Headlines: January 27th, 2003

The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government Committee is calling for young people to be allowed to vote in local government elections from the age of 16. It also wants the age at which people can become councillors to be reduced to 18.Its report, ‘Renewing Local Democracy’, follows an inquiry lasting nearly six months and includes a raft of recommendations aimed at modernising local government and making it more relevant to local people.

The report also looks at ways to make it easier for a wide variety of people to become councillors after research showed that the average Scottish councillor is a 53-year-old white male.

The committee convenor Trish Godman said, “Young people in particular tend not to be interested in local politics. We feel that allowing people to vote in local elections at 16 would help stimulate interest, particularly if the age at which people can become a councillor is also reduced from 21 to 18.”

The report calls for action to examine how young people can play a part in the policy process of local government, and for councils to use new powers to develop ‘youth community plans’ for their areas.

The Committee heard views from local people at sessions in Inverness, Paisley and Glasgow. Trish Godman added, “People would like some feedback on how their local council uses consultation responses in arriving at  decisions. So the Committee has recommended that the Executive and COSLA  produce best practice guidance on how councils can do this.”

COSLA – the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities – said the recommendations were in line with what it would have expected but it criticised the way publication of the report had been handled. Its officers had received the 200-page document the night before it was due out and had been given no time to talk through the implications. “COSLA gave evidence to the committee and we would have appreciated them sharing their thoughts with us prior to going public. This is yet another example of the consultation process promised by local government not being delivered,” it  said.