Spirit of JFK invoked by Cosla chief

Coslas President, David ONeill. Picture: ContributedCoslas President, David ONeill. Picture: Contributed
Coslas President, David ONeill. Picture: Contributed
THE president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) will today urge councils not to “spit the dummy out” by quitting the body when they cannot reach agreement.

David O’Neill will make a plea for unity in a speech aimed at persuading disillusioned local authorities not to leave Cosla over disagreements about how local authority funding is distributed and where power lies within the organisation.

Faced with several Labour-led councils threatening to leave Cosla, Cllr O’Neill will attempt to invoke the spirit of John F Kennedy by paraphrasing one of his most famous quotations.

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“I would encourage all of you to ‘think not what Cosla can do for you but rather what you can do for Cosla’,” Cllr O’Neill will tell delegates at Cosla’s annual conference in St Andrews. “This is a very apt theme for my speech because it captures in just a few words the essence of the relationship between Cosla and member councils.”

Glasgow City and Aberdeen City councils are among the local authorities who have applied to leave Cosla, the umbrella organisation representing Scotland’s 32 local authorities.

Glasgow claims current plans to change voting structures within Cosla and how £10 billion is split among councils would deny it some £15 million.

In September last year, council leaders backed a so-called “flat cash” deal – meaning councils would get the same amount from the government this year as they did last year.

But Glasgow leader Gordon Matheson said divisions had been opened by an intervention from finance secretary John Swinney last month, in which he laid out to each council what it would gain or lose if the flat cash deal went forward.

Other councils signalling that they will leave are Dumfries and Galloway, South Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, West Lothian and Inverclyde.

Today, Cllr O’Neill will appeal to the councils, arguing that their position was contrary to Cosla’s founding principle to try and forge consensus.

“At a time when public confidence in politicians is not high, although confidence in local politicians remains higher than in anybody else, what does it say about us if our way of working is to be consensual only up to the point where we don’t individually get what we want and at that point we spit the dummy out and threaten never to speak to our political colleagues again?” Cllr O’Neill will ask.

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“It seems to me that Cosla’s current difficulties are caused by too many people forgetting the founding principle that drives any national/local government association anywhere in Europe.

“That principle is [that] there is a common good for local government and therefore local people and it can only be protected, enhanced and developed by consensus, joint working, mature discussion and decision making and, when it comes right down to it, a willingness to accept the fact that a common good is just that – something that is the best for everybody, not just the best for a few.”

Cllr Matheson, however, was last night unimpressed with Cllr O’Neill’s reference to President Kennedy’s 1961 inauguration speech. “Actually,” Cllr Matheson said, “Cosla’s job is to deliver for its members. I don’t believe it is doing that and that’s why we are leaving.”

Last night, a Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “If any councils left Cosla we would of course work with them, but the benefits that our partnership working has delivered could be harder to achieve if councils were not able to organise an effective approach on issues of common concern.”