Andy Johnston, Director of LGiU Scotland, marks the second anniversary of the launch of LGiU Scotland by noting how much has changed – and how that change is destined to accelerate.
Our first briefing on 28th September 2015 was loftily entitled State of the Nation. That briefing listed the initiatives that could influence the future for Scottish local government. Some of these initiatives have fared better than others.
The Christie Commission Report continues to shape the debate about how local places should be governed, while the Community Empowerment Act has provided the means for some local communities to self organise and get involved in running their communities. The publication of ‘Our Islands Our Future’ by Shetland Council, Orkney Council and Comhairle nan Eilean Siar continues to be influential and has resulted in the Islands Bill.
Still waiting for their moment to shine are the report of the Commission on local tax reform and the local authority Concordat. These two fundamental and radical programmes have not gained real traction. Instead, we have seen progress with smaller steps, more locally focused and where performance and finance lead the justification for change. Not mentioned in our 2015 briefing was the city region deal programme that has devolved finance down to councils and redrawn the map of local governance. There was also no mention of Brexit back in 2015, but that has since provided us with a whole raft of themed briefings that continue to evolve.
LGiU Scotland has been observing and commenting upon policy, people and events for two years now. In that time, we have produced 726 editions of our daily news bulletin, and 271 thoughtful, useful policy briefings. We’ve analysed everything from creative arts to poverty – and reported on this year’s local elections.
Our mission remains to promote local democracy. In our third year we will be participating in the legislative progress of the Islands Bill, responding to the review of local democracy and helping to shape the debate around the forthcoming Local Democracy Bill. Myself and the team in Edinburgh will be trying to get out and meet local leaders to hear their views and identify topics to write briefings on.
It seems inevitable to me that a combination of financial constraint and shifts in policy will result in dramatic change for local government in Scotland. We will be working to ensure that local authorities have the knowledge and tools to lead and shape this change. It is perhaps timely that today it was announced that local government had persuaded national government to move away from the centralising and undemocratic elements of its educational reform, and embrace a locally developed solution.