A conference in Scotland this week will focus on the future shape of public services in the country. The annual event organised by the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will take “Promoting Localism – Resisting Centralism” as its theme.The former Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam and Scotland’s Finance Minister Tom McCabe will join COSLA’s President Pat Watters as keynote speakers at the conference in St Andrews from Wednesday to Friday.
Councillor Watters said that since reorganisation in Scotland, local government had demonstrated the benefits of local accountability in delivering high quality local services. Councils continued, he said, to drive efficiency at the same time as modernising services and developing ways of ensuring that the services that are being provided are the ones that local people want.
Local authorities, he said, had radically altered their own businesses and were also lead players in developing community planning to ensure that all services in an area, whoever they are provided by, were at least planned in an integrated way.
“We are trying our best with the current structure of the public sector to ensure that the principles of integration, best value and the benefits of local democratic accountability cut across organisational boundaries,” he said.
Now, he added, the questions being asked were whether the structure of the public sector remains as it is and whether the principles of efficiency and accountability were exclusive or compatible.
“Through this conference, we are seeking to develop a clear view of the shape of the public sector local government wants to see. A clear view of the flexibility that needs to be available locally to develop effective services and a demonstration that localism rather than centralism will be the key to delivering services that are both effective and truly reflect community need,” he said.
Councillor Watters said members would be asked to consider not just how localism and accountability relate to Councils’ current services, but how that accountability should be extended to the other services communities needed for their prosperity and well-being.
The conference will also mark the 30th anniversary of COSLA. “To be honest we have spent most of these 30 years defending local government, we must now look to the future and actively promote the benefits of local government. We must promote localism effectively, and to ensure that the starting point for the public sector is genuine local accountability, COSLA will have to be active not reactive and must concentrate on what we in local government want to see happening rather than what we wish to resist,” Councillor Watters added.