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Think-tank urges town hall freedom – Daily Telegraph

Auslan Cramb
Daily Telegraph, 30.6.08

Councils should have greater freedom to provide services and raise revenue, a think tank claims today.

A report from Reform Scotland calls for radical changes that would "bring power closer to the people", including the possibility of elected provosts or mayors.

The SNP has ruled out fundamental structural reform, but the report says the relationship between Holyrood and local government needs to be reshaped with more power given to communities.

The think tank\’s own survey found that more councillors felt they were under the yolk of Holyrood, with nearly 70% complaining they did not have enough autonomy.

It says its recommendations are in line with decentralisation of power seen in many other countries and will help deliver better public services.

Central government still exerts unnecessary control over council activities, according to the group, while the percentage of tax raised locally in Scotland is amongst the lowest in Europe.

Its recipe for "the revival of local democracy" includes a recommendation that councils be able to raise at least half their revenue.

It also wants an end to the "ring fencing" of all money from the Executive to allow councils to decide how it is used.

Ben Thomson, chairman of Reform Scotland said: "If we are going to make our public services more efficient we need to push down power to a local level and make them accountable.

"By giving local authorities greater financial power, so that over time they raise the majority of their own revenues, they should become more responsive to the local communities they serve.

"A first step to greater financial accountability would be to return business rates to local control.

"This would have the benefit of encouraging councils to work with local businesses to improve the local economy because they would receive the higher revenues generated by a more vibrant economy.

"Taxes such as the Local Income Tax proposed by the Scottish Government that are centrally set, do nothing to give local authorities more control and therefore have no advantage over the current system while causing the usual difficulties of introducing a new tax system."

The group also calls on the Executive to organise referenda in Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh to see whether local residents want their own directly elected provosts or mayors.

David Parker, leader of Scottish Borders council, welcomed the report and said that since devolution there had been no significant review of local government in Scotland.