Ground-breaking local democracy Commission to focus on people not politics

 With less than a year to go until the Referendum vote, Scotland’s councils have today announced the unprecedented move of setting up Scotland’s first Commission on Local Democracy.

Speaking ahead of the first meeting of the Commission later this week COSLA President Councillor David O’Neill said:  “With one year to go until the Referendum, it’s time for the debate about Scotland’s future to focus on the questions that local people, not politicians, are asking.

“Everyone knows that regardless of the outcome of the Referendum the status quo will not prevail in Scotland, but there has been very little consideration of what this should mean for local people and local decision making.

“I think we have a duty to turn that situation around. That is why as the President of COSLA I am taking the unprecedented move of bringing together some of Scotland’s most senior councillors, wider civic society, and a range of experts to understand why local services and local accountability matter”.

“Most importantly of all, this Commission will be listening to the views of people and communities across Scotland and setting out what it would take to put stronger local democracy at the heart of Scotland’s constitutional future”.

“In fact, when you speak to people in local communities, the real story is not about the internal working of Holyrood or Westminster. It is about the local services that communities need, and about giving people a real say about what matters locally to them.  So it’s not surprising that the wider debate about Scotland’s future has often failed to spark the imagination, because on both sides it is still hard for people to see what positive difference that could be made to real lives”.

“Across Scotland other people are now also looking for the debate to break this new ground.  Effective local democracy is fundamental to the kind of country we want to live in.  The opportunities and challenges that we face in different parts of the country are different, and require local choices and local accountability.  In fact vibrant local democracy means vibrant local communities”.

Councillor O’Neill continued: “For example, we have already heard compelling cases for the huge benefits that more local approaches would deliver for our islands and our cities.  This Commission will build on that thinking and make the case for what can be achieved for all of our communities”.

“COSLA has already begun to think about those issues.  We have developed a vision that focuses on improving local democracy as the route to better outcomes, and we are putting this at the heart of all of our work.  But we have more to do to expose our thinking to others, and test the case for the principles it sets out”.

“There is a lot to play for and that is why this Commission is all about real life and not just ideology.  I want to deliver real change as well as influencing change elsewhere”.

“Over the decades we have moved away from the local aspect of almost everything.   More and more services are being run by distant bureaucracies, and often those services are being done to people rather than delivered with them.  Yet across Europe, the opposite is often true.  That trend simply won’t see us through for much longer, because it is no coincidence that our European neighbours are often more successful at improving outcomes”.

He concluded:  “The bottom line is that local matters and it is valued within our communities.  Making Scotland a fairer, healthier and wealthier place will not be achieved from the top down- we know that trying to do so simply doesn’t work”.

“The reality is that improving lives in our communities means empowering local democracy and letting local people decide on their priorities, their services, and their spending.  Nothing else works, and that is why we must have local services and local decision that is stronger and not weaker in the future”.

The Commission I am launching today will stay true to those principles and ensure that whatever the outcome of the Referendum, there is a lasting local legacy for local people within local communities in Scotland.”



David J Kennedy

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