ONE of the country’s most senior councillors has claimed that councils in Scotland have not yet “benefited from devolution”.

In a speech to the annual Cosla conference in St Andrew’s today, the local authority body’s president Alison Evison argued that after 20 years of the Scottish Parliament there is a need to “fully deliver” on devolution and democracy.

“To this day local government in Scotland still plays the key role in the delivery of key essential services,” she said. “We are the heartbeat of our communities and are the only sector that can deliver in the round.

“We create and develop strong sustainable communities and we nurture these communities.

“We also have a role in improving the economy and employment opportunities for all people within our communities.”

The Labour councillor, deputy leader of the opposition in Aberdeenshire, argues that councils need more powers to help them make more of a difference to their local communities.

“A key part of making more of a difference must be a shift in the way decisions are made and where power lies,” Evison insisted.

“Millions of people rely on the services that local government deliver in Scotland every day. Together, councils spend almost £19 billion a year on local services and employ over 240,000 people – nearly 10% of all employment in Scotland.

“We are often the largest employer in an area, we educate our young people and we support and care for our older people.

“Across the age spectrum we look after the most vulnerable in society – from children experiencing care to those struggling with addiction or mental health issues.”

Her speech included a plea to curtail the ring-fencing of funding – where the Scottish Government specifies what some of the cash it hands down to local authorities must be used for.

The local government leader also used her address to claim council spending decisions are becoming “limited” because of the “structure of our budgets and the attack on the core”.

Evison told the conference: “We are limited in the choices we can make to realise our vision because we are limited in the funding required.

“We can only be truly empowered with full fiscal empowerment and with the certainty of financial sustainability, which allow us to direct resources in the best way to meet local need.”

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on allowing councils to impose a transient visitor levy – a so-called tourist tax. However, there is opposition from some quarters to such a move.

The Cosla president insists that ministers “cannot get upset when we look at raising more of our own finance through things like the transient visitor tax – especially if the money allocated by them is not enough for all the things that we want to achieve locally and which our communities expect from us”.

She continued: “As political and community leaders, if our choice is to strengthen local democracy and local choice starting with the discretion to introduce something like a transient visitor tax, then that is our choice.”