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Bring on the referee

Holyrood honest broker sought as directors fear power struggle over policy and funding.

DIRECTORS OF education want the Accounts Commission to arbitrate any financial wrangles with the new Scottish executive.

In unpublished evidence to the independent McIntosh commission on local government and the Scottish parliament, the directors call for a fresh start in relationships between local and central government, "nurturing a culture of trust and inclusion".

The Association of Directors of Education in Scotland argues that the costs of new burdens imposed by legislation or government activity is frequently a cause of dispute which the Accounts Commission must help sort out.

The directorate plans to pounce quickly after the election to put its case directly to MSPs. It aims to hold a briefing session and special material is being prepared by a working group chaired by Shelagh Rae of Renfrewshire, the association's past president.

The need to resolve legislative and financial tensions, and particularly to make the differing responsibilities of central and local government more transparent, is at the heart of the ADES's case. There must be "greater local autonomy to meet perceived local needs", it states.

A clean slate to avoid "mandarin-type interference" is also suggested. Excellence fund money for local authorities, directed to specific initiatives, is welcomed but directors say it has been accompanied by "undue prescription on the part of Scottish Office officials who have tended to be overzealous".

Directors back proposals for a joint forum of MSPs and local councillors. They believe this would help with pre-legislative scrutiny before education measures are cast in stone, a particularly important factor since the parliament will have only a single chamber with no equivalent of the House of Lords to revise Bills.

"Simply giving interested parties an opportunity to respond to consultative papers issued at a time when government thinking is likely to be largely established will not suffice," the association states.

The directors believe further collaboration could be strengthened through common training arrangements.

They propose a joint staff college that would serve Scottish Office and local authority officials as well as MSPs and councillors. The suggested location is the former Royal High School building in Edinburgh's Calton Hill, for many years the anticipated home of the parliament.

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