The COSLA and Improvement Service Annual Conference 2013

The COSLA and Improvement Service Annual Conference takes place in St. Andrews, Fife on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th March 2013.

The theme of this year’s conference – Today’s Reality...Tomorrow’s Vision – was chosen to reflect two priorities that are driving the work and considerations of both COSLA and the Improvement Service.

No-one is in any doubt about the harsh realities of the present circumstances for local government and the remainder of the public sector.

The financial outlook is grim but our responsibilities to provide quality services for the most vulnerable sections of our community continue to grow, driven by the positive process of greater community expectation, and the major demographic changes that are now firmly shaping the nature of our communities.

Managing these harsh realities effectively requires considerable changes to service delivery across the public sector. Local government has consistently argued that improving lives across Scotland’s communities requires public agencies to be empowered to work together to focus on prevention, early intervention and ‘place’. 

At times, those debates have been at odds with wider political discourse which has sometimes been pre-occupied with structural change, or managing inputs, as the route to better, more efficient services.

As has been clearly outlined earlier in this first edition of COSLA Connections, these changes also take place in an environment dominated by the Referendum in 2014. Whatever the outcome of that referendum, we can expect some fundamental changes to arise for the public sector. 

COSLA, the Improvement Service and local government need to develop a really clear vision at both strategic and operational level. We need to know what we want for local government in the context of a reformed public sector and we have to be sure that the changes we need to make at an operational level to cope with today’s reality drive us towards that vision not away from it.

Each of the sessions at the conference examines important issues from these two perspectives; current pressure and reality and future vision.

The President of COSLA and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment & Sustainable Growth will open the conference by outlining the respective views of national and local government regarding how best we can deal with today’s reality while maintaining a sense of pace and direction towards achieving their future vision.

Nobody can doubt that the welfare benefits system in this country is not perfect and the reality is that it requires some reform in order to be effective in properly supporting local individuals and communities. There’s been considerable debate regarding whether or not the current proposals for welfare reform represent either an appropriate response to the system’s current difficulties or a sustainable vision for its future. 

This will be debated by Lord Freud, a key architect of the current reform process and COSLA’s Spokesperson on this issue, Councillor Harry McGuigan.

When we examine how we should deal with today’s reality in the context of a vision for the future, we often look to other countries who have gone or are going through the same process.

We have therefore invited representatives of local government from both Iceland and Holland to outline how local government in their countries have addressed some of the same issues we face, paying particular reference to the extent to which the position of local government in the governance and constitution of their respective countries formed the foundation for successfully addressing current challenges. 

Excellence in Scottish local government is once again rewarded this year in the shape of the COSLA Excellence Awards which take place on the Thursday evening hosted by Jackie Bird. 

Lastly, on Friday, there will be a debate which takes head on the question of the constitutional status of Scotland. With both Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister, and Alistair Darling, the champions of either side of the independence debate, outlining their respective view of where local government will sit within their view of the future governance of Scotland and crucially how local government will be empowered to effectively address “today’s reality” while driving forward the achievement of our vision for the future.

Finally the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Margaret Curran and COSLA President Councillor David O’Neill will bring down the curtain on two eventful days of debate.

Commenting ahead of his First Annual Conference as COSLA President, Councillor David O’Neill said:

“One of the first tasks I undertook when I became I President was to get out, meet and listen to the membership of COSLA. What I heard during these visits was that our membership wanted our Annual Conference to be more political, not party political, but to use the event to hear from and engage with politicians from Holyrood, Westminster and Europe.

 “This Conference programme certainly meets that demand and I am delighted with the calibre of speaker that we have been able to attract to what promises to be an interesting and lively couple of days.”