Lesley Riddoch makes many good points in The Scotsman today, but she is wrong to suggest that the size of our local authorities is their key flaw. The issue is inadequate resources and powers. The current SNP Government has disregarded local democracy and taken the centralisation of powers to the extent that our local authorities no longer even set their own budgets. The SNP Government have slashed council budgets and left our hard working councillors only with the power to decide which services must be cut. The SNP Government then blame local authorities for out failing schools, potholed roads and closed libraries.
As Ms Riddoch suggests, we must use the Holyrood 2016 elections as an opportunity to rebalance the relationship between our communities, local authorities and Holyrood. Our hard working councillors must be given the power to make a difference. They know where investment in housebuilding and job creation is best targeted better than any SNP Minister with a centralising “one size fits all” mentality which often turns out to be “one size fits none”.
There is hope. In recent weeks Labour’s Ian Murray MP has outlined two key areas where powers should move straight from Westminster to our local authorities. He wants to see the devolution of the Work Programme from Westminster to Scottish local authorities as they, not SNP or Tory Ministers, are best placed to target the support needed by people in our communities who are at risk of becoming long-term unemployed.
Further to this, Mr Murray has outlined how Labour will also propose that Housing Benefit be included in the Scotland Bill. By giving this £1.9b budget to local authorities they can start moving money from the pockets of private landlords and invest it in social housing.
These policies show that Labour, in the spirit of John Smith and Donald Dewar, is committed to strong local government with real powers to deliver social justice in our communities. The Lib-Dems and the Greens support this philosophy, but we have work to do before May 2016 convincing SNP and the Tories that local democracy is key to tackling Scotland’s problems.