The Observer, 29.6.08
Residents of Scotland\’s main cities should be able to elect their own provosts or mayors to ensure elected responsibility, says an independent think-tank report published tomorrow.
Reform Scotland, a non-party policy group which argues for increased economic prosperity through limited government, claims a system of elected city leaders could help end the chaos of party political buck-passing.
\’The advantage of having an elected provost or mayor with clear responsibility for local services is that it provides a figurehead, and therefore strengthens accountability,\’ claim the authors of the report, Local Power
\’If combined with greater powers for local government generally, a directly elected provost or mayor would also be in a position to provide strong and effective leadership. In New York the elected mayor was responsible for leading that city\’s drive to reduce crime. Equally, an elected provost or mayor could provide a focus for efforts to drive forward economic development in our cities.\’
The report calls for the Scottish government to organise referendums in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh to see if residents wanted their own directly elected leaders.
Reform Scotland also recommends that, where there is the demand, key powers should be devolved to local communities. This could be decided in local referendums, in which a simple majority of voters would be sufficient to trigger the devolution of power, along with the appropriate funding. \’We need to adopt this decentralising approach as a matter of urgency,\’ said Ben Thomson, chairman of Reform Scotland, and co-author of the study. \’One of the key findings of our research was that Scotland\’s lowest executive tier of government is far more remote than that of other countries.
\’In countries such as Sweden, France and Norway, local councils represent communities which are far smaller than Scotland\’s local authorities, but are able to levy taxes and exercise control over vital primary education, planning, recreation, local transport and community infrastructure.\’
Geoff Mawdsley, director of Reform Scotland, admitted that, until the results of a referendum in each community, considering such a move was academic. \’The first step is to hold referenda,\’ he said. \’We would expect this to involve Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, but we are not ruling out communities, such as Inverness, Stirling, Perth, Paisley. A lot would depend on what powers people would want their provost or mayor to have. For example, will he or she have any control or powers over the police in the way the mayor of New York does? It is widely accepted that the streets of Glasgow are more dangerous than the streets of New York, where we\’ve had Giuliani and Bloomberg elected on anti-crime, zero-tolerance tickets.\’
Referring to the recent Aberdeen crisis, when the city had to make £27m budget cuts after an Accounts Commission report, Mawdsley said: \’It is not clear in Aberdeen where the buck stops in this mismanagement fiasco. It could be argued that if there was a directly elected provost scrutinised by members of the council it would be very clear where the buck stops. He or she would have to answer for it.