Marco Biagi MSP

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Marco Biagi MSP

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  • Member for: Edinburgh Central
  • Region: Lothian
  • Party: Scottish National Party

Marco is a member of the following Committees:

Marco is a member of the following Cross-Party Groups:

Parliamentary Activities

Search for other Speeches made by The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
Marco Biagi

I will repeat what my predecessor said: the share of expenditure that goes to local government is higher now than it was in 2006-07, when Mr Findlay’s party was in power. The council tax freeze has ensured that there has been a broad benefit to households across Scotland, which, proportionately, has helped the bottom 10 per cent by income twice as much as it has helped the top 10 per cent. It is up to local councils to set their own priorities, having fulfilled their statutory obligations, and we are happy to continue the dialogue on that process to ensure that councils deliver for the people in their areas.



Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
Marco Biagi

The face of the local government minister may have changed, but the questions from Mr Findlay are still the same. [Interruption.]



Meeting of the Parliament 18 December 2014 : Thursday, December 18, 2014
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

The Scottish Government is strongly committed to reducing inequality and poverty across Scotland. The national performance framework sets out in the purpose and the national outcomes a clear and unified vision of the kind of Scotland we want to see and how our actions will improve the quality of life for the people of Scotland. It uses a wide range of indicators that provide a broad measure of national and societal wellbeing, and it incorporates a range of economic, social and environmental indicators and targets. Local authorities and their partner bodies in community planning partnerships are expected to ensure that each of their local priorities aligns with one or more of the national outcomes.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

That is where we get into the complex matter of what happens if we create the electoral structures but still have a barrier to popular participation. In my opening speech, I pointed to participatory budgeting as something in which I have a great interest and which offers a chance for the person in the street to make their views heard in an intense way that is more than voting but perhaps less than having to sit on a committee. I would like a range of councils around the country to explore that widely.

I was very pleased—perhaps more than the Presiding Officer who was in the chair at the time—to hear of the Gowkthrapple example that Clare Adamson gave from her constituency. That is notable because it shows the variation, innovation and potential that exist. It stemmed from a housing organisation, and such bodies have been the anchor organisations for many such initiatives. I visited Govanhill, where I saw that a community development trust that is anchored in the housing association has been able to achieve a level of community empowerment that many other communities would envy and has done so despite a great many challenges that come from different communities overlapping in one locality.

What are communities? They are people who share an interest and communicate with one another, who are not always the same as all the people who live in one area. However much we debate the details and structure of our system of government, we must remember that power comes from the ordinary people who live in communities up and down the country and that it is they whom we are here to serve, whom we are here to represent and whose welfare and wellbeing we must ultimately be concerned about.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

Yes, and there are definitely lessons to be learned from around the country. On Friday, I was in Highland on my first visit as the Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment—I wanted to go to one of the councils that I know wants to have more engagement from Edinburgh—and I heard about some of the really interesting and exciting innovation there. Highland Council has a remarkable degree of delegated decision making at ward level. That almost suggests that we could set up burgh councils if we devolved power to ward level and, as the committee pointed out, there is nothing to prevent that from happening. There needs to be more sharing of such ideas.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

At the end of his speech, Stewart Stevenson touched on variability. That is an interesting area of discussion that was developed more by Hugh Henry, who I notice is no longer in the chamber. It concerns what happens if people fail and what happens in the differentiation of services. That is at the core of what happens if we empower local democracy. We must be aware that different communities have different desires and will create different structures while somehow reconciling that with the importance of universal services.

For example, Hugh Henry asked whether East Renfrewshire Council should be free to innovate on childcare. That is one issue. Would everyone who supports that council having the freedom to innovate on childcare also support giving a council the freedom to innovate on the national health service, which is cherished as a universal service wherever someone is in the country?



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

I am sorry.

I say to Stewart Stevenson that his example of a James Bond as a voter in Blofield might call into question the authenticity of the source. Perhaps he should have another go at Google searching.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

The debate has been quite interesting in that we have often touched on core philosophical issues of democratic principle. One of the things that I have heard most reference to from the different sides in the debate is the 50:50 finance balance, which I am sure we will continue to debate at length. It is interesting that that aspect has been linked to the commission, but I urge caution, because the commission might best be served by focusing on how we deal with the pressing problem of the council tax.

