Remote control

The merging of health and social care under one elected authority is the strongest part of Reform Scotland chairman Ben Thomson’s case for local government reform (Perspective, 22 May).

But otherwise his plans seem to be a recipe for an even wider gap between councils and the people they represent.

Does he really believe that the introduction of 19, relatively large, local authorities is going to “reconnect” people to town halls throughout the country? The low turnout at the recent local elections is nothing new.

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It had risen at the three polls in 1999, 2003 and 2007 (sometimes to more than 50 per cent) because the vote took place on the same day as we decided who Holyrood representatives should be.

Getting people to turn out or even vote by post is becoming more of a challenge. It will not be met by creating authorities which appear to be even more remote even if they are given more financial powers.

Mr Thomson needs to look carefully at the notion that people are likely to be more enamoured of their local authority simply because it has the power to vary (almost certainly increase) their council tax or business rates more regularly.

The outcome of the Holyrood elections last year surely indicates that a freeze on the tax remains a very popular policy.

Some of the existing authorities are looking at strengthening their local area committees. This may prove a more fruitful approach to getting the public involved. Another could be increased finance and powers for community councils and residents’ associations.

At the moment there is a lot of disaffection because these bodies feel their views are not heeded. That could change if they had well-qualified staff who could use new powers to press local and national government for action. That community approach might prove to be more acceptable than the sort of destabilising upheaval of councils that Ben Thomson seems to favour.

Bob Taylor

Shiel Court


Ben Thomson of Reform Scotland correctly states that devolution was never supposed to stop at Holyrood.

Reform Scotland is also calling for greater powers for community councils and it is here that I believe we can make the biggest impact on re-engaging with our local communities.

Up to my election on 3 May, I was chair of a local community council. Although community councils have a statutory and well-respected role in providing input to planning and other decisions made by local authorities, their input remains advisory.

Without any real power, it is difficult to attract involvement even to the point where elections are required, let alone worrying about turnout.

As recently reported in The Scotsman, Scotland already has fewer councils than any other European country in terms of population, even without any suggested mergers.

Perhaps devolution should start from the bottom up, with statutory powers on planning, licensing and other areas which most directly affect communities being decided by those same communities.

(Cllr) Ian Baxter

Broomieknowe Gardens

Bonnyrigg, Midlothian