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Cosla at the crossroads

If local government should speak with one voice, it is going to be harder to hear its call. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities is coming apart at the seams, with four of 32 members handing in their resignations. Local government was always going to find it hard to maintain its place with the Parliament and Executive taking centre stage in Edinburgh. The defectors do not believe that Cosla has given them value for money. Outside commentators, including this newspaper, have pointed to the way the convention no longer makes a strong public case. Its officers say that is because, having abolished committees like that which dealt with education in open forum, its good work is carried out behind the scenes developing policies and persuading ministers of their validity. To which one riposte has to be, out of sight out of mind.

Directors of education (who themselves now sail under a confusing array o flags) have beefed up their association, which in effect has become the principal link between the Executive and the councils running schools. But the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland represents professionals and not locally elected politicians. In the council-by-council negotiations which follow from the McCrone agreement, the ADES can no doubt keep its members in touch with which is happening across the country. But if Cosla ceases to be the recognised channel, council leaders will find it hard to steer a course between the Executive, their own professional officers and the teacher unions.

In further education, the Association of Scottish Colleges lost two of its largest members. It is still the voice of college management, but there is a difference between FE and local government. FE principals can do as they and their boards think fit. Councils have to answer to voters.

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