Devolution was never supposed to stop at Holyrood, but it has. This is why Reform Scotland’s reports on a range of issues from healthcare to policing and finance to planning have argued that more power needs to be devolved down to our local authorities and beyond to make those services more responsive to local needs and priorities as well as making service delivery more accountable and transparent. One of the issues constantly thrown back at us is that this can’t be done as we have too many local authorities. For example, when the proposals for a single police force were unveiled, Reform Scotland argued that representatives from each local authority should sit on the new Scottish Policing Authority. Although politicians acknowledged that policing is largely a local function, they appeared to be happy to remove local government’s role simply because you couldn’t have a committee of 32. This argument against devolving power to our councils because 32 authorities is too many is looking at the issue the wrong way round. If politicians believe that the structure of local government in Scotland is wrong then they should say so and address it, rather than removing local government’s role in the delivery of public services.
Reform Scotland does not necessarily believe that 32 councils is too many for Scotland. Many other European countries have far more, and smaller, municipalities or councils than Scotland and often these are far less reliant on central government. However, it is clear from the feedback that we have received that the political climate in Scotland believes 32 is too many and, therefore, will not consider devolving greater powers to our councils.
To address this, the purpose of this report is to look at whether we could change the current structure of local government in Scotland, creating fewer councils, but making those councils far stronger with more financial powers, as well as looking at ways in which more power could be devolved to community councils.
The full results of our community council survey can be viewed here.