from the McIntosh Report
The Local Government Committee reports to the Parliament as follows
The Committee took evidence from Wendy Alexander, (Minister for
Communities), Mr Jack McConnell (Minister for Finance), Mr Frank McAveety (Deputy Minister
for Local Government), Kenneth Ritchie, James Gilmour and Peter Facey (Electoral Reform
Society), Professor John Curtice (Department of Government, University of Strathclyde),
and Richard Kerley (Chair of the Renewing Local Democracy working group).
The Committee received private briefings from the Accounts Commission,
the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), Society of Local Authority Chief
Executives, Unison, Neil McIntosh, Professor Arthur Midwinter and the Scottish Executive.
The Committee carried out visits to Aberdeen City Council, Clackmannanshire Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council, East Lothian Council, East Renfrewshire Council, Glasgow City Council, Highland Council, North Lanarkshire Council, Perth and Kinross Council, Shetland Islands Council, South Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Borders Council, South Ayrshire Council, Stirling Council and Western Isles Council to probe council members and senior officers on their responses to core questions submitted to them by the Committee on the issues arising from the McIntosh Report, and received responses to the core questions from the remaining councils which were not visited.
The Committee is disappointed that the Executive has rejected the
McIntosh Reports recommendation that there should be an independent review of local
government finance. The Committee backs the unanimous view of the 32 councils that a major
review of the system of local government finance is urgently required in the best
interests of local government in Scotland. (2) The
Committee has agreed to urge the Executive to commission an independent review of local
government finance. It has further agreed that, should the Executive not agree to an
independent review of local government finance, the Committee will consider how best it
can conduct its own review, using the resources available. The Committee notes the
interest of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in this matter, and
recognises that COSLA may be able to contribute towards the cost of a review by the Local
Government Committee. However, the Committee is resolved that any review must be seen to
be independent of COSLA.
The Committee received many comments on the matter of hypothecation (or
ring-fencing) during its visits to councils. The Committee recognises the tension between
the priorities of the Executive and those of local government. The Committee acknowledges
the right of the centre to hypothecate or ring-fence specific grants to help achieve its
objectives, and recognises that a range of initiatives, including childcare projects and
measures to support victims of domestic violence, might otherwise never have materialised
in some areas. However, the Committee is also concerned over claims made by councils that,
increasingly, hypothecated allocations are made through top-slicing GAE.
Councils argue that this over-prescription distorts councils spending
priorities and creates funding gaps for core services.
The Committee also received some comments about challenge funding. While
a number of councils indicated that they were pleased to have been successful in bidding
for challenge funding, there were concerns, particularly among smaller councils with lower
levels of staffing resources, over the sometimes disproportionate efforts required to bid
for relatively small sums of money.
The Committee believes that these two matters are small examples of
matters concerned with the detailed operation of local government finance, which could be
opened up to wider consideration through an independent review of local government
The Committee recognises that there are divergent views, both within the
Committee and among the councils, on the merits of different voting systems. The Committee
has agreed to defer its conclusions on voting systems until the recommendations of the
Renewing Local Democracy group, under the Chairmanship of Richard Kerley, are known.
Term of Office
The Committee is agreed that the term of office for councils in Scotland
should be four years.
Timing of Elections
The Committee acknowledges that there are different views on the
question of whether or not local government elections should be held on the same day as
those for the Scottish Parliament. It is argued by those in favour that holding local
government elections on the same day as Scottish Parliamentary elections will lead to a
higher turnout and a degree of interaction and co-ordination between the Parliament and
local government which will enhance local government. It is also argued that elections on
the same day will prevent councillors being punished unfairly as voters
protest in the mid-term of an unpopular UK government or Scottish Executive. On the other
hand it is argued by those against that elections on the same day will mean that local
government issues will be marginalised in relation to the Parliamentary elections, and
will not receive the degree of media coverage which would be the case if the elections
were held at a different time.
The Committee has not reached consensus on this question.
Innovative methods of voting
The Committee is fully in support of innovative forms of voting
including electronic voting, and welcomes proposals to widen the range of polling places.
