The Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament
Consultation Paper 1
Appendix 1 - UNISON's Comments on Local
Appendix 2 - "Local
Government Finance Since Reorganisation" A paper commissioned
Appendix 3 - "Standing
for Public Office in Scotland" - A Briefing Document
UNISON members are providers of local government services, users
of those services and participants in the democratic process and
are part of the electorate. We welcome the opportunity to respond
to the McIntosh Commission, but we regret that the vexed question
of local government finance is absent within its formal terms of
A fundamental review of the present financial system is the most
important issue facing Scottish local government. Local democracy
exists in name only if central government continues to control almost
all spending. UNISON believes that the McIntosh Commission should
make clear its intention to consider and take evidence on this vitally
When the Parliament is established it will have the power to legislate
over most parts of Scotland's public services, including health,
housing, education, local government, the voluntary sector, transport,
economic development and the environment.
We call on the Parliament to use its law making powers to reassert
a public service ethos m Scotland, recognising that Scotland has
a separate and distinct tradition in favour of services being provided
by the public sector. The most efficient, responsive and democratic
services are those which are provided publicly, by staff who are
valued and properly paid.
We call on the Parliament to adopt the principle of subsidiarity,
with services provided at the most appropriate level. The Parliament
should ensure that vital local services such as education, are not
centralised in Edinburgh but continue to be delivered by local government.
We anticipate a major role for local government as the lead co-ordinator
of cross service strategic planning. This is to be welcomed and
need not detract from the specific function as provider of services.
Q1 Comments are invited on how the relationship between local
government (both collectively and at the level of the individual
council) and the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive should
be established. Are there any special mechanisms which should be
put in place, by the Parliament, the Executive, local government,
to ensure that the relationship will work?
UNISON supports the proposal that the relationship between local
government and a Scottish Parliament should be embodied in a formal
concordat. In the interests of clear English, however, UNISON
suggests that the word "concordat" be replaced with
either "agreement or "charter"
The agreement should set out the basis of a new partnership between
central and local government, emphasising that the Scottish Parliament
is primarily a legislative body not a direct provider of services.
The agreement should also require that services are delivered
at the lowest and most appropriate level to ensure responsiveness
and accountability to local community needs.
The agreement should define the role, function and responsibilities
of local authorities. This may best be done by awarding local
government a power of general competence.
Q2 We invite comments on the present election arrangements
and suggestions as to how they might be made more voter friendly.
UNISON supports the view that electoral arrangements should be
made much more user- friendly
Allowing much easier access to postal voting is one solution
along with allowing individuals to vote in non traditional polling
stations, e.g. local libraries, supermarkets and post offices.
A pre requisite in this regard is an accurate electoral register
to assess the degree of success in persuading more people to participate
in local elections in future years. In some areas the local register
is very inaccurate, in part due to the legacy of the poll tax.
There is also a strong case for voting to be held at the weekends
rather than on a Thursday, perhaps over more than one day. However,
care needs to be taken to ensure that the democratic process retains
status and that voting should not be distanced from the political
UNISON believes that the erosion of local government's powers
and responsibilities and the diminishing resource base over recent
years has discouraged people from voting in local elections.
While turnout at local elections is low, it is dangerous to jump
to the conclusion that the democratic status of Councils is therefore
called into question, or that the electoral process itself is
flawed. The key issue is that local government remains democratically
accountable, and that the electorate has the choice to exercise
Q3 Comments are invited on the merits of the various voting
UNISON supports democratic local government with local councils
and local councillors having democratic legitimacy. There are
both advantages and disadvantages of moving away from the first
past the post electoral system.
A powerful benefit would be that it would help to end de facto
'one party states' emerging in many local authorities, often elected
on considerably less than 50% of the popular vote. It might also
encourage greater voter turnout. A disadvantage is that it might
lead to instability and a lack of strategic direction within councils.
UNISON believes that any change to the voting system should try
to preserve so far as possible the link between individual councillors
and those who elect them and that any system should enshrine equal
representation of women and men.
Q4 Comments are invited on the electoral cycle for local
government in Scotland; should it remain at 3 years, or move to
some other pattern?
UNISON does not support the proposal that a proportion of council
members should be elected on an annual basis. In our view this
would deprive councils of a much needed continuity in terms of
policy development and service delivery.
