Aberdeen City Council quits Cosla

4 Mar 15

Aberdeen City Council has voted today to withdraw from the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Scotland’s municipal umbrella body.

The schism has been long anticipated and Aberdeen is likely to be followed by three other Labour-led authorities: Glasgow City, Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire. All three are expected to resign their Cosla membership with effect from April 1 and join Aberdeen in a new alliance to be called the Scottish Local Government Partnership.

Despite earlier predictions that a bigger swathe of Labour-led authorities from west-central Scotland might join the breakaway, the signs are that the departures will be limited to four. Those councils involved are talking up their relevance, pointing out that together they represent a quarter of Scotland’s population, a third of its jobs and close to half it GVA economic output.

A Cosla statement issued today insisted that the convention, set up in 1975, would continue to provide an effective voice for councils, while stressing that its door would remain open to the rebels to return. Glasgow has walked out on a previous occasion, but later to returned to the fold.

Cosla leads negotiations both with government and with the trade unions representing local authority employees, and the causes of the split appear to be a mix of politics and of traditional grievance.

Aberdeen has long felt that the criteria used to allocate government finances between authorities works to its disadvantage by failing to give due weight to the pockets of relative disadvantage that exist within an oil-rich city.

There has also been discontent in some authorities with Cosla’s policy-making processes, and with its failure to do more to shield councils from financial stringencies passed down by the Scottish National Party government at Holyrood.

Aberdeen’s leader Jenny Laing said in BBC interview today: ‘We’ve obviously got issues around our funding settlement, having been the lowest funded council in Scotland for some time. It is important for us, and me as a council leader, that we are getting that message across to the Scottish Government.’

Resigning from Cosla will save the council an annual subscription of £126,000, though there will clearly be costs involved in setting up an alternative structure.

The new Scottish Local Government Partnership is also likely to lay heavy emphasis on greater local autonomy. Its terms of reference say: ‘The Partnership is founded on the principles of subsidiarity and local decision making, recognising that local people and local councils are best placed to inform and take decisions about issues that affect them and their areas.   

‘It embodies the principle that local councils have a democratic mandate to make decisions which balance the needs and aspirations of people across their local authority areas. It supports members in their leadership role to deliver community empowerment.’

A Scottish Government measure, the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill, is currently making its way through the Holyrood parliament.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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