RURAL COMMUNITIES SUCH as those in Moray should be demanding greater control over their own affairs from the Scottish Government.
That view is being expressed in a New Year message from the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, who insists that Scottish towns and villages are at risk of falling behind the rest of the UK as local powers in England are being handed back at “an unprecedented rate”.
Mr Mundell has said that more often than not rural towns have very different priorities from those of major cities – and that the “one size fits all” approach to local government in Scotland is holding them back.
“The issue of devolution to local communities is now an urgent one in Scotland,” Mr Mundell said, adding: “There is a revolution going on in local government across the rest of the United Kingdom, with local areas regaining power and responsibility at an unprecedented rate.
“Scotland cannot afford to be left behind as the rest of the UK revolutionises how it governs itself, giving towns, cities and counties more of the autonomy that our international counterparts enjoy.”
Moray, in line with all Scottish local authorities, is facing savage cuts in their budgets this year and are pleading for an end to the freeze on their ability to increase council tax.
Based on figures published by Moray Council, insideMoray has calculated that a 10% increase in tax could raise as much as £6million – and so greatly reduce the expected cuts in local services that will result over the next year.
Moray councillor Douglas Ross, who is contesting the Moray seat at the Scottish Elections this year and is top of the Scottish Conservative regional list for the Highlands and Islands, said that it was time that Moray saw a ‘noticeable increase’ in local democracy.
He said: “With devolution in 1999 we were promised more local decision making, but in truth all we got was decisions being made in Edinburgh rather than London. Communities such as Moray have not seen a noticeable increase in local democracy – and the SNP government have shown that they are more interested in centralising powers rather than handing them on to councils.
“The single Police and Fire services are a prime example of removing local accountability and decision making. These models are based on a one size fits all approach, hoping it will suit every part of Scotland when in reality of course that’s not the case.
“I wholeheartedly support more powers coming to Local Authorities, but there also has to be a realisation from councillors and council officers of these extra responsibilities. There is no point devolving more powers if we have elected members and senior council staff who are set in their ways and are not open to change.
“One of the most frustrating aspects I have found as a councillor is the culture in local government which rewards staff and councillors who don’t rock the boat, or challenge the status quo.
“However, if we are to progress as an area and use any new powers to the best of our abilities we have to be open to new ways of working, decision making and ensuring we have the best possible people to carry forward these changes.
“There is a real risk that Scotland could be left behind if the SNP persist with pulling more and more powers back to Holyrood – and I worry that areas such as Moray will not be the beneficiaries of more centralised decision making.”