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The Verity House Agreement: A landmark deal with Local Government
5 September 2023
On 30 June 2023, the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) signed a new Partnership Agreement, known as the ‘Verity House Agreement’, which sets out their vision for a collaborative approach to delivering shared priorities for the people of Scotland. This agreement signifies a commitment towards empowering local communities, enhancing public services and promoting sustainable growth.
The Shared Priorities
The agreement establishes three shared priorities which the parties will focus on. Firstly, they’ll work together to tackle poverty, with a particular emphasis on child poverty. Secondly, in recognising that climate change is a significant threat to communities across Scotland, the parties aim to transform the economy through a just transition to deliver net zero. The third priority is to provide sustainable and individual-focused public services and in doing so the parties will acknowledge fiscal challenges and look for innovative solutions.
There will be a shared programme of activity developed for each of the three priorities. The parties have also set out an initial plan to address the shared priorities, recognising that changes need to be made to ensure the outcomes are delivered.
Some of the key actions are:
Aims for working together
The parties recognise the need for joint leadership and there is an understanding that they will work together to develop a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Powers and funding will be frequently reviewed to ensure Local Government can effectively deliver the outcomes. By the end of October 2023, there will be an initial joint review of Specific Grants and In-Year Transfers to Local Government. This review will identify which grants can be baselined into the General Revenue Grant or General Capital Grant in the financial year 2024-25. This will hopefully provide some flexibility to Local Councils to implement the shared priorities in a way which is locally appropriate.
The parties will work together to ensure there is a strategic alignment for pay across the public sector.
Approach to shared priorities
“Local by default, national by agreement” is a key principle for the parties. The parties acknowledge that the authority which is closest to an individual should be the one to exercise public responsibilities.
Local Authorities will have their say in the process for policy development of national delivery models for matters which are of direct concern to them. Where appropriate, Local Government may also be involved in the decision making. Where possible, there will be a presumption in favour of local flexibility for national approaches.
There will be a clear route for local revenue raising through development of a Fiscal Framework. This will hopefully simplify the process for Local Government Settlement.
Accountability and Assurance
The parties will agree a monitoring and accountability framework to ensure transparency in relation to the progress that is being made.
There will be independent evaluation of progress from Audit Scotland and the Accounts Commission.
Current reporting structure and service level plans, such as Children’s Services Plans or Climate Change Plans, will be streamlined to ensure there is no overlap.
There will be meetings between the First Minister and COSLA President twice a year to discuss the progress that has been made and any key issues that have arisen. Quarterly meetings will also be held between COSLA’s Leadership Sounding Board and key Cabinet Members.
By the end of September 2023, the parties plan to have improved engagement in relation to budgetary matters, in preparation for the Scottish Budget in December. Establishing a process for early budget engagement will be key to ensure there are no surprises.
The Strategic Review Group, which was formed in 2021 as part of the Local Government Engagement Plan, will work to provide assurance that the parties are maintaining commitments as set out in the agreement.
While the Verity House Agreement doesn’t create legal obligations it is a significant move towards a more collaborative approach in Scotland. It shows a public commitment to Scottish and Local Government building a stronger relationship to allow them to work together more effectively to achieve better outcomes for the people of Scotland. The agreement sets out an overview of the parties’ intentions, but it will be developed as it progresses. The first review will be carried out by the end of August 2024 to allow the parties to consider whether any amendments are required to ensure its effectiveness going forward.
If you would like to discuss the new agreement in more detail, our Public and Third Sector team would be happy to help.
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