Strengthening local democracy and decision making in the Highlands

HIGHLAND Council is leading the way in exploring options for strengthening local democracy and decision making in the Highlands.

An amended motion was put forward at the meeting of the Highland Council on 14 May. It states:

“The report of the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy was supported across the Chamber and Members agreed strongly with its conclusion that we must develop genuinely local decision making, closer to communities in the Highlands. While noting the important role of regional government in many other European countries, we recognise that these aspirations cannot be met by the Highland Council alone, with its current structures.

Therefore we call on the Highland Council to continue to develop its leadership in this debate and propose that Highland Council, in partnership with community representatives, produce a report that sets out a range of viable options for local decision making through stronger local representative and participative democracy in the Highlands”.

Cllr Laurie Fraser who put forward the amended motion on behalf of the Independent Group said : “The issue of more local decision-making has been festering away for the past 5-6 years and is now manifesting itself as frustrations from the communities. We need to take this forward on behalf of our constituents and make sure they have a real voice in shaping their area. People want an end to centralisation and we have to listen to them.”

Depute Leader David Alston said: “I support the amended motion and agree with the sentiments expressed which call for more local decision making. I think we need to concentrate on the common ground and on what we can achieve that will add value within the context of reducing resources.

“It is blindingly obvious from examples shown to us by the work of the Commission that what works best elsewhere in Europe, is where there is strong regional government and empowered government at a level below that.

“This should not be a matter of either regional or local government. We need to look forward and not back.”

Cllr Jaci Douglas, Joint Leader of the Independent Opposition Group added: “This is a vitally important issue about local democracy and we are working across the Chamber with all members to ensure we got the right outcome for our communities. I hope we can continue to have this cross party working, which ensures we are making the best decisions for the Highlands.”

Vice Convener Maxine Smith agreed saying: “We are already leading the way in our review of area committees which is ongoing, and we will continue to involve all members in the discussions.”

15 May 2015
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