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Councils 'must embrace modernising agenda';Scottish Election

As the polls closed last night in Scotland's historic election, Neil Munro looks to the educational challenges ahead.

GLASGOW'S education convener is one local authority figure who has been giving some thought to the future of local government under the parliament. Malcolm Green is convinced that while councils "have no divine right to exist" it would be impossible for schools or groups of schools to continue without any central support or tier of local management.

But Dr Green also believes the public is badly served by the way councils carry out their business. And he suggests councillors are not well served either. "We really have to embrace the modernisation agenda."

Dr Green, one of Scotland's most cerebral and experienced education leaders, says that it is not just a matter of having elected mayors and cabinets in local government. "The real challenge is how a council relates to its public."

More use must be made of focus groups, questionnaires, even interaction on the Internet.

"There is also the issue of what committees do when they meet," he says. "If it's just to ask a question or two and then nod something through, we have to ask what on earth councillors are doing with their time. Councillors like to imagine their job is to set policy, whereas the reality is that they spend only a fraction of their time on real policy-making."

Dr Green suggests a more streamlined system with fewer committees and routine decisions taken by a subcommittee headed by a service convener.

A more productive use of councillors' time, he feels, would be involvement in the best value reviews that will be mandatory for councils every five years. Reviews should be chaired by a councillor, Dr Green says, and the whole exercise would contribute significantly to councillors' understanding of the issues, allowing them to be involved at a deeper level and at an earlier stage.

"Under the present system," he says, "they are simply presented with packages from officials tied together for approval."

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