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McLetchie: Giving power back to individuals, families and local communities

Speech during Conservative Party Conference 2003 by David McLetchie MSP, leader of the Conservatives in the Scottish Parliament

"There is considerable disillusionment amongst the Scottish electorate with the fruits of devolution, which is evident even amongst some of its strongest supporters. To a certain extent, this is because public expectations were always too high as a result of the overblown rhetoric used during the referendum campaign of 1997.

It is pretty clear what people expect from their Government. They want to live in safe neighbourhoods and communities; they want to know that if they are ill, they will be treated speedily and effectively by the health service; they want to know that their children are being properly educated to give them the best possible start in life; and they want the opportunity to improve their standard of living. In Scotland today these basic requirements are not being met.

However, I believe that this public confidence can be regained if the right approach is adopted in the years ahead.

For Scottish Conservatives, this must start with a clear commitment to put the interests of the Scottish people before those of politicians. That means a government and a Parliament that provides value for money, cutting waste and spending public money wisely on our public services. We want to see smaller, better government. Fewer ministers, MSPs and bureaucrats, a streamlined committee system and more time spent in the Chamber scrutinising legislation and holding government to account. This will mean a more focused and disciplined Parliament which concentrates on the fundamental issues affecting everyone in Scotland no matter where they live.

However, the real lesson of devolution is that a Scottish Parliament is no substitute for the right policies. The great fear in England must be that regional assemblies would suck power up from local communities and add an expensive tier of bureaucracy - it would be the antithesis of devolution. The key test of devolution must be whether it makes a difference to the lives of people. By trying to run everything from the centre, the Scottish government has failed to improve our public services and has harmed our economy.

This does not mean that the new settlement cannot work. It can, but it requires a commitment to what we call real devolution. Taking power away from politicians and bureaucrats and giving it back to individuals, families and local communities - in short, trusting people, a good Tory principle.

Equally however, it does not require a regional assembly to implement these policies and the real question which you need to answer is do you need it to achieve our objectives? We are concerned about achieving greater consumer accountability in our public services because we believe that this is the best way of improving them and regional assemblies do not provide answers to these problems. However, in other public services such as policing, we wish to see greater accountability to local communities. The question then becomes at what level of government should responsibility rest and what form of democratic control is appropriate. However, we need to answer the fundamental questions about how we deliver services first. To start with the Assembly proposal and then seek to justify its existence is to look at the issue the wrong way round."

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