The SNP government has presided over a “centralisation of power” that is stripping local councils of control and imposing policies from Edinburgh, MSPs were told yesterday.
Opposition parties claim there is growing disenchantment about the way the Nationalist government rides roughshod over local decision-making.
Labour’s Sarah Boyack told MSPs next week’s local elections were an opportunity for voters to express opinions about local services.
“These elections are important in their own right and they’re not a stepping stone to independence,” she said.
“They’re about the capacity of our local authorities to provide local services for our local communities across Scotland.”
MSPs heard that many councils reject plans for windfarms and mobile phone masts, only to see them overturned by ministers at Holyrood. There are also fears that the creation of a new national police and fire service will lead to greater centralisation of powers in Edinburgh, it was claimed.
Ms Boyack added: “The purpose of devolution was never to devolve power to a Scottish Parliament, only to see it accumulate powers from the local government level upwards.
“You only need to see the SNP’s plans for a single national police force to see how centralising they are.”
Tory MSP Jackson Carlaw also voiced concerns over the way power is being accumulated in Edinburgh.
“Ministers in this government believe they know best,” he said. “For them devolution is a one-way principle – the devolution of power down from Westminster to them and the devolution of decision making up from local councils to them.”
He highlighted the planning system as the area where centralisation was most “consuming in its suffocation of local determination”.
He added: “Councils are now overwhelmed with applications fuelled by subsidies and find that whatever their own local determination the likelihood is that a refusal will be overturned.” The SNP also came under fire for passing on 89 per cent of its cuts to councils which faced a £350 million budget reduction last year.
But local government minister Derek Mackay said the Tories had provided “empty rhetoric”.
He said: “Let’s take telecommunications masts. Fewer applications are coming to the reporters administration for determination or appeal, compared to previous administrations. I would suggest it’s less localism and more opportunism from the opposition parties on these matters.”
Mr Mackay said the government agreed with the decisions taken by local authorities on wind turbine applications in two-thirds of appeal cases. “It’s patently inaccurate and untrue to say we are overturning decisions across the country,” he said.
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