Scottish cities set out devolution proposals

14 Jun 16

Scotland’s seven cities have presented Holyrood with a shopping list of powers, including fiscal responsibilities, which they say are needed to compete with English and other cities that are getting devolution deals.

Glasgow is among the cities who have outlined devolution plans. Photo: Shutterstock

A draft paper, Empowering City Government, due to be published in full after next week’s EU referendum, demands a stronger local voice in determining local taxes, greater freedom for councils to set their own levies, and a more direct role in shaping policies in fields like transport, housing, health, social care, economic development, migration and social security that affect their citizens.

Describing its package as a proposal for a new deal between the cities and the Scottish and UK governments, the Scottish Cities Alliance said: “We can only achieve the economic potential for our places and people if we have the levers and the collaborative working arrangements that would allow us to compete with other cities close to home and globally.

“We have a civic responsibility to enable the economic environment that will allow our people to flourish and for local investment to build sustainable economic futures for succeeding generations.” The new powers would “provide a template that can make a significant difference to the capacity and tools at our disposal to make a step change to our city, regional and national economies”, the group stated.

The cities want more direct involvement in developing policy alongside central government and national infrastructure agencies like Transport Scotland and Scottish Water, together with a role in delivering Holyrood’s new social security function and greater local input in shaping newly merged health and social care services.

They also have demands in respect of powers reserved to Westminster, notably immigration, already an area of contention between Edinburgh and London. The cities  – Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness, Stirling and Perth – say they need “influence over inward migration and immigration policy at a UK government level including post study work visa policy.”

It comes amid growing tension between local and devolved government in Scotland over what councils see as the centralising tendency inherent in policies like the replacement of regionalised police and emergency services with national bodies.

More of the same is expected to be heard tomorrow, at a wide ranging Scottish education summit called by Scottish Government ministers. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is one of several voices expressing concern over Scottish National Party proposals to run schools via joint local boards, rather than local authority education departments.

The cities say they are committed to work together to bring about “radical change to the current working practices between local and central governments.”

Noting that together they generate more than half of Scotland’s gross value added and employ 60% of its workforce, they say: “Global trends indicate a growing strength and identity for cities in the world economy with cities of all sizes seeking to develop distinct offers to attract talent and create innovative solutions to long term challenges.

“UK cities are currently buoyed by greater local autonomy through city deals and devolution deals and are enjoying first mover advantage in setting conditions for success based on local circumstances and clearer joint working between local government, national government, agencies and the private sector,” the paper says.

“Current economic trends indicate that although Scotland’s cities remain drivers of the national economy, they risk falling behind UK counterparts in this highly competitive environment.”

  • 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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