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Size Matters by Lesley Riddoch and Paddy Bort

"The process of centralisation of governance has gone further in Scotland than in other countries. Highland Council, to take the most striking example, covers an area the size of Belgium with a population the size of Belfast. Councillors need to drive hundreds of thousands of miles a year to connect with fellow councillors and citizens in their council area. Despite such herculean efforts, many remote communities feel neglected and disenfranchised. That is “damaging democracy and economic development in Scotland,” writes Rob Gibson MSP in the introduction to ‘Small Works’. This consultation document proposes a major shake-up of the Highland Council, and Gibson has made the task his “personal priority” for this parliamentary session. “We have a situation in my constituency, where councillors can decide planning applications for projects hundreds of miles away and where spending decisions are made by officials with little or no knowledge of the places they are affecting. Ordinary folk in the Far North feel disconnected from their council, and many businesses and voluntary groups feel frustrated by the lack of local involvement in Council matters.”

To read the rest of the article in Scottish Left Review – click here.

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  1. George,You know that I only get bossy when you don’t want to meet me half way! In our four years in power we were constantly btalting against the lack of project management skills of many council officers and more pervasively a culture of being unwilling to make firm commitments regarding timescale. Some parts of the council are good at doing projects, for instance we built the Northolt swimming pool from scratch in four years and got it open. Other parts not so. The parks people have a tendency to seek lowest cost rather than to plan for quickest delivery and minimum downtime. I understand why they try to stretch their cash but running projects such that open spaces are disrupted for long periods gives a very negative impression to the public. It was three Tory councillors, Stacey, Reen and myself, who asked the pay and conditions questions. The council has been pretty transparent in the way it has prepared for the cuts and its estimate of a353 million published (see cabinet papers) in June was pretty on the money. This was based on 10% each year for three years whereas the outcome looks like being 7.2% each year for four years. There will be time to adjust. The final decision will be made, as always, at the March council meeting where we set the council tax every year. There will be various papers coming to cabinet in the run up to that. They will have to come back every year with additional savings but hopefully they are doing the work now to ensure that their changes are strategic rather than tactical, leaving all the pain until the end. Going on the calibre of the Labour group I suspect that they will shy away from hard decisions and leave an awful mess for their last budget. Watch them plunder all of the reserves in their last year. They will try to blame it all on the Tories and hope that voters blame the mess on central government rather than their own incompetence. Hope that answers your question.

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