LOCAL COUNCILS SHOULD be given full control over local taxation in a major overhaul of how local authorities are run in Scotland.
That is the view being underlined in proposals form Reform Scotland, an independent and influential think-tank that is arguing for new constitutional arrangements.
In a detailed report Reform Scotland insist that both local and national governments have been steadily eroding the powers of town halls – now their ‘Blueprint for Local Power’ insists that new legislation should be brought forward – before May’s local elections.
Under the blueprint, local authorities would be given back responsibility for all areas that are not specifically reserved to Holyrood.
Reform Scotland Director Geoff Mawdsley said: “Successive governments at Holyrood and Westminster have paid lip service to the importance of local government, while centralising its power and reducing its autonomy and accountability.
“If there is any point in having a level of local government, and if we want it to mean anything, then we have to allow it to exercise power and with it take responsibility. That is why we are proposing legislation to cement local authorities’ place in the spectrum of governance in Scotland.
“If a task can more effectively be carried out at a local level, it should be devolved to local government instead of sitting at Holyrood. Critically, local authorities should be raising more of what they spend. At present, they raise only £1.40 of every £10 they spend.
“Council tax and business rates should be devolved to local authorities, and thereafter they should be able to introduce new taxes, or scrap existing ones, to fit their local circumstances.”
Mr Mawdsley said that local democracy was “at a crossroads” and it was time for politicians to follow decades of talking over the subject by producing some action.
In response, a Scottish Government spokesman insisted that they were already encouraging councils to “empower communities” throughout the country.
“We have committed to a journey of reform to make local taxation more progressive and local authorities can already reduce non-domestic rates as they choose,” the spokesman said.
He added: “Our Community Empowerment Act puts additional powers into the hands of communities to hold their local authority to account and our proposals for education would see parents and teachers taking greater responsibility for their schools.
“We expect to see at least 1% of each local authority budget decided by local communities. It is important that we do not just consider what power local authorities should have, but how local authorities can transfer more of their power to local communities.”