Scottish council leaders have reacted with dismay at reports that a planned major reorganisation of local government could see some services devolved to local level and others, such as responsibility for roads, taken over by the Scottish Government.
The Times reported that under confidential proposals that are ‘being discussed at the highest levels of government’, neighbouring local authorities would have to merge some services.
It quoted a senior government source as saying: ‘Ever since devolution in 1999, the issue of local government has not been dealt with. We created an extra tier of government but we didn’t reform the existing layer of government which was already there.’
The source said: ‘This is about power, not about boundaries. It is about where power lies and where it is best exercised, not about lines on a map.’
Ministers might strip local authorities of responsibility for sectors such as roads if they feel they could be handled better by a national body such as Transport Scotland, while services like bin collection could be devolved to towns, it is understood.
Cllr David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) said: ‘This is very disappointing on a few fronts. We are living in unchartered territory and public services need to reform to address the twin challenges of diminishing resource coupled with rising demand.
‘It is for these reasons that COSLA is clear public service reform is needed and that local government will play a leading role in this reform. However it is vitally important that this is done across the whole of the public sector and not simply one strand of it.
He added: ‘Councils deliver high quality services which are valued by our communities and it is extremely disappointing that some unnamed, unelected source is doing their best to dismantle this from within.’
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: ‘In this parliament we will introduce a bill that will refresh local democracy by giving more power to local communities.
‘We will review the roles and responsibilities of local authorities with an aim to transform our democratic landscape, protect and renew public services and refresh the relationship between citizens, communities and councils.’
The Scottish National Party retained power in elections for the Scottish Parliament in May. Its manifesto promised that it would ‘consult on and introduce a Bill that will decentralise local authority functions, budgets and democratic oversight to local communities’.