Reform Scotland

Local Government Reform

Think tank calls for rebirth of local democracy to begin with quarterly public forums with First Minister

Reform Scotland, the independent, non-partisan think tank, has today released a new briefing on local government reform in the wake of the council elections. In today’s briefing, the think tank calls for the direct election of mayors, the devolution of more taxation powers and the creation of a quarterly public forum between local leaders and the First Minister.

Reform Scotland argues that the political parties’ focus on the constitution rather than on local issues during the campaign should be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back”, and that we now need a shift away from central control in Edinburgh towards local control in city chambers and town halls.

The paper calls for:

  • directly-elected mayors, so that local people know who their local leader is, and elect them directly to drive reform and to champion their community to politicians at Holyrood and Westminster.
  • a quarterly public meeting between the First Minister and Scotland’s council leaders, so that those who deliver local services are heard and listened to by the centre of national government.
  • the full devolution of local taxes, including giving local authorities the ability to retain, reform or replace council tax with another form of local taxation better suited to their local needs

“All too often the constitutional debate in Scotland fixates on the relationship between Westminster and Holyrood. However, this overlooks the importance of local government. Even at the recent council elections, most of the main parties chose to focus their messaging not on local issues, but on the constitution. This does a great disservice to an important part of Scottish democracy.

“We should see this election as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. With new councillors elected and the next local elections a number of years away, now is the time to start the process of much needed reform.

“This should start now, with an agreement by the First Minister to hold quarterly public forums with Scotland’s 32 Council leaders. The habit of delivering one-size-fits-all policies from Holyrood requires far greater challenge and scrutiny from those who are expected to deliver such programmes. This is an opportunity to listen more, learn from good practice and increase accountability.

“But this should merely be a step along the road; by the 2027 local authority elections, we should be voting for a directly elected mayor in every local authority across Scotland. We should be given the chance to elect someone to take the local message to the national government, rather than bringing the national government’s message back to local people.”

Alison Payne, Research Director, Reform Scotland