UNISON supports the view that the councils should have a sufficient
period of time in which to delivery on their election manifestos,
following which they must return to face the local electorate.
UNISON also notes that the present cycle of 3 years between elections
has only come into being since local government reorganisation
in 1996, prior to which the established pattern was 4 years.
UNISON believes it should not be less than the current 3 years,
must be of sufficient duration to allow the policy process to
be meaningful, and to allow strategic planning in the delivery
of services. One model might be for elections to be held every
four years at the mid-point between Scottish Parliament elections.
Holding the elections on the same day can lead to voter confusion.
Q5 We invite comments on all these questions, relating to
the recruitment of candidates for council membership, and the qualities
required in elected members.
UNISON believes that present restrictions on the ability of local
government workers to stand for public office in Scotland is a
major public scandal. No other country in Europe operates such
a draconian system which effectively requires local government
workers to resign from their jobs in order to participate in the
democratic process. The democratic deficit can be easily resolved
by acknowledging the right of local government employees to stand
for office using a system which would deal with any potential
conflicts of interest. (see Appendix attached). Many other conflicts
of interest can arise and a Code of Conduct should generally apply.
UNISON believes that local councils should represent the diversity
of their local communities. There is a need for wider community
representation among local councillors and from all sections but
particularly those who are currently disadvantaged.
UNISON supports a review of the way in which councillors are
remunerated. There is a case for reviewing the timing of council
meetings with more meetings being held in the evening.
UNISON believes that creche facilities/child care allowances
should be available for councillors, when required.
Q6 The Commission would welcome comments on the system of
community councils; and also on how decentralisation has affected,
for better or worse, local authorities' performance in consulting
local communities and responding to local priorities. We should
welcome information also about other methods of consultation which
have been tried and with what effect
UNISON has long supported the policy of decentralising council
decision-making and efforts to improve community participation
in service delivery and policy development.
Q7 We invite views on whether local government's perceived
role and status is a disincentive to participation in local democracy.
Would enhanced powers for local government be likely to enhance
its standing in the eyes of the electorate?
Scottish local government derives most of its powers from statute
and operates under the day to day direction of the Scottish Office.
The establishment of the Scottish Parliament will change the nature
of this relationship, hopefully for the better.
The centralising agenda of the previous government has been rejected
and played a large part in the Conservative's failure to win control
of a single Scottish local authority. The time is right to grant
councils a power of general competence to allow them to act freely
in the interest of their own communities. A power of general competence
would free councils from the present legislative straight-jacket
and create new possibilities for development and improving local
While local government's powers have diminished in the last 20
years, our experience suggests that the community's expectations
of what their Council can and should deliver has not. By and large,
the debate on central versus local government is meaningless to
most of the community, who wish to see services provided to a
high standard and at local level.
There is a strong case for returning many of the powers lost
to local government (e.g. economic development, housing, water
Q8 We invite comments on the merits and drawbacks of the
traditional committee system and on the alternatives to it which
have been suggested.
UNISON recognises some difficulty in the current committee system.
It can be an obstacle to free debate with decisions taken in secret
by political groupings and merely rubber stamped by the committee
without adequate debate. It can also make local government seem
bureaucratic and cumbersome.
UNISON does not support the suggestion that the cabinet system
of decision making should be introduced to Scottish local government.
The effect would be to introduce a two-tier form of local democracy
when the primary aim should be that elected councillors, remain
first and foremost, accountable to their local communities.
UNISON does not support the idea of directly elected political
leaders in Scottish local government. This system can result in
nepotism and cronyism and puts too much power in the hands of
one individual. We are of the view that we should not even consider
pilot schemes on directly elected Mayors/Provosts.
Q9 We invite comments on the role of the individual councillor,
in the status quo and under alternative systems of organisation.
UNISON believes that the role of individual councillors will
be strengthened by a variety of means:
- the recommendations flowing from the Neill Committee Report;
- the introduction of a new National Code of Conduct for Councillors,
- the recommendations arising from the McIntosh Commission;
- the moves to allow local government employees to stand for
public office in Scotland;
- the introduction of a Power of General Competence for Scottish
UNISON believes that the demands on individual councillors could
be managed more easily by a much more widespread use of information
UNISON also believes that the question of payment to councillors
requires appropriate consideration.
Q1O We invite comments on the role of chief officers under
these various alternatives
UNISON believes that the traditionally independent role of chief
officers in Scottish local government has served the system well
up until now. It is one of its strengths rather than a weakness.
