UNISONScotland www
This is our archive website that is no longer being updated.
For the new website please go to
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK



The Scottish Executive's Response



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 Group.


Civic Education

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 general competence?

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 current arrangements.

UNISON believes that the power of general competence in Scotland should be no less than that for authorities in England and Wales (point 47)

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 public services.

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 representatives.


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 to stand.

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 is indefensible.

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 effective?

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


Matt Smith
Scottish Secretary
14 West Campbell Street
G2 6RX
0141 332 0006
Submissions index | Home | Local Government Home | Top of Page