A vision too far?

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
AN INFLUENTIAL think-tank is calling for the removal of education services and community care from local authorities as part of a shake-up that would cut down on the "organisational spaghetti" in public services.

A paper* published this week by the David Hume Institute, written by three senior Glasgow Univer-sity academics, proposes the radical option of giving Scottish ministers explicit responsibility for these functions, leaving councillors only the power of scrutiny over whether education or community care targets are being met. Control of spending on other services would remain with councils.

Jim Gallagher, a former senior civil servant and now a visiting professor at the university's law school, told The TESS that, in reality, councillors had little influence on education in Scotland. If education was truly local, he said, any council could choose to enter its pupils for the International Baccalaureat instead of Highers, it might operate different age boundaries for primary and secondary, or it would have the power not to offer French. "Councils don't have local discretion over the curriculum, examinations, the number of teachers, class sizes or the building of new schools since all new provision is by government grant or PFI," he said.

Professor Gallagher acknowledged that the trend towards merging education with local authority departments would create problems, since he was not advocating a centralisation of services. But he did call for a conversation about the future of public services that went beyond the "default position"

of arguing about shifting geographical boundaries.

Professor Gallagher described the current structure of public services - there are 32 councils, 23 local enterprise companies, 14 health boards, 6 police boards, 5 fire boards and 6 sheriffdoms - as "organisational spaghetti".

No politician had publicly signed up to his vision, however, because it was too controversial.

*Rethinking Central Local Government Relations in Scotland: Back to the Future, by Jim Gallagher, Kenneth Gibb, professor of housing economics, and Carl Mills, department for urban studies

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