18th June 2010 at 01:00
What's the point of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?

What's the point of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities?

Karen Whitefield must have been waiting some time to find out. After three Cosla reps lined up before the education committee last week, the convener launched into an interrogation with the patience of a fox in a chicken coop. She wanted to know if Cosla had teeth of its own: "How do you ensure that local authorities can deliver their national priorities?"

Cue some uncomfortable shifting, before team leader Robert Nicol ventured: "We don't tell the councils what to do - that's not our role - but there is an element of trying to work between our members and the Scottish Government."

It was soon clear where this was going: Ms Whitefield had the SNP Government's grand educational plans in her sights, with the cross-hairs firmly set on class sizes.

She was at a "bit of a loss" as to why such targets hadn't been met. The Cosla man tried to wriggle free: "There wasn't ever a time at which class- size targets had to be implemented." The only commitment, if such a vague ambition can be called a commitment, was to "make progress as quickly as possible".

But he only landed in Ms Whitefield's trap. "Ah ha!" she said - with her demeanour, if not her lips - that's not what First Minister Alex Salmond told us when he promised to achieve the class-size promise in the lifetime of this parliament.

It was too much for the SNP's Christina McKelvie, who dispensed with the fragile niceties of committee and thundered that she was "very, very concerned" about the Labour convener's politicised approach. Cue a blood- curdling look from Ms Whitefield, like Gordon Ramsay might shoot you if you told him his bechamel sauce was poor.

Ms Whitefield carried on regardless. What powers did Cosla have if local authorities could not, or would not, meet government targets? Well, said strategic director Barbara Lindsay, there was a "two-way process of communication - we're not really thinking in terms of sanctions". Not very many, then.

Job done for Ms Whitefield. Cosla, and by definition the Government's cherished concordat, had been made to look as useful as a penny-farthing in the Tour de France.

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