Welcome to the Public Works blog.

Public Works is UNISON Scotland's campaign for jobs, services, fair taxation and the Living Wage. This blog will provide news and analysis on the delivery of public services in Scotland. We welcome comments and if you would like to contribute to this blog, please contact Kay Sillars k.sillars@unison.co.uk - For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Just Transition is central to successful climate action

Just Transition policies for climate action take centre stage in the Scottish Parliament today.

This follows key campaigning in Scotland by trade unions and environmental groups.

Just Transition is also the focus in a series of articles in Scottish Left Review, including one by UNISON Scotland Depute Convener Stephen Smellie and another by Francis Stuart, STUC Policy Officer.

Francis writes: “Tackling climate change while building an industrial base for low-carbon manufacturing will require government policy, planning, direction and investment. The Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission, successfully advocated for by the Just Transition Partnership, provides an opportunity to address these issues.

"Its role is to look at how Scotland achieves a carbon-neutral economy while maximising opportunities in terms of fair work and tackling inequalities.To be effective, it should be independent of government and should have a commitment to look beyond the next two years, to climate change targets which run until 2050.

“The Scottish National Investment Bank also provides an opportunity to leverage in funding for the low-carbon economy, providing patient capital for sectors and organisations which cannot access patient, strategic capital. The Scottish Government’s plans for a publicly owned energy company could also help transform the public policy landscape, although it will have to be far more ambitious than the Scottish Government’s current vision of a company focussed on retail supply. A focus on generation – where the both the money and the decarbonisation opportunities are – will be crucial if it is to play a role in a just transition to a low carbon economy.”

The debate in the Scottish Parliament sees all parties backing the application of just transition principles in Scotland. MSPs are debating a Scottish Government motion and amendments from the Tories, Labour and Greens. Labour’s amendment, from Claudia Beamish MSP, calls for the Parliament to give “further consideration to the establishment of a statutory, long-term just transition commission, which should be well-funded, independent of government and accountable to the Parliament, building on the work of the present non-statutory commission.”

The Scottish Government announced the finalised membership of the Just Transition Commission at the weekend. It starts work later this month and will report in two years.
Among the new members announced are STUC Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham and Richard Hardy, Prospect National Secretary for Scotland, along with Lang Banks, Director of WWF Scotland - all members of the Just Transition Partnership (JTP), along with UNISON, Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES) and other unions including the CWU, Unite and UCU.

(Separately, UNISON, along with other energy unions, has very recently called on the UK Government to have talks on Just Transition. UNISON, Unite, GMB and Prospect released a template for a just transition following a conference of energy workers.)

The JTP sent a briefing to MSPs ahead of the debate. (See also the JTP press release and the SLR article by Matthew Crighton, of FoES on the Partnership.)

The briefing says that the concept of a just transition is central to a successful response to climate change, and to building popular support for action to cut emissions.

A just transition must:

      Put protecting workers’ livelihoods, creating new jobs, and delivering a fairer Scotland at the centre of the move to a low-carbon economy
      Be embedded across and supported by Government priorities and infrastructure projects including the Climate Change Plan, the Publicly Owned Energy Company, the Scottish National Investment Bank, future economic strategies and the work of the enterprise agencies
      Involve trade unions, communities and environmentalists at the heart of the process
      Be put into statute under the Climate Change (Emissions Reductions Targets) (Scotland) Bill

Stephen Smellie’s article in Scottish Left Review argues that the transition must be just to all affected workers, with many in the public sector dealing with the impacts of climate change.

He writes: “A transition to a low carbon economy must happen and that transition needs to be just to the workers. However, the Just Transition agenda is not simply related to these workers in the energy sector whose current jobs are part of an industry that is contributing to the problem. Other workers are in jobs that are at risk. Agricultural and food processing workers face changes related to climate change.

“The water industry, seafarers and other transport workers face significant challenges. High energy using industries such as manufacturing and construction face rising costs. The public sector workers whose budgets for services are cut to divert money to efforts to ameliorate the effects of climate change on infra-structure.

