Editor's comment

1st February 2008 at 00:00
For years now, local authorities, schools and voluntary groups have been complaining vociferously about governments of all political hues for their dirigiste regimes. The setting of detailed top-down targets, leaving little room for local manoeuvre, was anathema. It was high time councils were allowed to respond to their own priorities within a national framework based on broad objectives.

What a difference time, or a general election, makes. We now have, under an SNP administration, exactly what local leaders have been demanding: an end to ring-fenced pots of money covering a bewildering series of national initiatives, along with local autonomy for authorities to find their own way towards a looser collection of agreed indicators and targets.

This means that previously protected activities will have to fight for their share of the cash - or, to put it another way, local priorities will be determined locally. Gosh! Some who demanded local freedoms now want protection from local freedoms, as our news pages have demonstrated in recent weeks. Of course, there will be anomalies: programmes such as Determined to Succeed will continue to be ring-fenced next year, while others such as the teacher induction scheme and the attainment of looked after children will not. But anomalies can be ironed out.

So, it's "make your mind up" time: local decision-making with policy variations or national diktats with policy uniformity? As Peter Peacock writes on this page, "command and control" is not the way forward - even if that means every single P1-3 class in every single hamlet is not reduced to 18 on the stroke of midnight by some arbitrary date. If the results prove unacceptable, there's something called the local electorate.

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