Andrew Burns, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, says the Scottish Government’s disdain for local democracy is a disgrace, and reveals an organisation operating by threat, not consensus.
I got a letter yesterday.
It’s from someone who works for a government that directly controls around 80% of my council’s funding. The same person works in an institution that has frozen any capacity for councils to influence the ‘envelope’ of the remaining 20%.
Basically, this means that, despite growing service demands on councils, central government controls almost all of our funding.
The letter tells me that I will only get my annual grant settlement this year if our council does 3 things. Can I be clear: these are not, per se, bad things to pursue.
- Spend specific ring-fenced monies on integrated health and social care.
- Spend specific ring-fenced monies on support for teachers.
- Not flex the ‘envelope’ in relation to the 20% of revenue I notionally control.
If I don’t accept these conditions (as a complete package) here’s what it would mean for Edinburgh:
- We will be penalised and lose some £20 million of funding.
- We will be penalised and lose some £6 million of funding.
- We will be penalised and lose some £7 million of funding.
So. If we don’t do all of these things, as a complete package, then Edinburgh will lose £33 million of funding. That’s equivalent to a 14% rise in Council Tax.
Now as I said, these three thing are not, per se, bad things to pursue. But I don’t really have a choice, do I? Despite having been democratically elected to make precisely these choices.
For me, as someone committed to the delivery of local public services with no interest in ever being a Holyrood or Westminster legislator (as that’s what they’re supposed to do there) the letter is a complete disgrace. It makes an utter mockery of any semblance of a belief in local democracy.
Shame on those who wrote it, as they know full well what they’re doing: centrally directing local services.
What a truly sad day for local democracy in Scotland.