THE clue is in the name, governments are there to govern, so it should perhaps come as no surprise that they will use what powers they have to ensure their policies are delivered.
So the fact that there will be a financial penalty to the city of Edinburgh if the council fails to spend the money to implement its central polcies seems to have a logic to it. But on paper in the areas of integrated health care and in education the councils are in charge. Those areas fall into their remits, and the whole idea of local democracy is that there can be local solutions and local inititatives to match local needs and aspirations.
So the Scottish Governemnt wants councils to freeze council tax, and it presumably believes that there is an electoral benfit to them from that. If councils do not then they wil lose funding given to them to make up for no rise in council tax. But they also have to sign up to a package to ring fence other spending or they lose much more, £33m in Edinburgh’s case this year.
Edinburgh’s leader , Andrew Burns, has called this “gun to his head” a “democratic disgrace”.
It has to be accepted that there is probably an element of politics in there, but it is also obvious that Councillor Burns feels a real sense of frustration.
That the government are using the best form of power they have, money, will proably be seen as an acceptable tactic from their point of view.
But it does raise some fundamental questions over local democracy and the way we are governed. If councils’ abilities to raise money, decide on policies and prioritise the services they wish to deliver are taken away from them, and that trend continues, then there are some very hard questions about what councillors are actually for.
There are always moans about having to fund our elected representatives at all levels, but surely it is in everyone’s best interests that local democracy thrives and that local representatives make real decision and are held accountable for them.