Vote for change;Leading Article;Opinion

25th June 1999 at 01:00
Not another reform of local government? Well, possibly, but not this time of powers and boundaries: the McIntosh Commission which reported this week looked at how councillors are elected and go about their job. The reputation of local government and, because of the new Parliament its very future, depend on the recommendations being speedily implemented.

The voting system has to be reformed to prevent one party winning a huge majority on a minority vote. Notoriously, 96 per cent of Glasgow's seats are Labour, although the party won only half of the votes last month. Unchallenged domination by one party breeds complacency and, at worst, corruption.

Some councils' reputation for sleaze tarnishes the concept of local democracy. Labour must seize the opportunity to introduce proportional representation even although it will end the careers of some councillors.

Clearer lines of decision-making and a less bureaucratic committee structure are also part of the McIntosh package. Education committees still spend too much time on routine business and too little on strategic matters. Practice was supposed to change when the single-tier authorities were set up, but old ways prevail. Since education is the policy area most likely to be annexed by central government, councils must show they deserve continuing trust. Otherwise MSPs will think that the McIntosh principle of subsidiarity stops at Holyrood.

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