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It’s time for a grown-up conversation

Voters went to the polls last Thursday in a Scotland-wide election to decide all 32 of the country’s local authorities. Up here, the proportional representation system of STV is used instead of the first-past-the-post system: this means that few councils end up with an overall controlling party. That is true once again, with no consistent narrative. Although May 2012’s results show 23 hung councils, there were some very significant gains for the SNP (with over 400 councillors and control of two new councils), and the Labour Party still managed to win control of big councils like Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire, and retain Glasgow. All this within a turnout of just over 30%.

But while this may be confusing, one thing should be very clear to our new councillors: now is exactly the time to address seriously the big challenges facing the country. It will be three years before Scotland faces any sort of election again, with no distractions of a UK General Election (not till 2015), Scottish Parliament election (not till 2016) and further local elections (in 2017). As such, our elected officials can take difficult decisions without concerns about the national or local electoral impact in the short-term.

And there are difficult decisions to make. Foremost among these is in addressing the challenges of a nation where demand for public services is increasing considerably and financial resources falling. This will require a stronger, more robust transformation of our public services, delivering savings and improving the lives of our most vulnerable people. Some of that is already in train, with well-advanced plans to integrate aspects of Health & Social Care across the NHS and local authorities. However, this can only be the start: our local authorities, health boards and the Scottish Government in Edinburgh need to use this unique opportunity to fund and promote:

  • Genuine, sustained cooperation across our public bodies
  • More diversity in service provision through partnering with the third sector, SMEs and social enterprises
  • Early intervention and demand management activity to anticipate and prevent individual, family and community problems
  • Fundamental rebalancing of citizens’ relationship with the state and their communities

Let’s hope our politicians use this breathing space between elections to do the mature thing: to work together responsibly on the long-term priorities for our country. It’s time for that grown-up conversation.

David Welsh is a Director at IMPOWER. To contact him to discuss this blog or any aspect of our work, please e-mail or call 020 7017 8030

8th May 2012

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