Devolution panel member in call for council powers

Councillor Maggie Chapman. Picture: comp
Councillor Maggie Chapman. Picture: comp
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FURTHER devolution promised for Holyrood in the wake of the referendum must include new powers for Edinburgh and other councils to influence their local economies, a member of the commission addressing the issue has said.

City councillor Maggie Chapman, who is also co-convener of the Scottish Greens, is one of her party’s two representatives on the cross-party body set up under Lord Smith of Kelvin to produce joint proposals on what new powers should be transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament.

The commission is due to publish an outline agreement by the end of November, with draft clauses for legislation ready by January 25.

Councillor Chapman said: “Our biggest concern is to make sure this process doesn’t just turn into a talking shop and doesn’t turn out to be another stitch-up between the parties in power at Holyrood or Westminster, but can offer genuine change.”

She said she was also worried about the tight timetable set for the commission. She said: “Having January 25 as a deadline means it is a very time-constrained process. Whether that enables us to speak to all the voices involved in the referendum on both sides, I don’t know. We are keen to ensure we try to do that.”

So far, the most obvious point of contention for the commission is over income tax, with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats proposing almost full control be handed to Holyrood, while Labour has said MSPs should control only 15p of the 20p basic rate with limited powers over higher rates.

But Cllr Chapman said there was a bigger issue to be addressed. She said: “We need genuine economic powers and levers. Tax is one element of that but it’s not the only one.

“We need to ensure we can do something about the equality gap. If we don’t tackle that, everything else we do is putting a sticking plaster on something fundamentally wrong with the way society functions.”

And she said it was vital that significant powers were also transferred to local authorities.

She said: “We have had a very centralising system under the SNP, with the freeze on the council tax and the way funding to local authorities has worked. We need more local control over the economy.”

She said the Scottish economy varied dramatically across the country. “Edinburgh’s economy is very different from the Highlands and Islands. We need the flexibility for local authorities to have financial levers at their disposal.

“A city like Edinburgh could do something with a visitor levy, for example, but it might not be appropriate elsewhere.”

Cllr Chapman will sit on the Smith Commission along with fellow co-convener Patrick Harvie. The main Scottish parties have two representatives each. Other organisations, such as trade unions, businesses and churches, have been asked to submit their views and individual members of the public will also be able to have their say.

Lord Smith has warned he cannot force the parties into a deal.