The balance between the Scottish Government, local government and local communities will continue to be an issue, so perhaps we should try not to put too much on it but instead to retain a narrow focus. We are open to any discussion on that, and we have certainly heard COSLA’s views. However, we should keep our feet on the ground.

Before I move on to all the things on which we agree with members—I agree with many members’ contributions—I will go back to Sarah Boyack’s comment that local councils’ finances have not been so hard pressed since the era of the Tories. Councils’ share of the Scottish Government’s budget amounts to 36.4 per cent, but we do not have to go back to the Tory era to see a smaller figure; we need to go back just to 2006-07, when the share stood at 34.7 per cent.

As Stuart McMillan was at pains to say, the financial pain is being felt all around. The Scottish Government has lost 10 per cent of its budget in real terms, so we should have a bit more of a realisation that local government front-line services are—proportionately—doing rather well.

The tax report was referenced by Cameron Buchanan, Alex Rowley and others, and I am glad to hear that there is consensus on it and a wish to buy into it. I was also glad to hear the comments about the importance of public engagement, because it is not enough for the five parties in the Parliament to engage on the issue and—who knows?—agree to come to a consensus on it; it is also important that we hear from the public and that they participate and feel that the process is theirs as well.

Participation has been a bit of a theme. Stewart Stevenson certainly made some interesting points. I always like to bandy esoteric knowledge with him, so I point out that, in 1907, Lavinia Malcolm became the first female town councillor, some years before the vote was given to women in parliamentary elections. That shows the possibility of innovation in participation in community-level representation.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Marco Biagi

Has the member considered the model of town hall democracy that is very common in New England, and the levels of participation that that affords? Perhaps he will be arranging another Local Government and Regeneration Committee fact-finding trip?



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
The Minister for Local Government and Community Empowerment (Marco Biagi)

I thank, on behalf of the Scottish Government, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee for its inquiry report, and congratulate it on securing the debate.

Local government is an essential part of Scotland’s government. It carries weighty responsibilities for delivering the services that the man and woman in the street need, starting with the street itself and going on to schools, housing, social care, parks, libraries, nurseries, support for business and town centres. The list is endless.

Increasing the voice of the man or woman in the street through empowerment and engagement of their communities is an essential part of my ministerial role. It is not by accident that the portfolio is local government and community empowerment.

Since the committee published its report, there have been three events that have emphasised its timeliness and importance. First, the referendum saw levels of voter participation that are unparalleled in our democratic history; the 85 per cent turnout demonstrated a huge popular appetite for participating in decision making.

The ensuing Smith report is the second event. Although members across the chamber no doubt have different opinions on the next steps for the report as a whole, I hope that we can rally around two key sections. The first is Lord Smith’s foreword referencing

“the transfer of powers from Holyrood to local communities”.

The second is the proposal to give Holyrood control over its own elections, which will enable this Parliament to extend the franchise to 16 and 17-year-olds in time for our next elections in 2016—we hope.

Thirdly, the publication of our programme for government has set the empowering and engaging of communities in its rightful place—at the heart of everything that we do.

All that has happened in just three short months. Today is the right time to air the questions about where we will go from here. In that regard, the committee’s report is not just timely; it is also substantial.

We have always known that the electorate is keenly interested in how the nation is run, but the independence referendum was a passionate engagement in democracy—one that contrasts starkly with the turnout of under 40 per cent for the previous local government elections and, indeed, with the 50 per cent turnout for the last Holyrood election. On local election voter turnout, the committee concluded that the relatively low level of engagement in formal local politics is partly related to the nature of the relationship that citizens and communities have with government, and is also because people are more interested in how functions are exercised and, crucially, whether they can influence them, than they are in considerations such as the number of councillors. We endorse those important conclusions. We note that the independent commission on strengthening local democracy that was established by COSLA considered that issue at length, too.

As Kevin Stewart said, earlier this year our consultation on Scotland’s electoral future sought views on how to encourage wider engagement and participation in the electoral process. My predecessor, Derek Mackay, established a group that brought together representatives from key sectors including the third sector, youth organisations and political parties to discuss the way forward. In the new year, the Minister for Parliamentary Business and I will return to the group with the results of that consultation in order to consider collaboratively the next steps.