Chief officers have a well deserved reputation for integrity and
professionalism which would be undermined by a cabinet style system
of local government. UNISON believes that the traditional values
which embody the present system should be the basis upon which
local government continues to go about its business in future
UNISON believes that any move to a cabinet system may impact
severely on the role of chief officers. A cabinet system could
lead to elected members impinging on the role of the chief officers
in the day to day management of local authority, including staffing
matters. There is also a danger that the introduction of a cabinet
system may lead to politicisation of the chief officer role, and
be a precursor to appoint on fixed term contracts to serve that
APPENDICES - Attached are three appendices:
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The Commission on Local Government
and the Scottish Parliament. Consultation
Paper 1: UNISON's Response
UNISON Statement on Local Government Finance
The political project of the Conservative government between 1979
and 1997 was to reduce public spending and to change the nature
of local councils. The effect of their policies was to stir up conflict
between local and central government, and the outcome was a substantial
shift of power to the centre.
UNISON argues that the health of our democracy depends on real
moves to restore the independence of local government and to acknowledge
that this may mean that local councils will sometime act in ways
which are unpopular with the Scottish Executive. To allow local
government to operate in this way a real measure of financial autonomy
UNISON argues for the total abolition of capping powers, not just
watering them down. UNISON argues for the re-establishment of local
control over the business rate, not just powers to vary it at the
People choose not to vote in local elections because they don't
think that it matters much who wins. And to an extent they are right.
If all the real power is with the Scottish Parliament, and local
councillors have little power to achieve significant changes, then
no wonder that the local electorate is cynical. To reverse this
situation, real power needs to be restored to local councils, and
this must begin with the restoration of a much greater degree of
financial autonomy. At present over 80% of local spending is financed
from the Scottish Office while less than 20% is funded locally.
We must move rapidly towards a system which ensures that a substantial
majority of funding is raised locally
Local councils need a solid and reliable financial structure within
which to work and local voters must be able to vote for those local
candidates who offer the policies they support. And, through the
ballot box, local voters must be able to express their views about
the budgetary consequences of those policies. While 80% of the cash
comes from Edinburgh, local councillors can shift the blame elsewhere.
It is as much in the interests of central government as it is in
the interests of local government for the system to be changed so
that real power and real accountability are returned to local level.
Unless this is done, then it will be possible to argue that other
measures are "side shows" to detract attention from a
failure to tackle the difficult issues.
Improving Local Financial Accountability
UNISON argues that the current council tax structure should be
reformed and that other forms of local taxation should be examined
in detail with a view to allowing council a range of options for
local tax raising. We would like to urge Commission to examine alternative
local taxes including tourist taxes, bed taxes, local income tax
and "green" taxes (e.g. on the use of private cars in
city centres). We accept that the current council tax system, whilst
not perfect, must continue for the immediate future. We argue that
the current bandings for council tax mean that people in lower band
houses pay too much and that people in higher band houses pay too
UNISON would support changes to the current system which would
allow more stability in financial planning allowing for a three
year cycle in financial allocation. The current practice which often
means that councils do not have the capacity to plan their final
budget until a few weeks before the financial year begins creates
uncertainty and does not promote cost-effective working. But this
must not be an inflexible system. whatever other changes are introduced
there must continue to be a robust system of redistribution to allow
poorer authorities to provide appropriate service levels without
raising council tax levels to unpayable heights.
UNISON believes that the control of the business rate should be
returned to local level. This is required to restore a real measure
of financial autonomy to local level.
UNISON believes that councils should have a duty to promote the
economic well being of its community and that economic regeneration
work in partnership with local businesses should be a key part of
this duty. This process would be promoted by the re-establishment
of a local business rate and by associated mechanisms for consultation
between councils and business.
UNISON would accept that there would need to be transitional arrangements
for the move from the present system to local business rates and
that there should be established relationships between business
rate and domestic rate to ensure that the equation remains balanced.
The capital assets of Scotland's local councils are in a very sorry
state. The regime of the last eighteen years has left local government
with a legacy of deteriorating buildings and inadequate equipment.
The Audit Commission report "Capital Gains", published
last year, said that 15 billion was necessary just to "bridge
the gap" of previous under-funding. 8 billion of this money
is to restore the quality of the housing stock.
