Scottish Government accused of 'rhetoric but no action' on local government

The leader of the body representing Scotland’s 32 councils has said the Scottish Government has failed to implement the findings of a major report which would have radically reformed local government.

President of Cosla, Alison Evison.
President of Cosla, Alison Evison.

Councillor Alison Evison, said the government’s “rhetoric on empowering the local does not match the reality” and as a result local democracy was in a “dangerous position”.

Writing in The Scotsman, she said the lack of action was “neither sustainable nor healthy” and that it flies in the face of the Christie Commission report on the Future Delivery of public services, which was published ten years ago today.

The Christie report, written by the former Scottish Trades Union Congress General Secretary Campbell Christie, stated that “unless Scotland embraces a radical, new, collaborative culture throughout our public services, both budgets and provision will buckle under the strain.”

It recommended the sector should focus more on preventing social failure rather than tackling the consequences of it with public servants working across bureaucratic boundaries to solve Scotland’s ills.

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Reforms were also needed to “empower individuals and communities by involving them in the design and delivery of the services they use”, while the whole system of public services – public, third and private sectors – must become more efficient by reducing duplication and sharing services wherever possible.

Cllr Evison, said the report had been in existence since she had first become a councillor in Aberdeenshire and the President of COSLA, and she was “disappointed” in a lack of action.

"Yes, there has been progress, but in a fragmented way, with no overall change in the culture and ethos that lies behind Christie,” she said.

"The Scottish Government’s rhetoric on empowering the local does not match the reality. This is neither sustainable nor healthy and flies in the face of Campbell’s Report.

“This is a dangerous position for us all – because it switches off the people within communities with whom we are trying to engage.”

Cllr Evison also said the impact of government decisions needed to be better considered.

"There should be greater recognition of the implications for local delivery of national strategic commitments,” she said. “Any new initiatives should be integrated into existing approaches rather than resulting in additional governance bodies.”

She said the system change implementing the Christie recommendations would require needed a breakdown in barriers between public sector partners, which had arisen as a result of “avoidable competition over the allocation of scarce funding.”

“We need to recognise the anchor role of local government and address its significant under funding. A lack of certainty and of support for long term planning means that the prevention agenda of which Christie spoke is not being addressed."

A Scottish Government spokesperson said it supported its local government partners, had “early and meaningful engagement” with Cosla on policy, and “despite a decade of UK austerity”, councils had received a “cash-terms revenue budget increase.”

“We believe local authorities are best placed to decide how to allocate the financial resources available to them on the basis of local needs and priorities,” he added.

“Although the pandemic continues to exert unprecedented pressures on our budget, the 2021-22 local government finance settlement of £11.7bn includes an additional £375.6m, or 3.5 per cent for day-to-day revenue spending.

“Our overall Covid-19 support package for councils now totals more than £1.5bn.”

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