THE SCOTTISH Government should hand more power to Scotland’s cities and regions to help boost the country’s stagnating levels of growth, a new report by Our Scottish Future recommends today.
Councils should be able to join together to form new Scottish Combined Authorities, potentially led by a directly-elected provost, taking control over powers such as economic development and skills training, the paper proposes.
The “Devolution Deals” should be open to all of Scotland’s 32 councils, in an effort to shift more power out of Edinburgh.
The report says all political parties ahead of the next Holyrood election should also commit to replacing the out-of-date Council tax. And it calls on Edinburgh Ministers to end the practice of ‘ring-fencing’ under which central government orders councils how to spend money.
The report comes with the Scottish Government threatening to withdraw funding from councils this week unless they sign up to the SNP’s plan to freeze council tax. The plan was announced without consulting councils at the SNP conference in September last year.
The report says that such a ‘command and control’ culture needs to end. Citing work by former Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury, it argues that more devolution into cities, regions and towns is critical to boosting economic growth.
It warns: “While devolution has deepened and broadened in scope in England, Scotland’s governance has remained highly centralised despite rhetoric of bringing power closer to people.”
It argues: “An agenda of radical decentralisation would not only bring Scotland up to speed with its nearest neighbour, but other countries across the OECD where empowered subnational governments are able to deliver for their localities while also finding new ways to open up politics and democracy to citizens and communities.”
The report proposes:
- A new Local Governance Act to create Scottish Combined Authorities, giving councils the legal right to form new bodies
- Skills, transport, spatial planning and economic development all to be devolved to SCAs as they wish
- Strengthened local governance, with the option of creating directly elected mayors/provosts to run the SCAs
- Scottish Government to give councils multi-year budgets and end ring-fending
- Council tax replaced with a more progressive form of local taxation
- New Community Development Councils which could, if they wished, take control over local amenities including parks and recycling services.
Professor Jim Gallagher, the chair of Our Scottish Future says today: “This report found a clear consensus that more power should be held not in Edinburgh, but closer to our cities, towns, and communities. The best people to take decisions are the ones who have a stake in their communities: the people who live there.”
“If our economy is to get growing again, Scotland needs change from central control. We must match the job of economic development to the geography. The report proposes Devolution Deals under which new ‘combined authorities’ made up of groups of local councils can take control from Edinburgh on key economic decisions for their region.”
“Such a model – perhaps led by directly-elected provosts – is long overdue. Scotland is one of the most centralised nations in Europe. More power in local hands would reinvigorate local democracy and tip the balance of power away from centralised rule and back in favour of our cities and towns.”
“Just as Scotland doesn’t want Westminster to tell Holyrood what to do, so it’s time for Holyrood to stop telling our local leaders how to manage their business. Maybe then the Scottish government could do its own job better too.”
“Devolution was never meant to stop in Edinburgh. Famously it was described as a process not an event. Twenty-five years on from the opening of the Scottish Parliament, this report signals how to get that process back up and running.”
There is cross-party support for a shift of power out of Edinburgh. In his leadership campaign, First Minister Humza Yousaf said we “can’t just talk the talk, we have got to walk the walk.. and put the power back in the hands of the people.”
Susan Aitken, the SNP leader of Glasgow City Council has argued that councils “cannot be treated solely as a delivery vehicle for national priorities at the expense of local needs.”