Today I set out my vision for how we can strengthen Local government and make it more responsive, reflective and meaningful to voters. It is my belief that people are put off by politicians but are enthused by issues; especially local issues which mean so much to people. I have outlined what I believe are the big Issues for local Government and the steps which we can take in Scotland to begin to tackle these issues.
Here is the video and transcript of my speech:
I think that it was Billy Connolly who said:
“Don’t vote; it just encourages them.”
At the Local Government and Regeneration Committee this morning, I mentioned to the Minister for Local Government and Planning how in Orkney and Shetland, for example, voting in local government elections is a bit higher than it is on the mainland. They do not have political parties.
For me, that is the starting point. All political parties and groups need to take some responsibility for how people feel. I accept that Tavish Scott was elected in Shetland, but generally in local government, the candidates are independents. Political parties need to take some responsibility for the way in which we campaign and organise, the way that we tend to avoid answering questions directly and the way in which we campaign against each other.
The council tax is a classic example of that. In my by-election, I was forever being accused of saying things that I had not said about the council tax. All that we do is turn the public off. A fundamental issue is the political parties themselves. The public have had enough of us and we really need to reform how we do our business.
In evidence to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, Professor James Mitchell said:
“When we look at turnout and participation in elections for different levels of government across liberal democracies, we find that turnout is far higher in elections for levels of government that have more power.”—[Official Report, Local Government and Regeneration Committee, 14 May 2014; c 3490.]
We need to look at that area. In local government, social work and education will take up something like 76 or 80 per cent of the budget. When we talk about devolving those services and the other statutory services around them to communities, we are talking about the margins of local government budgets.
We need to have an honest discussion about how local government is funded. At the Local Government and Regeneration Committee meeting this morning, I asked the Minister for Local Government and Planning whether he would accept that, once we get past the referendum, regardless of its outcome, we could perhaps get everyone in the chamber to start to come together and have a serious debate and discussion about what local government looks like and, more crucially, how it is funded.
There are major pressures. Without getting into a debate on local government finance and its funds, we know from demographics and the number of young people who are coming into care in local authorities that the demands on local government services are growing. Regardless of the political colour of the Government in the Scottish Parliament, or in any other place for that matter, we need to have a serious and grown-up discussion with local government and local communities about how local government is funded. I hope that we can start to have that discussion once we get past the referendum—I accept that it would be difficult to have it before then.
I agree that we need to look at all the other technical issues to do with improving voting, but there is something more fundamental at the heart of why people are not voting.
I support Sarah Boyack’s amendment. I am sure that many people in the Parliament who have campaigned will have seen for themselves, when they have gone out with an electoral register and started to knock on doors, that in many streets in areas in which there is higher deprivation household after household is not on the electoral register. It is right to flag up that point. I hope that the minister will take that on board and that we will have consensus at the end of the debate.
In conclusion, we should look at all the other things that have been talked about, but much more fundamentally, let us look at ourselves, political parties and how we finance local government.
Please visit my YouTube channel to find all of my videos on a range of Local and national issues: https://www.youtube.com/user/ARowley1000