Renewing Local Democracy
Scottish Executive Consultation
The UNISON Scotland Response
- UNISON Scotland warmly welcomes the proposals to remove the
requirement for council employees to resign on nomination as a
- We agree that restrictions on the ability to stand for council
posts should apply on job content grounds and that guidance for
the consistent application of such restrictions should be issued.
The guidance should be drawn up on the assumption that as few
people as possible should be restricted from serving as a local
councillor and should be subject to extensive pre-implementation
- We are of the view that elected members should be able to retain
their employment with the same local authority they represent,
again with appropriate safeguards to prevent conflicts of interest
- The rule preventing former councillors from seeking employment
with the same council within a year of leaving office should be
- We are firmly of the opinion that the same political restrictions
should apply across all public sector bodies, provided that the
rules are accompanied by clear guidance on their interpretation
and take a de minimus approach towards restricting individual's
rights to participate in democratic political activity.
- UNISON Scotland supports the Kerley recommendations for PR with
multi-member constituencies for local government.
- UNISON Scotland supports the abolishment of all capital restraints
for local authorities.
- We think that CiPFA's Prudential Code has some merit, with decisions
on the best way to finance capital projects being made locally
and with ultimate control resting with democratically accountable
councillors, overseen by Audit Scotland.
- We support the establishment of a body to share best practice
in local government and suggest that a Quality Commission, with
representatives from CoSLA, the Scottish Executive and trade unions
would be the appropriate body.
UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 98,000 members working in Scottish local government. We welcome
the opportunity to respond to the Scottish Executive's consultation
document on Renewing Local Democracy, particularly since it covers
issues great concern to our members not only in their professional
lives but as citizens too.
Chapter 2: Removing barriers
(a) Requirement to resign on nomination
UNISON Scotland warmly welcomes the proposals to
remove the requirement for council employees to resign on nomination
as a candidate and to repeal the legislation establishing an arbitrary
salary threshold for politically restricted posts within local authorities.
As local authorities are often the largest employers in their locality,
in our view these restrictions unfairly impacted on an unnecessarily
large number of people who have useful local experience that would
serve their constituents and communities well in elected office.
(b) Guidance on restrictions
UNISON Scotland agrees that restrictions on the
ability to stand for council posts should apply on job content grounds.
We welcome Ministers' stated intention to publish guidance on the
application and interpretation of the new rules. We trust that there
will be an opportunity to comment on draft guidance before it is
We would urge that such guidance be drawn up on
the assumption that as few people as possible should be restricted
from serving as a local councillor and that proper consideration
be given to other ways to prevent conflicts of interest arising.
For example, the increasing use of scrutiny committees by Scottish
local authorities provides a good mechanism for policing potential
conflicts and the new requirements on declaration of councillors'
interests will provide openness and transparency on areas where
conflicts could arise.
(c) Employees and elected members
UNISON Scotland believes that there should be more
extensive reform of the rules preventing serving councillors being
employees of the same council. We are of the view that elected members
should be able to retain their employment with the same local authority
they represent, again with appropriate safeguards to prevent conflicts
of interest arising. This is because, as stated above, local authorities
are sometimes the largest employer in their locality, particularly
in rural areas. Removing the bar on being employed by the same authority
would remove a barrier to elected office that discourages some people
and help make councils more representative of the people they serve
- both stated objectives of the Executive.
For the same reasons, we are of the opinion that
the rule preventing former councillors from seeking employment with
the same council within a year of leaving office should be abolished,
provided, again, that appropriate mechanisms for avoiding conflicts
of interest and possible political bias are put in place e.g. staff
codes of conduct. Local authorities would also need to ensure that
they have effective and transparent recruitment and selection procedures
that respect equal opportunities. However, the current one-year
bar neither prevent conflicts of interest arising nor removes political
bias and it seems to us to be merely a restriction for the sake
(d) Political restrictions for employees of
other public bodies
The differing restrictions on political activity
that currently apply are unfair and confusing. As a result of re-organisation
of services, we have members who have had their previously unrestricted
employment transferred to another public body which then interprets
the rules in a more rigid way. The employee then finds themselves
politically restricted, even though their post is substantially
the same as it was before.
We believe that applying political restrictions
based on job content to local government employees alone would be
particularly unfair, given that local government functions are being
transferred to other public, private and voluntary sector bodies
and there is now greater cross-body working on the provision of
public services. Both these factors mean that employees of the NHS,
the private and voluntary sectors are doing jobs that are very similar
to those which attract restrictions in the local government. Therefore,
we are firmly of the opinion that the same restrictions should apply
across all public sector bodies, provided that the rules are accompanied
by clear guidance on their interpretation and take a de minimus
approach towards restricting individual's rights to participate
in democratic political activity.
Chapter 3: Electoral Reform
UNISON Scotland believes that proportional representation
for local government in Scotland will assist in addressing equality
issues in relation to the make-up of councils, which on a first-past-the-post-basis
are likely to remain male dominated with under-representation of
ethnic minorities. We firmly support maintaining the councillor-constituency
link, as it ensures that individual councillors remain accountable
to local communities. We also agree that proportionality and maintaining
the councillor-ward link are the most important factors to be taken
into account when considering which system to adopt. We therefore
support the Kerley recommendations for PR with multi-member constituencies
for local government.
Chapter 5: Powers, Resources and Structures
(a) Abolition of all capital restraints
UNISON supports the abolition of all capital restraints
for local authorities. Given that a new power of wellbeing is to
be granted to local authorities by the Local Government Bill, it
is necessary for local government to have much greater financial
freedom to serve its communities and meet their needs. Furthermore,
capital restraints are currently used to obscure the public sector
case for new capital projects and abolition would provide a level
playing field and go some way towards ending `the only game in
town' argument that is promoted currently in favour of PFI/PPP
in local authorities.
We are aware of the work done by CIPFA on a Prudential
Code for local authority capital expenditure. We think that their
approach has some merit, with decisions on the best way to finance
capital projects being made locally and with ultimate control resting
with democratically accountable councillors.
UNISON Scotland does not think that a new body
should be set up to oversee any new Prudential Code for local authorities,
as there are already a plethora of agencies that local authorities
have to deal with. We believe monitoring of the prudential limits
should be part of the local authority auditor's remit, overseen
by Audit Scotland as part of its standard monitoring of Scottish
local government. This will enable a broader perspective to be taken,
allowing local authority capital expenditure to be judged not only
on pure financial grounds but also in terms of what it adds to service
delivery and effective public services for local communities.
(b) Sharing best practice
Sharing of best practice across Scottish local
authorities is something that UNISON supports. We have previously
advocated the establishment of a Quality Commission for Scottish
local government, as the body which should oversee Best Value in
Scotland. The provision of an improvement service would fit in with
the remit of such a Quality Commission, which is to judge services
from a qualitative rather than a quantative perspective. We would
wish to see representatives from CoSLA, the Scottish Executive and
trade unions representing local authority staff on the board of
such Commission, to ensure that all relevant perspectives are taken
into account. We believe that such a body should be fully funded
by the Scottish Executive, rather than by levies on local authorities
whose budgets are still hard-pressed.
For further information please contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0845 355 0845 Fax 0141 342 2835