum, there is a lasting local legacy for local people within local communities in Scotland.'
The full list of commission members is:
Councillor David O’Neill, Cosla president
Councillor Michael Cook, Cosla vice president
Professor Richard Kerley, professor of management, Queen Margaret University
Councillor Rhonda Geekie, Scottish Labour group and East Dunbartonshire Council leader
Pam Duncan, disability rights activist and adviser
Councillor Steven Heddle, Orkney Islands Council convener
Councillor Maggie Chapman, Scottish Greens group
Alf Young, journalist
Calum Irving, Voluntary Action Scotland chief executive
Councillor David Parker, independent councillor group and Scottish Borders Council leader
Grahame Smith, Scottish Trades Union Congress general secretary
Louise Macdonald, chief executive, Young Scot charity
Allan Rennie, Scottish Daily Record and Sunday Mail editor-in-chief
Geoff Mawdsley, Reform Scotland director
Councillor Drew Hendry, Scottish National Party group and Highland Council leader
Councillor Gordon Matheson, Glasgow City Council leader
Reverend Ewan Aitken, representing faith groups
Councillor Allan Wright, Scottish Conservative group and Moray Council leader
Jeremy Smith, former secretary general of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions
Councillor Martin Kitts-Hayes, Liberal Democrat group and Aberdeenshire Council deputy leader.