COUNCIL convener Malcolm Bell has warmly welcomed political moves that will eventually lead to the basic powers of local authorities being protected, including their political, administrative and financial independence.
While giving evidence to the local government and communities committee at Holyrood last month, councillor Bell warned that local government was underfunded and undervalued – an erosion process, he said, that has been going on for years.
Bell’s comments come at a time when Shetland Islands Council has started investigating what extra powers should be devolved to the isles in order to strengthen local decision making.
The council’s campaign to gain a public mandate for such a move was kick-started earlier this week when more than 120 people listened and participated in a virtual summit, hosted by journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch.
A audio recording of last Tuesday’s event can be listened to here:
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government’s communities secretary Aileen Campbell signalled her support for a member bill brought forward by Green MSP Andy Wightman that would give councils democratic guarantees which are normal across Europe.
The purpose of the bill is to give the European Charter of Local Self-Government the same status in Scots law as domestic law.
Bell said: “This is welcome news for councils and communities across Scotland. This bill will strengthen the status of local authorities and bring Scotland into line with other countries in Europe.
“We have seen creeping centralisation for many years which has eroded local democracy and governance.”
The council convener added: “I’m pleased to see the Scottish Government support this bill and in doing so recognise the important role of local councils across the country. I am also delighted that the efforts of Andy Wightman MSP who has championed this cause now look like bearing fruit.”
Wightman said he was pleased that the Scottish Government had eventually changed its mind and was now supporting his legislative initiative.
“Bringing Scotland’s local democracy into line with most normal European nations should have happened long before now, and the evidence given to the committee by experts has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
“Scotland’s power has been too centralised. I look forward to working with all parties as the bill progresses to protect the political, administrative and financial independence of local government to work in the interests of our communities.”
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