COUNCILS will be left responsible for only “bins and bodies” if the Scottish Government continues centralising services, the head of Scotland’s largest local authority trade union has warned.

Speaking ahead of the elections tomorrow, Tracey Dalling, Scottish Secretary of Unison said that those successfully elected must not act as “managers of decline” or mouthpieces for Holyrood, and instead stand up for local services and the staff who deliver them.

Ms Dalling said there was a real risk that councils could become essentially extinct in their current form in the next decade, if the government continues with its centralisation plans such as the National Care Service.

She said: “It’s been my fear for the last 10 years and will continue to be my fear for the coming 10 years, over what is the nature of locally delivered and locally accountable services in our communities.

“I’ve used this expression over the years - bins and bodies.

“We will have refuse collection and we will have burials and graveyards [run by councils] and very little else.”

Speaking exclusively to The Herald, Ms Dalling said there was “a huge centralised agenda from the Scottish Government and has been for some time”, pointing to examples such as Police Scotland and the Sc ottish Fire and Rescue Service, which were formed in 2013 from multiple regional bodies.

She added: “The latest iteration of this agenda is the National Care Service [and] we’ve had John Swinney over the years talking about a National Education Service.

“These are local services delivered to local people, by local employees and they are held to account by local elected councillors.

“If we continue with this and we continue with the level of cuts to a whole range of services, and a mantra that somehow private can do things better or cheaper, what what is going to be left in terms of local service delivery?”

Ms Dalling, who became the trade union’s first female Scottish leader in history in March, said there was a need for councillors to be able to be held accountable for the services which their constituents expect to receive where they live.

However if vital facilities and services were centralised, or handed over to arms’ length bodies, the ability to hold those to account becomes diminished as responsibility for them would no longer be held by councils.

Ms Dalling continued: “This is about councillors standing up not just, you know,, for issues such as dog fouling perhaps in their wards, or the local library or the swimming pool but about the future of local government in Scotland.  “We have a very, very proud and rich tradition of councils being democratically elected and accountable to the people, with surgeries on your doorstep.

“You can go and chap a door and say I am not happy about X, Y and Z.

“These are services that as a member of a community I would expect to find -  a school to put my kid into, a home carer to provide care for an ageing relative as well as, you know, my bins being lifted “Where do you go with that if that doesn’t exist any longer and there’s not that level of accountability in your community?”

The union chief, who represents th largest number of local authority workers in Scotland, said those who are successfully elected must fight for their councils and their areas, and not “manage decline” of budgets and services which has been the case across the country for many years.

Budgets for councils have dwindled, with many being forced to sell off key assets, privatise services or reduce the frequency of others in order to manage.  Ms Dalling explained that councillors who succeed tomorrow should “have a pride in the cities and  communities that they are there to represent.”

She added: “This is not necessarily about party politics. This is about if you are elected, you are accountable, and we absolutely want them to be as accountable as you possibly can. My fear is with this current trajectory, there won’t be services there to deliver and they will have no oversight.  “When you place things into arm’s length organisations or put in some kind of board in some way as we’ve seen with police and fire services,these big intrinsic parts of our society...”I just think we are seeing a complete dilution of that.

“I want to know that I can  place across on a ballot paper for somebody who understands local democracy, understands local services, and understands the need to deliver for the people that they represent.”

Council elections historically have a low turnout, with the union chief urging voters to turn up and cast their ballots tomorrow.

In 2012, just 39 per cent of people voted in the local elections, with the lowest rate 34% in Aberdeen.

In 2017 total turnout had increased to 47%, thought to be linked to the fact the vote was taking place around the same time as the UK general election.

She explained: “The turnout rates in local elections are not known to be great, and I’m not anticipating there will be a huge change of heart [tomorrow] in terms of leaving your house or filling out the postal ballot paper.

“If you drive through any section of our communities at the moment, there’s nothing on the lampposts, there’s no posters in the windows.

“There does not seem to be a huge level of engagement around all of this and I think we will see an increasingly diminishing turnout,  and I think that’s because people are not sure any more of what’s left to vote for. 

“So it’s critically important that people leave their houses on Thursday, either to post the ballot paper or to place the cross in the box in a polling station, and be absolutely clear that they are participating in a process that’s to allow those who are elected, regardless of the political party, to stand up for their communities and to deliver quality public services by local people, directly employed by local councils.” 

The Scottish Government said: “Local authorities will always play a crucial role in Scotland, and the Scottish Government looks forward to continuing our work with them across areas ranging from education to social care, housing, roads and transport.

“As we have previously said, we want to devolve power to more local levels. That’s why we jointly launched the Local Governance Review with COSLA to ensure Scotland’s diverse communities and different places have greater control and influence over decisions that affect them most.”