Beyond Holyrood: Why Scotland’s economic future depends on local power

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New report says economic strength must be built on greater local devolution

Reform Scotland has published a new report which asks political parties to remember that the economy, rather than Scotland’s constitutional future, should be the dominant issue ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election.

The report – Beyond Holyrood: Why Scotland’s economic future depends on local power – is based on new regional economic data and concludes that the Scottish economy is now so diverse that greater devolution of power to local authorities is essential for the nation to fulfill its potential.

The report finds that:

  • Comparing Scotland’s economy to the UK’s economy is unhelpful and misleading – although Scotland underperforms the UK, it outperforms every UK region except London and the South East on most economic indicators.
  • Similarly misleading is treating the Scottish economy as a single entity – for example, the number of business births per head in Aberdeen is four times greater than in Dumfries & Galloway, and the percentage growth in over-75s in Aberdeenshire is double that of Inverclyde
  • We cannot expect a centralised economic structure to deliver uniformly positive outcomes in areas which need bespoke solutions

Reform Scotland recommends a variety of steps that would empower local authorities to respond to local needs and stimulate local growth, including:

  • The ability to retain, reform or replace Council Tax
  • Full control over Non-Domestic Rates to allow them to be applied in a bespoke way
  • The ability to introduce new taxes, building on the recent proposed devolution of the tourism and workplace parking levies
  • The introduction of directly-elected mayors to create a visible figurehead to spearhead local progress

Commenting, Reform Scotland’s Director Chris Deerin said:

“We cannot realistically expect our political parties to forget about the constitutional debate as we head towards the 2021 elections. However, we should expect them to understand, and reflect, that the single most important issue facing Scotland is its economic performance.

“Scotland has significant economic strengths and weaknesses. Some of those weaknesses are global problems which will largely require global solutions, but others are very local problems which, similarly, require very local solutions.

“Those local solutions are, at present, impossible to access, because Scotland’s local authorities are insufficiently equipped. We talk, frequently, about the devolution of power from Westminster to Holyrood. That devolution should not have stopped at Edinburgh.

“To realise the economic and social potential of all of Scotland, Edinburgh must let go.”

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