Since elections for the developed world’s largest local authorities in May 2022, there’s been much debate about coalitions and control. But there’s a bigger question – are Scottish councils with an average of 175 thousand inhabitants really local at all? And why does that not seem to matter?
The EU average council has a relatively meagre 10 thousand inhabitants. And Vágur, on the isolated southern Faroese island of Suðuroy, has just 1377 folk. But they’re doing pretty well, self-building a 50m swimming pool to honour their local swimming champion, a Sports High School and witnessing a population boom after 70 years of decline. All pioneered by their ultra local municipality. And although the Faroes is tiny (just 55k population) and has its own devolved parliament (the Løgting), there are 28 other local councils – one with just 80 inhabitants.
It’s a similar story in Norway with 356 councils – a total set to rise as municipalities forced to merge by the recent Conservative Government, are opting to separate again. But in Scotland no change is proposed in our 32 ‘local’ authorities. Even though Highland Council is the size of a small European state.
So big or small local government – who’s got it right?
The Nordic Horizons event on April 28th featured an interview with Norway’s State Secretary for Local Government Ole Gustav Narud, and conversation with Dennis Holm, the former Mayor of Vágur on Suðuroy. He believes micro-democracy is the only way for remote and rural areas to make the transition between fishing ports and new, vibrant, self-sufficient communities that offer islanders and incomers better living standards.
Is that possible without truly local ‘pint-sized’ councils?
How do Norway and the Faroes keep their councils so small without duplication of services and expensive council bureaucracies? Do they pay councillors and what benefits do these tiny municipalities really deliver?
The event was chaired by journalist and NH Director Lesley Riddoch and included our own Prof Mike Danson, Vice Convenor of the Jimmy Reid Foundation, which produced this scathing report of Scotland’s current ‘super-sized’ councils – The Silent Crisis.
84% of the audience agreed with the proposition ‘Scotland doesn’t have genuinely local councils’ at the start of the event. That proportion rose to 92% at the end. But will this apparent consensus result in any political change?
Here are some of the pictures Dennis refers to in his talk.
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