The Committee welcomes proposals for rolling registers, improvements to systems of postal
voting and other initiatives in the Representation of the People Bill currently being
progressed through the House of Commons.
The Committee is of the view that the Boundaries Commission should be
more flexible to take more account of natural communities, and should allow a greater
percentage variation in the number of electors in a ward. However the Committee recognises
that full consideration of boundaries issues cannot be usefully undertaken until it is
known when the next council elections will be, under which system they will be conducted,
and how many members will be elected. In that sense, issues connected with the operation
of the Boundaries Commission may be the last piece in a complex jigsaw.
The Committee notes that the 32 councils were unanimously in favour of
the granting of a power of general competence to councils. It notes that councils claim
that the lack of a power of general competence inhibits the action which they are able to
take in relation to community planning and limits the extent to which they can enter into
formal partnership agreements. The Committee also recognises that resources are used by
councils in the process of establishing whether or not they have the statutory powers to
take action which they have agreed to.
The Committee also notes the symbolic value embodied in a power of
general competence, which is seen by councils as representing the esteem in which local
government should be held. The Committee also recognises the democratic legitimacy of
councils in relation to partnership arrangements with other public bodies, and broadly
supports the proposals for powers to oblige local public bodies to co-operate formally
with councils in partnerships for community planning and other appropriate projects.
The overwhelming view of the Committee is that the case for a power of
general competence has been adequately made by local government (3) and
consequently it supports the proposal for legislation to introduce such a power.
Directly elected leaders
The Committee questioned councils on proposals for directly elected leaders, and found that they were overwhelmingly against the idea, arguing that it would be dangerous to concentrate power in one individual and that it would weaken the role of ordinary councillors. The Committee considers overwhelmingly that directly elected leaders are not appropriate for Scottish councils, although one member felt that, at the very least, the position should be held open, and that councils should be free to pursue that route.
Executive or cabinet systems of local government
The Committee considered the potential for the introduction of cabinet
systems, and visited East Renfrewshire, where such a system has recently been introduced.
The Committee recognises the merits of the Executive system as practised in East
Renfrewshire, but does not believe that it would be appropriate for all councils. It
considers that, some councils are arguably too large for an executive system to work
properly, and that the adoption of such a system could lead to the diminution of the role
of back bench councillors. Moreover, under the present electoral arrangements,
some councils do not have a large enough opposition to carry out adequately the scrutiny
The Committee concluded that cabinet or executive systems are probably
more appropriate in smaller councils where there is a reasonably sized opposition group
which is prepared to participate in such a system. It also noted that an executive model
would need to have guarantees of accessibility and accountability. However the Committee
does not believe that cabinet systems should be imposed, and considers that councils
should be free to determine their own management arrangements in the light of local
circumstances. The Committee also notes that management arrangements need to be considered
alongside schemes of decentralised operation and decision making.
The Committee notes that the Leadership Advisory Panel is in place to
advise councils on their internal review of management arrangements, which is due to be
completed by the end of 2000. The Committee considers that it cannot reach a view on the
role of the Leadership Advisory Panel until it hears the views of councils about the work
of the panel.
The Committee recognises the need for effort and innovation to involve
young people, women and others not traditionally represented on councils.
The Committee has also considered in detail the question of whether or
not council employees should be permitted to stand for election. It recognises that at
present there are around 200,000 people who, as employees, are debarred from standing for
election to their local council. While the Committee acknowledges that employees may stand
for election to neighbouring councils, in many areas geography makes this impractical.
Moreover, since the last re-organisation there is no longer an opportunity for employees
in one tier of local government to become councillors in another. The Committee considers
that these rules potentially prevent many people standing and being elected as
councillors, and lead to a democratic deficit.
