Each local authority in Scotland is governed by a council, which consists of councillors who are elected very four years. These elected members are headed by the Leader of the Council, typically the leader of the largest single political grouping in the council. In addition, each local authority elects a civic leader, the Provost or Convenor, who chairs council meetings and acts as a ceremonial figurehead for the area. In the cities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee, the Provost is known as the Lord Provost.
The full council meeting is the sovereign body of the Council, where all councillors meet to debate and take the key decisions of the authority. These include electing the convenor and deputy convenor, appointing councillors to all committees and panels, deciding on strategic objectives and corporate policies and setting the annual budget and council tax.
Local authorities in Scotland must take corporate decisions: there is no legal provision for policies being made by individual councillors. Provisions in the Local Government (Scotland) Act 1973 allow local authorities to devolve most decision-making to a committee, sub-committee or officer of the council. Traditionally, authorities have tended to operate through a structure of committees and sub-committees.
In recent years, reviews of local democracy sponsored by the Scottish Government have prompted a number of local authorities to alter their decision-making structures, in attempts to achieve more efficient, accountable and transparent arrangements. There is no requirement for councils to adopt a particular political decision-making and scrutiny structure: it is a matter for each council to decide what is the most appropriate structure for its particular circumstances and context.
Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC)
The Scottish Local Authorities Remuneration Committee (SLARC) is an advisory Non-Departmental Public Body set up in 2005. SLARC is a body corporate established under the provisions of the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004 to advise Scottish Ministers on the payment by Local Authorities of remuneration (including pensions), allowances and the reimbursement of expenses incurred by local authority councillors in accordance with criteria specified by Scottish Ministers from time to time.
Ethical Standards in Public Life
The Ethical Standards in Public Life etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 established a framework to ensure that the highest standards of behaviour were maintained by local authority councillors and members (such as board members) of certain public bodies. It introduced Codes of Conduct which these councillors and members must comply with at all times in their duties. It established the Standards Commission for Scotland to hold hearings into alleged breaches of the Codes. It also established the office of the Chief Investigating Officer, whose role has now been taken over by the Public Standards Commissioner, to receive complaints by any member of the public about non-compliance.