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How local is local government?

A few words in favour of Local Government

With regard to local government, it can be argued that Scotland has achieved a remarkable degree of efficiency, as compared to most other Western-style Democracies. (see table below)

Through almost three decades of effort in reorganising, re-designing and refining the structure of local government, we have got the number of individual Authorities pared down to a commendable minimum. This has been achieved by rationalising the previously disorganised mish-mash of Counties, Parishes, Towns & Boroughs, each with their local idiosyncracies, into a single, unified whole.

Few people now living can remember or imagine the difficulty central governments of the past had to face in their efforts to control such a mess, but thanks to the unstinting efforts of scores of experts we now have units of local government purpose-built according to a template designed for efficient administration. Each of these units has, in its turn, with the help of still more expert advice and consultation, designed and established smaller 'community' councils as an aid to said administration.

It is commendable that central government has shouldered a much larger proportion of the still substantial financial burden of the new arrangements, relieving the lower levels from the difficulty of raising all but a fifth of the necessary funding to carry out local administration. Strict financial control, according to centrally agreed criteria also ensures complete financial probity from the highest level to the lowest.

In order to further increase the financial and administrative efficiency of the new arrangements, there are proposals to reduce the number of councillors, as it is felt that a council with seventy-odd councillors is relatively cumbersome. Although it does require a certain number to serve on the necessary committees, it may still be possible to further reduce the number of elected representatives and the financial savings may be significant.

While achieving such efficiency, the process of reorganisation has not neglected to consider the need for local employment. On the contrary, according to the European Partnership in our own region (for want of a better word) the largest employment sector is government work. Urban areas, being essentialy easier to administer, with fewer problems may not yet have achieved such admirable levels, but we are assured they are working on it.

Choosing a name for the new larger local unit might have been expected to present difficulties, but "Dumfries & Galloway Council" seems to have proved acceptable to many, and we can't expect to please everyone, can we? Some re-design of stationery was needed, generating further local employment, no doubt.

How local is local government?
Scotland compared to other democracies according to Scottish Office research:

  Number of Population Size Relative to Index of Local Democracy
  Authorities per Authority Scottish average (Scotland=100%) (Switzerland=100%)
SCOTLAND 32 160132 100% 100% 1.3%
New Zealand 70 46729 29% 343% 4.5%
Ireland 92 41190 26% 389% 5.4%
Japan 3245 37200 23% 430% 5.7%
Portugal 275 34180 21% 468% 6%
Sweden 284 30249 19% 529% 7%
Australia 836 19114 12% 838% 11%
Denmark 273 18811 12% 851% 11%
Netherlands 800 17860 11% 897% 12%
Belgium 589 16740 10% 957% 13%
Finland 460 10770 7% 1487% 21%
Norway 448 9421 6% 1700% 23%
Germany 8846 8845 6% 1810% 24%
Italy 8074 7019 4% 2281% 30%
USA 35800 6600 4% 2426% 32%
Canada 4238 5594 3% 2863% 38%
Spain 8027 4700 3% 3407% 45%
Austria 2304 3000 2% 5338% 71%
Luxembourg 126 2905 2% 5512% 73%
Switzerland 3000 2122 1% 7546% 100%
Greece 6022 1827 1% 8765% 116%
France 36757 1560 <1% 10265% 136%
Iceland 222 1100 <1% 14557% 192%

(Left two columns from "The Constitutional Status of Local Government in Other Countries" commissioned by the Scottish Office Central Research Unit;
Right hand columns calculated therefrom) ISSN 0950 2254         ISBN 0 7480 7841
Scottish Office 10/98 (rather hard to find!)

For those who are interested, the Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament has been appointed by the Secretary of State for Scotland with the remit:
to consider how to build the most effective relations between local government and the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive; and
to consider how councils can best make themselves responsive and democratically accountable to the communities they serve.

The Commission is to present its final report to the first Minister of the ScottishParliament, when that person takes office.

Comments on any of the questions raised in thier papers are invited from any interested bodies or members of the public. They should be sent, please, by 14 February 1999, to: Steven Kerr Commission on Local Government and the Scottish Parliament Area 3-H Victoria Quay Edinburgh EH6 6QQ (tel.0131 244 7047; fax 0131 244 7058) or by e-mail to

Some more information on democratic alternatives:
Member states in Federal Constitutions

  Number Average Population
Swiss cantons 26 248,000
Austrian Lander 9 849,000
Australian States 6 2,495,000
Canadian Provinces 10 2,533,000
Gerrnan Lander 16 4,905,000
USA States 50 5,008,000

Autonomous Regions

Greek regions 16 1,081,000
Spanish autonomous regions 17 2,142,000
French regions 22 2,521,000
Italian regions 20 2,833,000
Belgian regions 3 3,286,000
Scotland   5,100,000

(from "The Constitutional Status of Local Government in Other Countries" commissioned by the Scottish Office Central Research Unit; )
ISSN 0950 2254         ISBN 0 7480 7841
Scottish Office 10/98 Posted Jan 8th 1999

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