Scotland politics

Scottish council election: Tories launch campaign drive

The Scottish Conservatives have pledged to give communities a chance to run local services, as they launched their council election campaign.

Party leader Ruth Davidson said her opponents wanted to centralise power which should be in local hands.

Ms Davidson also backed council tax cuts and business rate changes.

The Tories also want to leapfrog the Lib Dems to become the third largest party of local government, when voters go to the polls on 3 May.

Speaking in Edinburgh, Ms Davidson, whose party won 131 seats at the last local government election, said her party also had a strong track record as part of council administrations in eight areas.

The Scots Tories pledged to give community and voluntary bodies a right to bid for the running of services, to end the "damaging" assumption that councils should have a monopoly on providing them.

Right-to-by laws on purchasing land and other assets would also be reformed to give local groups "a right of first offer" on sales.

Schools would also able to operate outwith council control, where appropriate, and communities would get the chance to set up their own.

Ms Davidson backed reductions in council tax, which has been frozen in Scotland since the SNP came to power in 2007, while saying 100% of non-domestic rate cash raised above targets should go straight back to local authorities.

The policies were set out in a "national support document", which is being accompanied by a series of local manifestos.

The Tory leader, whose party is fielding 360 candidates across 331 multi-member wards, said: "We are a national party with a local agenda to devolve power closer to communities and the individual - that's why we want councils to have a greater say over how decisions are made and money is spent.

"Because of our commitment to localism, we are launching individual manifestos for each council area in mainland Scotland outlining local priorities - what works in Stonehaven might not be right for Selkirk and vice versa."

Ms Davidson said her party had succeeded in several council areas, such as boosting recycling in the Borders from 8% to 40%, and overseeing a "dramatic" improvement in education in South Ayrshire.

May's council elections are the first since devolution to be held separately from the election to the Scottish Parliament.

A system of proportional representation, where voters rank candidates in order of preference, is being used to elect 1,223 councillors across Scotland's 32 local authorities.