REPORT ON THE COMMISSION ON LOCAL
GOVERNMENT AND THE SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT:
The Scottish Executive's Response
A RESPONSE FROM UNISON SCOTLAND
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 welcome the opportunity
to comment on the Scottish Executive's response to the Commission
on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament. Our comments relate
to the questions posed by the Executive.
UNISON would hope to continue to be consulted by the Scottish Executive
as and when other aspects of the McIntosh report are considered
such as it's response to the Renewing Local Democracy
Q1 How can we best reach out to the most disadvantaged young
people and help them become active citizens?
UNISON believes the best way of reaching out to young people and
encouraging them to become active citizens is to give them a vote
in local council elections. If young people aged 16 and 17 are able
to get a job, get married and start a family, buy or rent a house
and pay council tax then they should have the right to vote and
participate in decisions affecting their lives.
Q2 Ministers would welcome views on proposals for improving
the Resource allocation, management and transparency of the local
government finance system, within the current policy framework.
UNISON disagrees with the Scottish Executive (point 29) and agrees
with the Commission's recommendation that an independent enquiry
into local government finance should be instituted immediately.
UNISON views it as probably the most important issue facing Scottish
local government at present. 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 including the return of the business rate
to local democratic control.
UNISON therefore does not agree with the Scottish Executive (point
39) that the regime for non-domestic rates should be unaltered.
This is a necessary pre-requisite to returning local democratic
control to local communities. We also believe that if a local council
is to be granted a power of general competence then it will be necessary
for it to have much greater financial freedom to serve its communities
and meet their needs.
If, however, the national unified business rate is to be maintained,
UNISON believes that there is a case for reviewing the distribution
of the business rate to local authorities to remedy present anomalies
whereby large cities which generate much revenue do not see a fair
share of resources.
A power of general competence
Q3 Should local authorities in Scotland be given a power of
Does the lack of such a power really hamper authorities? What form
should that power take? What safeguards should be provide?
UNISON Scotland agrees that legislation should be introduced to
provide councils with a statutory power of general competence. Rather
than hampering authorities this 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. We believe that councils
should be judged on their actions not their structures and that
this power is key to ensuring high quality, responsive local government.
UNISON rejects each of the arguments put up against such a power
(point 45). Duplication of services will be avoided if best value
principles are applied properly. And it is the case that local authorities
are barred from undertaking useful local activities because of the
UNISON believes that the power of general competence in Scotland
should be no less than that for authorities in England and Wales
UNISON believes the over-riding safeguard against such a power
being abused is at the local ballot box, with there being a direct
line of accountability between councils and their local electorate.
This cannot be said for many of the quangos that presently run Scotland's
UNISON would re-iterate the point that a power of general competence
and a review of financial arrangements for council's must go
hand in hand.
The term of office for councils, and the
timing of local elections
Q4 Should the Scottish local government elections be held on
the same day as Scottish Parliamentary elections or should they
be held mid-term?
UNISON 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 Scottish
Parliament. Having the local government elections on the same day
as the parliamentary elections means that the focus of the elections
both in the media and with political parties is on the national
rather that the local. In the long run this can only damage local
government with less scrutiny exercised.
A directly elected council leader
Q5 Views are therefore invited on these various ideas. Should
there be legislation to allow political management structures that
involve a directly elected leader? If so, how should that leader
be elected? Should there be some sort of provision that would allow
local people to insist that the idea of a directly elected leader
be put to the people? What sort of safeguards on the power of the
leader would be needed?
UNISON does not favour legislation to allow for directly elected
leaders. We are concerned that such a measure would lead to the
unhealthy centralisation power and to the possibility of cronyism
and corruption. We do not accept it will re-invigorate local government.
The election for London mayor has become a beauty parade based on
candidates' personalities rather than their policies. We believe
that elected leaders would stifle local views being heard and we
value a system that allows for local people to elect their own local
Election of council employees to the council;
and political restrictions on council officers
Q6 Views are invited on:
- whether the ban on employees serving as members of their own
Council should remain
- Whether, if the general ban was maintained, a relaxation on
the need for an employee to resign on nomination to their own authority
would be worthwhile (while maintaining the requirement to resign
if elected to serve); and if a relaxation were to be considered,
whether option i or ii above is preferable.
Q7 Views are invited about whether the salary threshold should
be increased, and if so, to what level?
UNISON does not believe the ban on local government staff serving
as members of their own council should remain.
As a first step, we welcome the Commission's recommendation
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. Ultimately, we believe all staff should have the right
UNISON believes that the provisions covering ethical standards
among councillors should apply to all councillors equally
whatever their background. This is the best means of dealing with
conflict of interest rather than imposing a blanket ban.
UNISON would point out the present inconsistency whereby staff
employed in a contacted-out service or in a council-funded voluntary
organisation can stand and serve as councillors whereas directly
employed in-house council staff are barred. This disparity of treatment
UNISON would seek a review of the current criteria applied to politically
sensitive posts and we believe that all staff should be allowed
to stand for election except for those on JNC Chief Official scales.
The party whip in council business
Q8 Views are invited. Would amendment of standing orders be
UNISON believes that council business should be undertaken in an
open and transparent way. We do not believe that decisions taken
in secret, behind closed door in party meetings, are conducive to
transparency. We would therefore suggest amendments to prohibit
whipping on all but a small number of strategic and policy issues.
For further information please contact
Submissions index | Home
| Local Government Home | Top of Page
- Matt Smith
- Scottish Secretary
- UNISON House
- 14 West Campbell Street
- G2 6RX
- 0141 332 0006