Local government borrowing should be removed from the Public Sector
Borrowing Requirement. This would bring the UK into line will other
EU countries. Local councils should be free to borrow on the money
markets subject only to a fiduciary duty to behave responsibly (i.e.
to borrow only what it can afford). Given the size of the capital
funding problem, private finance can only be a minor element of
the solution. Local authorities have considerable experience with
partnerships such as those involved in major town centre redevelopments,
where capital investment is directed mainly at commercial property.
However, private finance is not suitable for major public service
It is more expensive, due to the fact that the private sector has
to pay higher interest rates and to the very expensive involvement
in PFI schemes of professional advisors. It is less subject to democratic
control or Best Value considerations since PFI contracts are normally
for 20 - 50 years during which service provision can only be changed
at great cost. And it involves the wholesale transfer of public
service workers into the private sector in circumstances in which
their pay and conditions of employment cannot be protected. In any
case, past and present difficulty in setting up PFI contracts and
the protracted lead-in times involved mean that the 15 billion investment
backlog could never be met.
If Scottish local authorities were free to borrow, large numbers
of jobs would be created in construction and other industries and
the beneficial effect on the local economy and employment levels
would be substantial.
UNISON believes radical and wide ranging measures are necessary
to restore the strength of the local government financial system.
The damage caused by the conflicts created by the previous government's
policies cannot be remedied by marginal changes. Local government
deserves a better deal and this must mean the restoration of a major
degree of financial autonomy.
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The Commission on Local Government and
the Scottish Parliament. Consultation
Paper 1: UNISON's Response
Standing for Public Office in Scotland
The Democratic Deficit
What is the Democratic Deficit?
The combined effect of the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973,
Local Government and Housing Act 1989 and the Local Government etc.
(Scotland) Act 1994 has led to approximately 280,000 people (8 per
cent of the total Scottish electorate) being disbarred from standing
for elections to Scottish local authorities.
How has this been brought about?
1. The 1973 Act requires that a person seeking election must either
live or work in the area of the Council for which he or she is standing.
2. It also disqualifies from nomination a candidate if"he
or a partner of his holds any paid office or employment... of the
3. The 1989 Act, which applies throughout the UK, introduced restrictions
on local government officials standing for public office, on the
basis of seniority and/or salary levels (more than 25,000 per annum).
4. The 1994 Act replaced a two-tier system of local government
(9 Regional Councils and 53 Districts) with a single-tier system
of 29 unitary mainland and 3 islands councils. Previously employees
of a Regional Council were able to stand for election to a District,
or vice versa. The effect of this re-organisation is to severely
restrict the ability of local authority employees to stand as candidates,
and it reinforces the limitations imposed by the 1973 Act, described
In effect, a local government employee is forced to resign their
post if they wish to stand for election, at the time their nomination
paper is signed.
What happens on mainland Europe?
In general, the rules which are applied by other Member States
within the European Union are less restrictive than those which
apply in the UK and Scotland, especially as there is now only a
unitary system of local government in Scotland. The following examples
provide different resolutions to this issue:
Germany: Under the federal system, an official would have
the right to stand for election but would be required to resign
if he or she was successfully elected Furthermore, the official
would have the right to return to the former job after their period
of representation was over
Greece: In municipal elections, officials must resign before
announcing they are candidates. If they are unsuccessful, they can
return to their former job.
Netherlands: Employees are eligible to stand but, if elected,
a commission of inquiry will look into their background and decide
if there is a conflict of interest between their work and their
obligations as elected officials. If it is decided there is a conflict,
they must either stand down or resign from their job.
All these examples illustrate there are other ways to guarantee
individuals' rights to stand for local government elections whilst
being Council employees.
What should happen now?
UNISON is suggesting there are at least two ways that the Scottish
Office and the Government can begin to tackle this issue.
1. The Scottish Office should refer the matter to the Independent
Commission on Local Government which will consider how to build
the most effective relations between local government, the Scottish
Parliament and the Scottish Executive.
2. The Government has already announced that it has established
a review into the Local Government and Housing Act 1989, albeit
on the narrow detail of the regulations that govern politically-restricted
posts in local government. UNISON believes this enquiry should be
widened to investigate the combined effects of the 1973 and 1994
Acts, as well as the 1989 Act on the ability of local authority
employees in Scotland to stand for local election.
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