As CoSLA leaders meet today to debate the Scottish Government's latest centralising proposal on care integration, I want to make the case for local democratic accountability.
- Ministers came into office in 2007 committed to ending the ring fencing of budgets and they did to a large part. Then they reintroduced ring fencing by making budget allocations dependent on police numbers, pupil teacher ratio and other policies they they wanted to prioritise from the centre.
- Then we had the Council Tax freeze that takes away the power of councils to raise revenue for local priorities. Leaving them almost entirely in the hands of the ring fenced central government priorities.
- Most recently we had the centralisation of police and fire services. Even the option of a national joint board, that would also have saved £30m in VAT, was rejected because the minister concerned would have lost some political control.
- Today's discussion on health and care integration is another centralising measure with some 15% of council budgets being shifted to a Jointly Accountable Officer, subject to NHS style performance management from the centre. Councillors are treated as the equal of quango appointments made by the minister.
- Other consultations like Better Regulation are riddled with centralising elements, including the power to set regulations and control local planning. Even the community empowerment consultation invites new powers for ministers to direct the work of locally elected councils.
CoSLA and others need to show leadership in this debate or local democracy will be lost.