REPORT ON THE COMMISSION ON LOCAL GOVERNMENTAND
THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT
Local Government and the Scottish Parliament"
(McIntosh Commission Report)
A RESPONSE FROM UNISON
SCOTTISH LOCAL GOVERNMENT SERVICE GROUP
Press Release 25 August 99)
UNISON members are providers of local government
services, users of those services, participants in the democratic
process and are part of the electorate. In this context we welcomed
the Commission and its remit, although we were disappointed that
the issue of local government finance was not included. We are
pleased however that the Commission has chosen to comment on this
crucial area. We hope the Scottish Parliament will have the opportunity
to fully debate the issues and recommendations raised by the Commission
and that UNISON will be involved in any further consultations.
POWER OF GENERAL COMPETENCE
UNISON Scotland welcomes the Commission's recommendation
that legislation be introduced to provide councils with a statutory
power of general competence. Such a power would enable councils
to create new possibilities for the development of and the improvement
of local services and would also encourage and improve community
participation in service delivery and policy development.
INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY INTO LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE
UNISON believes that the Commission's recommendation
that an independent enquiry into local government finance be instituted
immediately is fundamental to responsive and responsible local
government. We view it as probably the most important issue facing
Scottish local government at present and we endorse the Commission's
view. Local democracy cannot be delivered when central government
controls the majority of its spending.
We welcome also the comments from the Commission
that such a review should consider all options including consideration
of the issue of the Business Rate, the capping of council tax
increases and the current imbalance on councils' ability to generate
income. We believe that real power needs to be restored to local
councils, which can only be done with the restoration of a much
greater degree of financial autonomy.
OPTION OF TRANSFER TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT
UNISON Scotland welcomes the view and the option
of transfer to local government should always be considered in
any review of other bodies delivering public services and likewise
where new services are developed. It is our view that such a procedure
would instil confidence in local government as a principle public
service provider and provide it with a new and unique role. UNISON
firmly believes that public services are best delivered by publicly
owned, funded and managed, democratically controlled bodies.
A variety of services have been taken out of local
government control in recent years ~ FE colleges; Scotland's 3
water authorities; Scottish Environment Protection Agency; Children's
Reporters Administration. UNISON believes that these services
should be restored to local democratic control and that there
is a strong case that these services be returned directly to local
government. Whilst we welcome the initiative, we would also be
interested in the procedure and the process necessary to allow
this to happen and also to monitor such reviews.
REVIEW OF LOCAL ELECTION ARRANGEMENTS
UNISON supports the view that electoral arrangements
should be much more user friendly. In previous submissions to
the Commission we have suggested initiatives such as easier access
to postal voting, the ability to vote in non traditional voting
places such as libraries and supermarkets, however the prerequisite
in this regard is an accurate electoral register. We would support
the view of the Commission that the electoral cycle be on a 4
year term to be held at the mid point of the Parliament.
PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION FOR LOCAL GOVERNMENT
UNISON believes that 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 end the "one
party state" system emerging in many local authorities. Often
elected on considerably less than 50% of the popular vote. A disadvantage
is that it may lead to instability and a lack of strategic direction
within councils which could be particularly damaging at this time
of change. UNISON believes however that any change to the voting
system must preserve as far as possible the link between individual
councillors and those who elect them and that whatever system
is adopted must enshrine equal representation of men and women.
We are pleased to note that the Commission includes these areas
as part of the criteria to be used in determining a system/s of
proportional representation for all Scottish local government.
EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE SYSTEM
UNISON does not support the suggestion that an executive
system for decision making be introduced. In our view this would
introduce a two-tier form of local democracy when the primary
aim should be that elected councillors remain and first and foremost
accountable to their local communities. We do note however the
Commission encourages authorities to examine their current structures
and that there is not a blueprint that can be universally applied.
UNISON believes that with the introduction of an executive committee
system, the relationship and role of chief executives and other
chief officials should be the subject of further discussion. UNISON
believes that there should be safeguards against councils replacing
the criticised committee system with a cabinet system which perpetuates
the view that the meetings are a charade, with the decisions already
pre-packaged from the majority group.
COUNCILLORS' REMUNERATION/TRAINING ETC.
UNISON welcomes a review on a pay and condition
package for councillors however, we also believe, that the issue
of member training, the introduction of a national code of conduct
and consideration of the use of information technology must be
considered at the same time. We would also see a role for COSLA
in this process.
UNISON welcomes the recommendation from the Commission
as an initial step that employees of local government other than
the most senior and those in politically sensitive posts should
be permitted for stand for election and to serve as elected members
subject to appropriate safeguards. However, UNISON believes that
all local government employees should have the ability to stand
for public office. This is an issue that UNISON has campaigned
on for a number of years and we are pleased that the Commission
has recognised the inequality and unfairness of the current system.
UNISON is also pleased that the Commission recognises
the valuable contribution that many people employed in local government
can make as elected members. On the issue of politically sensitive
posts, UNISON would seek a review of the current criteria applied
and current banding system.
UNISON notes the Commission's final recommendation
that the report is presented as a single package. We give this
a cautious welcome on the basis that we firmly believe that an
independent review of local government finance is absolutely crucial
in delivering all other aspects of the Commission's recommendations
and is crucial in revitalising and restructuring local government
so that it can face the challenges for the next century.
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