The Committee is overwhelmingly of the view that the bar on employees
standing as councillors should be examined and, where possible, removed. However, it is
recognised that, before any removal of the bar, safeguards would need to be in place to
ensure that there were no conflicts of interest and that employees and their managers were
not put in invidious positions. For example, it would not be appropriate for councillors
who were also employees to take part in discussions or negotiations concerning their
salaries and conditions of service. There would also need to be some rules about which
levels of employees within the councils organisational structure would be permitted
to stand. Although the Committee has not considered this in detail, its initial position
is that senior managers and heads of service and above should not be permitted to be
councillors. One member of the Committee holds a contrary view that it is neither
appropriate nor practical for employees to take part in many decisions, for example on
budgets and declarations of council tax, and, while employees should be permitted to
stand, they should be required to resign if elected.
Remuneration and Participation
The Committee considers that the present scheme for remuneration of
councillors is inadequate. The Committee recognises that the number of councillors in
Scotland has fallen by about 400 since the last reorganisation, with a corresponding
increase in workload. The Committee overwhelmingly rejects the proposal that remuneration
of councillors can only be improved by a corresponding reduction in the number of
councillors. The Committee believes that adequate levels of remuneration are necessary in
order to attract a sufficiently high calibre of candidate to stand for election to
councils, and to allow the possibility of people having a full time job as a councillor.
At the same time, the Committee recognises that there should continue to be scope for part
time councillors where this is appropriate. In this respect, the Committee calls on
employers to continue, wherever possible, to grant their employees time off for council
duties in line with the provisions of the Employment Rights Act 1996. The Committee hopes
that the Renewing Democracy group will, in due course, make realistic proposals for the
pay and conditions of councillors.
The Committee believes that local government should be considered on a
basis of equality with the Parliament, recognising its democratic mandate. The Committee
is concerned that present financial arrangements including hypothecation limit
the scope which councils have for taking action to meet the needs of their population. In
particular, evidence from visits to rural councils including Scottish Borders Council,
Dumfries and Galloway Council and Highland Council suggested that councils are
experiencing difficulties in meeting the local populations expectations on the
condition of roads and footways. It is suggested that this issue might be addressed as
part of a review of local government finance. The Committee recognises that financial
issues are not the only ones facing councils, and believes that there needs to be full and
frank discussion between representatives of councils and the Parliament on all issues of
concern to both local government and the Parliament.
The Committee welcomes recent dialogue on the development of the
covenant with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
The Committee recognises that community councils have a role to play in
promoting local democracy and developing civic education. At the same time, the Committee
also recognises a role for area forums, youth councils and other organisations designed to
promote active citizenship. Although the Committee has not yet taken evidence from
organisations representing community councils, it recognises the argument about inadequate
funding of community councils, and recommends that consideration is given to the
mechanisms and levels of funding for community councils. The Committee also notes from its
programme of visits the efforts by councils, including Highland, East Lothian and
Stirling, to improve levels of funding and other resources for community councils.
Although some members of the Committee believe that community councils
are being systematically undermined by initiatives such as citizens juries, others
are concerned that there is public disillusionment with some community councils, which are
perceived as being out of touch and unrepresentative. Discussion which took place during
the visits to councils led the Committee to the view that consideration should be given to
training for members of community councils.
The Committee applauds the efforts of schools and community education
services around the country in developing initiatives to promote civic education. The
Committee also welcomes the involvement and participation of young people in managing and
running local youth clubs and community centres where this has happened.
Finally, the Committee recognises the need to use established structures, like community councils, for gathering information, but also recognises the validity of alternative ways of gathering information where these are appropriate. The Committee supports co-operative models of decision making at a local level, but acknowledges that those models are hard to put in place and are not strongly established in many parts of the country.
The Committee welcomes the debate on the future of local government in
Scotland, and anticipates a continuing debate between councils, COSLA, the Executive, the
Local Government Committee and civic Scotland on the issues raised by this report over the
coming period. The Committee also anticipates the report of the Renewing Local Democracy
group and the self review of council management structures taking place over the remainder
of the year.
The Committee is unanimously agreed that the role of local government is a crucial one, both in promoting local democracy and in delivering services, and it would like again to take this opportunity of reaffirming its commitment both to the relationship between the Parliament and local government, and to local government itself.