The committee also rightly reported that how people feel they are governed and how empowered they are to influence decisions that affect their lives are not just about devolution from Westminster to here or from here to local government; they are also about devolving responsibilities to communities. Participatory budgeting is already being promoted by the Scottish Government, with free training being provided to local authorities and others in order to raise awareness of that grass-roots participatory activity. In the past two months, delegates from 26 local authority areas have attended six training events across Scotland.

Participatory budgeting empowers communities by providing them with direct influence over how and where public funds are to be used in those communities. I will repeat what the First Minister said in her statement on the programme for government:

“fostering a sense of participation is about ... more than consulting.”—[Official Report, 26 November 2014; c 20.]

We are therefore also providing funding direct to grass-roots community bodies up and down the country to support their work and to help to build their capacity to act. We are investing £7.9 million this year and £9.4 million next year to support community–led regeneration through the people and communities fund. In the programme for government we also announced £10 million investment through the empowering communities fund. That will build on and complement existing support in order to help communities to work more on tackling inequalities on their own terms.

There is no one template for enabling communities to be partners in decision making. Different communities will, by their nature, have different concerns, different attitudes to risk and a desire to create different structures, as a result. Those have to be seen as natural parts of democracy rather than barriers to it; in that regard we also note the committee report’s well-made observations on arm’s-length external organisations.

In short, we cannot be prescriptive about which are the right powers to be exercised by communities. We are always open to new approaches in that regard, which is perhaps shown most clearly by the ground-breaking discussions with the island areas ministerial working group that culminated in our new prospectus for the islands.

What we must do, however, is ensure that all communities will be able to take advantage of the new rights and powers that will come from the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill. The bill is an important step towards ensuring that Scotland’s current civic interest can grow or perhaps blossom—to borrow a word from elsewhere—into a wholesale democratic renewal. In the spirit of working in partnership and as the new minister in charge of the bill, I therefore take this opportunity to offer to meet the spokespersons of all four Opposition parties early in the new year to discuss the bill and to listen to views or proposals that they want to put forward. We can sit around a table and by a bit of collaboration and maybe a bit of frank discussion ensure that what the bill sets out to do can reflect and do justice to the common goal that I think we all share.

As a Government, we are also keen to encourage participation from all sides of the chamber on the future of local taxation. Local government already has greater fiscal autonomy than the Parliament, with significant tax and borrowing powers and scope to raise revenues from charging and trading, which it does to the tune of over £2 billion. Since 2008, all Scotland’s council tax payers have been benefiting from a council tax freeze, which every local authority has chosen to apply and which the Government has matched with additional resources to make up for councils’ forgone income. Through that partnership we have helped to keep household expenses down at a time when household incomes have been coming under pressure.

Partnership is at the heart of our approach to local government; I therefore reiterate our commitment to working with COSLA to establish an independent commission to examine fairer alternatives to the council tax as a long-term solution. We are currently at the stage of engaging with the COSLA leadership on the commission, and we will also engage with all political parties on it. I have sensed a definite willingness from COSLA to engage and I hope to be able to update members on it soon. Council tax contributes nearly £2 billion to funding local services and is paid by over 2 million households, so the importance of the commission and its work cannot be overstated. The need for such a commission is another conclusion of the committee’s report that the Government shares.

In coming to its conclusions, the Local Government and Regeneration Committee has had to explore difficult and detailed areas that might often have become contentious, but it has done so with knowledge, skill and tact. I finish simply by acknowledging that work again.

14:52  
Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11901.3 Neil Findlay: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
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NoDefeated

S4M-11901.1 Mary Scanlon: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
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YesCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
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NoDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
>> Show more
YesCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
>> Show more
YesCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Marco Biagi
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11597: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 18/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11537: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11342: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11341: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11324: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11237: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 17/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11218: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 15/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11194: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11193: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11154: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 08/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
This Member currently holds a ministerial post. First Minister and Ministers cannot ask the Government questions which is why no recent questions are displaying here. Please use the full search to find details of previous questions by this Member.
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03642: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 27/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03574: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 29/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03499: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 11/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03457: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 04/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22195: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 23/07/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-21920: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 25/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03337: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 02/06/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4F-02142: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 31/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03268: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 19/05/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03242: Marco Biagi, Edinburgh Central, Scottish National Party, Date Lodged: 12/05/2014 Show Full Question >>

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