Scots white paper ducks key issues

28 Mar 02
A white paper supposed to point the way forward for Scottish local government has failed to resolve one of the most contentious issues whether or not to introduce proportional representation for council elections.

29 March 2002

No sooner was Renewing local democracy: the next steps published by the Scottish Executive on March 27, than it was dismissed by political opponents who accused it of ducking the main issue on PR.

Tricia Marwick, the Scottish National Party's shadow local government minister called it 'a backward step', Unison said it would continue to argue for PR, and local government sources agreed the paper could have gone further.

'Labour and LibDem members have sat on their hands and done nothing since 2000,' Marwick told Public Finance.

In the past three years, two reports, McIntosh and Kerley, have recommended a form of PR for Scotland. However, the Executive only went as far as saying it would consider 'respondents' views on the issues relating to electoral reform'.

'How much more consultation is needed?' said Marwick.

PR already exists for Scottish and European Parliamentary elections. Opposition to it is thought to be at its strongest among Scottish Labour councils fearful they could lose seats.

Pat Watters, president of Cosla, the organisation that represents Scottish town halls, though, said PR was a side issue. 'In my 20 years of involvement… proportional representation simply doesn't feature [among people's concerns].'

The Executive also backtracked from a proposal to reduce the number of councillors (1,222), again thought to be unpopular in the Labour heartlands. However, the paper did propose that councillors could receive greater financial reward for their work.

The minimum age for councillors, 21, could be reduced to 18 and the Executive wants councillors to better reflect the composition of Scottish society.

The current average age for councillors is 55, 77% are male and there are only seven non-white councillors throughout Scotland.

Andy Kerr, minister for finance and public services said the paper 'emphasised the importance of local government' to the Executive.


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