This national government is no friend of local government

Councillor Kevin Keenan

22 June 2011

Taking away decision-making from local councils and transferring them to the centre of national government in Edinburgh has been a practice of the SNP since they won the 2007 election.

Their moves to extend their control over local councils means that the individual needs of councils and their areas mean less and less to them.

I remember as a former Leader of Dundee City Council the impossible demands that the SNP Government made of local councils to reduce the maximum number of pupils in the first three years of primary school to 18 while at the same time giving councils no extra money for this.

I remember later when councils told the SNP that their promises were undeliverable without the money, the then SNP Education Secretary , Fiona Hyslop, theatened that the SNP Government would take away the running of their schools away from them and centralise their management under the SNP Government.

I remember their plan to introduce a local income tax the level of which would be decided not by local councils but by the SNP Government which would set a rate that applied from one end of Scotland to the other, ignoring local councils and circumstances.

The council tax freeze has been at the very centre of the SNP Government's plans to control local government

Who could forget how the "historic concordat" between the SNP Government and local councils began with councils believing that they were being given more scope for their own decisions?

This deteriorated into an ultimatum from the SNP Government that councils must not try to protect the level of their local services, and that councils had to accept cuts in spending, or face even deeper cuts from the SNP.

The SNP, of course, claim that their council tax freeze is "fully funded"

So what is a " fully funded SNP" council tax freeze in Dundee?

It takes over £4 million from the Education Department, delivering staff cuts to every school in Dundee, and cutting SVQ oportunities for our children.

I would not think that SNP councillors welcome the level of interference that they are receiving from Scottish Ministers.

It must be difficult for them to keep cutting jobs and services locally whilst listening to these Scottish Ministers from their own party saying that they are providing "sufficient funds"

This matter is not a contest between local government and national government just about who administers local government.

There are two casualties.

Firstly, jobs.

The SNP Government's massive interference in councils' powers to set their own levels of local taxation has been aggravated by an inadequately funded council tax freeze that has seen 1,000 jobs go at Dundee City Council in the past year.

Over 350 jobs have gone in Education (including 90 teachers), almost 200 in leisure and communities, over 130 in social work , over 50 in contract services and almost 50 in support services.

Their reduced spending power means the local economy is the poorer.

That is in no one's best interests.

Secondly, local democracy itself is damaged.

Traditionally in local elections, voters in Scotland decide upon how they want their local council to provide local services, and how much should be spent on them.

However, the SNP government has already stripped local councils of much of the power to do so , making council elections appear, wrongly, to be less and less relevant.

And that too is no one's best interests.


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