Warning centralised Edinburgh powers could lead to inequality

Cllr David O'Neill President COSLA has warned about centralised powers.
Cllr David O'Neill President COSLA has warned about centralised powers.
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Holyrood ministers will today be warned that centralising power in Edinburgh will only lead to a growth in inequality,


David O’Neill, the president of the local government body Cosla, will tell the Scottish Government that its efforts to make the country fairer “will not be achieved by a top down approach”.

Mr O’Neill will use his opening address to Cosla’s annual conference to criticise the “fall back position” of SNP ministers and the Scottish Parliament that “centralisation is the only answer” when money is tight.

The conference comes at a time when council leaders have been left angered by Scottish Government plans to use the extra £100 million which could be raised through council tax reforms to fund education, with local authority leaders fearing an erosion of local accountability.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is to address the conference in Crieff, Perthshire, this afternoon.

But in his opening address Mr O’Neill will stress that politicians at all levels are elected by their communities and the mark on the ballot paper to elect councillors “is no bigger or smaller than the one that elects the First Minister or her Deputy”.

He will also insist: “In any Western democracy where there are powerful national institutions, there have to be powerful local institutions that act as checks and balances concerning how the centre is able to operate.”

Mr O’Neill will argue that while it is the job of ministers at Holyrood to determine the country’s political priorities “the way in which these priorities will be enacted are not national and have to be essentially local”.

The inequality that exists in Scotland is a “scar on the face of the Scottish political world”, he will say.

Mr O’Neill will tell the conference: “Ridding Scotland of the blight of inequality has always been my political passion. Always has been and it always will be.

“It is the biggest threat to the cohesive society we are trying to achieve and is an issue that affects all of us in this room today.

“If we are being honest - we have not as a society done well on this issue. And certainly not as politicians.

“The gap between the rich and the poor grows bigger by the day.

“Quite frankly - our economy is no longer working for far too many of our electorate.

“The benefits of growth increasingly go only to those at the top, whilst the cost of everyday living gets even harder for the remainder.”

He will continue: “If we want to reduce inequalities, if we want to make Scotland fairer, if we want to make Scotland a healthier and wealthier place, this will not be achieved by a top down approach.

“Local government, local services and the ability to galvanise local initiative are solutions to these problems.”

Mr O’Neill will go on to warn that “financial starvation and a move to the centre as we all know can only lead to one thing - the growth of inequality”

But he will say: “There seems to be in Scotland a national view from both government and Parliament of a fall-back position that when money is tight or when we wish to direct services to be effective and efficient, centralisation is the only answer. And we cannot allow that to happen in education.

Centralisation is the enemy of everything we stand for in local government. It does not lead to efficiency and effectiveness, it leads to increased cost, inflexibility, an inability to respond to local requirements and lesser outcomes for communities.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are decentralising power to schools by making teachers and parents the key decision makers in the life of their schools.

“We are doing this because we believe that decisions about children’s learning and school life should be taken at school level, supported by parents and the local community.

“This is a vision of empowerment and devolution and our reforms will be based on evidence of what works.

“Our school governance review will seek views on how best to achieve this, focusing on improving education and closing the attainment gap in schools across Scotland.”