Falkirk Labour leader backs bid to rejoin COSLA fold

FALKIRK is set to rejoin the councils' umbrella body, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), which will strengthen the collective voice of local government in Scotland at a crucial time for its relations with the SNP Executive.

Falkirk Council, then an SNP-led authority, left COSLA in 2001, in protest at what its leaders believed was the organisation's failure properly to represent the interest of councils to central government. Senior SNP councillors in Falkirk also believed COSLA was Labour-dominated and had too cosy a relationship with the then Labour-led coalition in Holyrood.

However, Linda Gow, the new Labour leader of Falkirk council, is to recommend rejoining COSLA to her party colleagues and if, as is expected, they back her, the recommendation will be put to the full council.

And although Gow runs a minority administration she is set to win support from Falkirk's SNP group, which has reversed its long-standing opposition to COSLA membership.

David Alexander, the Nationalist former council leader, says that the changes to the Executive in Holyrood and the fact that the SNP now has more councillors than Labour in Scotland had led to an about-turn.

Alexander says: "The fact we have a minority government in Edinburgh gives us the opportunity to find a new consensus within Scottish politics and a genuine opportunity to achieve the parity of esteem between local and national government that the previous regime in the Scottish parliament spoke of but never genuinely sought to achieve.

"COSLA in recent times has been a huge disappointment, always placing the interests of the Labour Party before those of local government in general.

"However, with the introduction of proportional representation in councils all across Scotland, the cobwebs that were created by the sterile Labour leadership, particularly within Central Scotland, have been blown away.

"No party can claim to possess local government now and, providing COSLA embrace proportionality in the same fashion, then there is the potential for COSLA to be a positive voice for the whole of local government, not just the minority Labour party.

"Perhaps this is now the time for Falkirk to consider rejoining COSLA, providing COSLA matches our vision of a balanced approach to the provision of local services."

Gow says: "I welcome the fact that the SNP has finally seen sense and see the benefits of membership of COSLA.

"It has been bad that Falkirk council has been detached from COSLA for so long. We have not been around the negotiating table when we should have been."

She says that the unions at the council had also urged the new minority administration to rejoin the umbrella group because there are many agreements for council workers negotiated nationally.

Gow says she was "given a warm welcome and encouraged to come back into the fold" last Friday when she attended the first COSLA leaders' meeting since the elections on 3 May.

The proposed move by Falkirk - which is set to be ratified by the full council in a matter of weeks - is a major boost for COSLA, which for the first time in six years will now be able to say that it speaks for all 32 Scottish local authorities.

Pat Watters, the president of COSLA, says: "Last Friday at our first leaders' meeting I said that for the first time in six years I was able to welcome the whole of local government.

"We would be absolutely delighted if in the future COSLA was able to say that we represented every local authority in Scotland.

"This is a very important time for local government and our position will be strengthened if we speak for all of local government."

Two councils - Nationalist-led Clackmannanshire and Labour-led Glasgow - left COSLA in 2001, plunging the organisation into crisis and prompting the resignation of Norman Murray, the then-president, and Oonagh Aitken, then the chief executive. However, Clackmannshire returned to the fold when Labour regained control of the authority in 2003.

Glasgow rejoined at the same time, after Charlie Gordon, its then leader, was won over by Watters, as the new president, and a new team of officials at the organisation.