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New democracy takes shape

A NUMBER of councils have been giving committee structures a radical new look in advance of the report by the McIntosh commission on the relationships between local government and the Scottish Parliament.

The most fundamental change is in Falkirk where a "community and citizen development committee" has been set up. Shetland has only three committees with a "services committee" covering education, housing and social work.

East Renfrewshire says it is first in the field with an "executive-style administration" where education is the only major committee left. And Clackmannan has created a "learning and leisure committee".

William Anderson, who will chair Falkirk's new committee, says the intention is to promote community development and involvement. Standing orders will be loosened to allow more public participation.

"This will be by invitation, of course," Mr Anderson said. "We don't want a rammy."

The importance of having a more "open and transparent" council is also stressed by Peter Malcolmson, chairman of the new services committee in Shetland. Forums on education, community care, culture and recreation, children and youth, and housing will promote ideas and discuss community needs.

"The intention is that each forum will provide input from the wider community while the main committee can also ask them to review particular issues," Mr Malcolmson said. "It's a whole new ball game for us but, with goodwill, it should work."

Jim Fletcher, East Renfrewshire's education convener, will also have responsibility for economic development in a Cabinet-style shake-up that sweeps away most council committees. But the education committee survives because of the need to have statutory church representatives.

These and similar changes, which are also being considered in South Lanarkshire and West Dunbartonshire, are being embraced by councils anxious to win over public support at a time when they fear encroachment by the Scottish Parliament.

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