Research paper

Councils working together ‘would boost growth’

Edinburgh City Council
Local authorities need the ability to work jointly says Our Scottish Future

More power should be handed to Scotland’s cities and regions to help boost the country’s stagnating levels of growth, a new report has recommended.

Councils should be able to work together as Scottish Combined Authorities (SCAs), potentially led by a directly-elected provost, taking control over powers such as economic development and skills training, the paper proposes.

Our Scottish Future, a research group focused on public institutions which was set up by former Prime Minister Gordon Brown, says it has found little appetite for a full-scale reorganisation of local government, but it has identified a need to improve how it delivers services and helps boost the economy.

The report, Rewiring Scotland, says all political parties ahead of the next Holyrood election should commit to replacing council tax with a system of progressive local taxation.

It says there is a widely shared view that local government is too centralised and, citing work by former UK Innovation Minister Lord Sainsbury, it argues that more devolution into cities, regions and towns is critical to boosting economic growth.

City Deals and partnerships provide a starting point for the creation of SCAs, following the example set in England where local councils have worked together on areas of common interest and where scale matters.

Two-thirds of people surveyed felt they had little or no influence over decisions that affect their local community.

“Yet while some councils are too big to be locally responsive, others are too small to be properly strategic,” says the report, Rewiring Scotland.

The paper argues: “An agenda of radical decentralisation would not only bring Scotland up to speed with its nearest neighbour, but other countries across the OECD where empowered subnational governments are able to deliver for their localities while also finding new ways to open up politics and democracy to citizens and communities.”

Professor Jim Gallagher, chairman of Our Scottish Future, said: “If our economy is to get growing again, Scotland needs change from central control.

“We must match the job of economic development to the geography.  The report proposes Devolution Deals under which new ‘combined authorities’ made up of groups of local councils can take control from Edinburgh on key economic decisions for their region.

“Such a model – perhaps led by directly-elected provosts – is long overdue. Scotland is one of the most centralised nations in Europe. More power in local hands would reinvigorate local democracy and tip the balance of power away from centralised rule and back in favour of our cities and towns.”

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