Reform Scotland, the independent, non-party think-tank, has today called for substantially greater powers to be handed back to local government. Believing that the number of councils in Scotland – at 32 – is used as an excuse to re-centralise power to Holyrood, Reform Scotland is proposing a radical re-think of the local authority map, to reduce the number of councils to 19 (see notes below). The proposal, which is a response to the crisis in local democracy highlighted by the poor turnout at this month’s local elections, would also see the abolition of 14 health boards and 8 police boards, with their functions handed to councils.
In its “Renewing Local Government” report, which also proposes the election of mayors and the devolution of local taxes, Reform Scotland says that its proposals will bring power closer to the people, reversing the trend of centralisation which has been eroding local accountability and responsibility.
In order to limit the bureaucratic effects of the reduction in council numbers, Reform Scotland is suggesting that council areas be amalgamated within existing boundary lines. The think-tank has also stressed that it sees its ’19 proposal’ as a starting point for a debate amongst civic Scotland and the political parties rather than the final analysis.
Commenting, Reform Scotland’s Chairman Ben Thomson said:
“It is clear from the recent disappointing local election turnout that we have to take action against the erosion of local democracy in Scotland. This is not a party-political issue, and we hope to start a vital debate in this country which will result in a solution being found which empowers our Councils, and which engages people at election-time.
“It is clear that, for whatever reason, a great number of people find the existence of 32 councils to be unpalatable. It is certainly the case that there is too much confusion caused by the inconsistent number of councils, police boards and health boards, and by making these boundaries the same and making local authorities more responsible for these essential services we will take a big step in the right direction.
“Britain is a heavily centralised nation. Devolution has been limited, and it has stopped at Holyrood. Indeed, the Scottish Parliament has reversed devolution by sucking up Council powers. This has to stop. For Scotland’s good, we’re calling on everyone to work together to renew local government.”