Scotland’s independent think tank
Scotland’s independent think tank

The ‘significant seven asks’ of the next Westminster Government – Cllr Steven Heddle

As COSLA’s Vice President, one of the most important things the incoming Government at Westminster can do is work with its devolved governments to unlock Councils’ potential.  A very clear statement of that would be to respect the European Charter, which if enshrined in Scots Law will allow Local Government to get on with what we do best – deliver person centred essential services on behalf of our communities.  A relationship based on parity of esteem, trust and mutual respect between our spheres of government would mean that the people of Scotland are the major beneficiaries of a democratic system that works together to put them at the heart of decision making.

This is just some of the thinking and reasoning behind our Significant Seven’ asks of the incoming Westminster Government following the General Election on July 4:

At their most basic, our requests mean that the democratic mandate of Scotland’s elected local representatives would be recognised and respected.   Our sphere of government being well funded and empowered to work with our communities to deliver preventative services can only be good now and in the future for the quality of life we all want to have.  

It is no coincidence that with the decline in funding for local government in the past 10 years we have also seen a decline in the life expectancy of communities across Scotland.  Even taking into account the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the long-term decline in leisure services, library services and support services in communities and schools, has had an impact on individuals’ and families’ ability to live well locally. Scottish Local Government fully recognises and accepts that all parts of the system must work together to reform our public services to be sustainable now and into the future, but we must also deliver them a way which supports a just transition to net zero where the basic right to warm, safe accommodation is met along with the opportunity to access fully the local job market and economy.

With proper funding Scottish Local Government can continue to lead the way with Fair Work, offering excellent terms and conditions, pay that is at and above the Real Living Wage and job opportunities that offer the flexibility that many families need.   Without doubt, we know that Scotland’s councils are key to the reforms that are required locally so it is only right that the incoming UK Government does what it can to work with devolved governments to meet our asks at pace.

Council services affect and impact all of our lives and we are at the heart of providing opportunities, with our local partners in the public, third and private sector, for everyone to thrive. Whether that be taking forward community wealth building or providing early years care, education and lifelong learning through employability and skills programmes, or supporting the most vulnerable through social work and social care, or keeping our local streets clean and communities accessible to all, we are key to unlocking the potential we have locally and nationally. 

Now more than ever is the time to change how budgets are set.  Every year communities are faced with stories about the difficult financial choices councils are being forced to make, whether that be reducing – or at worst even cutting – vital services or ending funding for essential voluntary sector and community partners. But the headlines only tell part of the story which is about more than money, it’s about the need for democratic reform and empowerment.  If Councils can be given the autonomy to operate freely to deliver in the best interests of our communities, in line with the democratic mandates they hold and in accordance with the European Charter, then together we can deliver for the people of Scotland. The conditions for change should be agreed nationally and the decisions on how best to deliver services to meet communities’ needs should be made locally.

It’s time to stop the decline and move from a position where Councils have no choice but to cut discretionary services in order to protect core ones,  to a situation where we empower public sector Scotland to work together to use our collective resources nationally and locally to ensure we have sustainable public services that are not only fit for our needs now but into the future.  A democracy that is vibrant and diverse and encourages participation is one that can deliver more for the people that it serves.

Local Government, empowered and enabled, holds the key to unlocking the potential in local areas and working more efficiently and effectively with our partners. Councils have an unrivalled understanding of the context, challenges, and opportunities in individual communities. We ask the incoming government to recognise that Scotland’s Councils are a unique and an intrinsic part of local neighbourhoods working hard to create the safe, healthy, vibrant, and empowered communities we all want to see.

Councillor Steven Heddle is Vice President of COSLA

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