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A new Member’s Bill will aim to incorporate the European Charter of Local Self-Government into Scots law. The Charter, which was created in 1985 by the Council of Europe and ratified by the UK in 1997, sets out 10 principles to protect the basic powers of local authorities.
The Charter commits Governments to applying basic rules guaranteeing the political, administrative and financial independence of local authorities.
It provides the principle and authority of local self-government shall be recognised in laws and that councils are to be elected by members of the public.
The Charter was signed by the UK Government in June 1997 and entered into force in respect of the UK on 1 August 1998.
The new Bill, is being brought forward by Scottish Green MSP Andy Wrightman, claims that the current government has restricted Scottish councils ability to do their job.
The background to the bill reads: “Over the past century the status, powers and freedoms of local government have been slowly eroded and marginalised.
“Over the 20 years since the Scottish Parliament was established, local democracy has been neglected and Scottish Ministers have assumed greater influence over local government affairs by exerting control over local tax rates and mandating specific policy outcomes in relation to the statutory powers of local government.
“That this has often been facilitated by local government itself does not in any way affect the ongoing erosion of local autonomy.”
It would allow people and organisations to challenge the Scottish Government in court if its laws or decisions are not compatible with the Charter in relation to managing council powers.
The Scottish Parliament’s Local Government and Communities Committee recently discussed the member’s bill.
James Dornan MSP, Committee Convener, said: “Local authorities deliver a wide range of services that are a vital part of our daily lives; from social care and public libraries to planning and street cleaning.
“The aim of this Bill is to strengthen local democracy by increasing the autonomy of local authorities and enshrining support for local government into law.
“The Committee is interested in hearing from people across Scotland as to whether they feel this Bill will support local government, strengthen the bond between councils and communities and make a practical difference to people’s lives.”
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It comes after the SNP put forward the UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Continuity) (Scotland) Bill to Holyrood which will provide for continuity of EU provisions that would otherwise be lost with Brexit.
The discretionary power will come into effect after the transition period ends on December 31.
The Bill also includes provisions to ensure EU environmental principles and governance can continue in Scotland.
A new body called Environmental Standards Scotland will be set up to ensure compliance with environmental law.
Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said the new Bill at Holyrood will mean, on devolved matters, Scottish law can keep in line with those in Europe “when appropriate and practicable to do so”.
The SNP new law will also make it much easier for Scotland to rejoin the EU after the country gained independence from the UK, should the Scottish people wish to do so.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford had previously written to Boris Johnson to request an extension to the Brexit process last week.
Ms Sturgeon believes that more time is required to complete negotiations and support businesses through recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.
However, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed there would be no extension beyond 31st December.
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