Local Authority Service Changes (Duty to Consult)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd December 2020.

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Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

8. To ask the Scottish Government what guidance it provides to local authorities regarding their duty to consult before important changes to services are made. (S5O-04896)

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government recognises the importance of consulting communities and giving local people a voice and an opportunity to influence important decisions by their councils.

There is no universal guidance, as local authorities are independent corporate bodies. However, where councils have a statutory requirement to consult their residents, on issues such as planning, we will provide support and advice, to ensure that they follow the necessary legal requirements.

If Mr Lockhart would like to advise what policy change he is concerned about, I will ask officials to investigate and share the necessary guidance, if it exists.

Photo of Dean Lockhart Dean Lockhart Conservative

Scottish National Party-led Stirling Council recently made significant changes to waste collection services, which included cuts in bin collections and the introduction of charges. In a report that was submitted to a recent council meeting, it was confirmed that no prior public consultation had been undertaken on those significant changes to a fundamental service. The failure to consult has seriously damaged the council’s standing with residents.

Does the cabinet secretary agree that local authorities must carry out meaningful public consultation where major service changes such as that one are proposed? Is it her view that it would be useful if the Scottish Government provided clear guidance to local authorities and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities on public consultation?

Photo of Aileen Campbell Aileen Campbell Scottish National Party

As I said in my first response to the member, we recognise the importance of consulting and engaging with communities. On the whole, I think that that is the case for local authorities, too: because they are accountable to the communities that they represent, they want to make sure that they deliver services that reflect the needs and the context of their particular areas.

I do not know the details of what happened in Stirling to give Mr Lockhart such concern, but I am happy to engage with Stirling Council on that. Changes have been a necessity for councils adapting to the Covid situation around them, and I believe that local authorities do what they can to best meet the needs of the people who live in their areas.

If there is more that we can do around the engagement with communities to make sure that they feel that they have a voice, we will continue to work with COSLA on that. Participatory budgeting and community wealth building approaches show that we want to make sure that communities’ voices are heard in all the decisions that we take, whether at national Government or local government level. I am happy to engage further with Mr Lockhart on that point.