“Other workers have a significant part to play in the transition and making sure that it is just: the science workers creating alternatives; the education workers training the current energy and future workers with the skills necessary for the future low carbon industries; and the public sector workers in environmental protection, infra-structure and planning, designing better communities that use less carbon.”

Meanwhile, continuing the focus, a free Centre for Climate Justice conference looking at Just Transition takes place at Glasgow Caledonian University tomorrow, Wednesday, with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS) chair Tom Ballantine among the speakers.

UNISON is part of SCCS. Do please email your MSPs for a stronger climate Bill and/or arrange to meet your MSPs. Easy info on how to do both is here.

And watch this space for more developments as the STUC steps up work around energy and climate change, including considering how workers’ pensions might help address societal challenges including climate change.

As Francis Stuart concludes in SLR, “Scotland’s unions are clear that tackling climate change is a moral, social and economic imperative and Scotland must play its part in reducing emissions. However, meeting targets must ensure that workers and communities benefit and manufacturing is not simply offshored.

“A genuinely just transition, addressing fundamental questions of ownership, is the only way in which we will move to a low carbon economy while building a more equal economy and society.”


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Added Value

Public provision of services offers excellent value for money. The latest report into Money and Welfare Rights Advice services in Scotland shows that every pound invested in these services gets clients an extra £21-£24. These are significant gains for people who are already on very low incomes.

Not only does this make a significant contribution to clients’ household incomes it also improves their physical and mental health. Increasing their income means they also have money to spend supporting local businesses. So these services benefit the wider economy as well. It is essential that local authorities have sufficient funding to ensure the continued provision of vital service like Money Advice.

Key findings

Local authorities spent £25.76m on welfare and money advice services. This includes 32 services directly provided by authorities and 85 via external organisations. These services are delivered by 486 (FTE) local authority staff, 386(FTE) external staff and 412 (FTE) volunteers. This work not only impacts positively on the finances of service users it also improves their general health and well being. The total financial gain for service users was £624.7m

Who uses these vital services?

  • 38% were permanently sick and disabled or suffering a short-term illness or injury
  • 25% were in some form of employment while 11% were unemployed and seeking work
  • 28% of service users had disposable income of less that £6,000, 55% less than £10,000 and 88% less than £20,000. Median household disposable income in the UK is £27300.40

Money and Welfare Benefits services make a huge contribution to people’s health and well being. This is just one example of vital services which are currently at risk due to cuts to local government budgets. Local authorities need adequate funding to ensure they can deliver the services that citizens need.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Inez Kirk's speech to STUC Budget Day Rally

Inez Kirk, vice-chair of UNISON Scotland local government committee, spoke at the STUC budget day rally at the Scottish parliament. She spoke with our sister unions Unite, GMB, UCU, EIS and PCS. Ines sent a clear message to the Scottish government to start to value local government workers, particularly the low paid women workforce.

Inez said: “Local government has taken the brunt of austerity.  Derek McKay must redress the balance today and invest in local government so we can serve our communities.

The Scottish government must recognise the valuable contribution local government contributes to the fabric of our society.

For too long we have seen our local services cut, closed or sold off to the lowest bidder.

The cuts have been felt most acutely in local government. Nine out of ten public sector jobs lost since 2010 have been in local government.

What is even more stark is the effect on women in our communities and workplaces.

Three quarters of the local government workforce are women, predominately low-paid and delivering the services that vital to our society: caring for our older and more vulnerable people, providing support in our schools, ensuring the health and well being of everyone in our communities.  And it is women who rely on these services.

Yet we continue to see these local services underfunded, cut to the bone or sold off - meaning even lower wages and less job security for the women providing the services but also those who rely on them.

Many local government workers have been forced into in-work poverty, and they rely on welfare benefits and food banks: families struggling to heat and eat in the 21 century. And that is public sector women workers.

Austerity has meant increased demand for local authority services, at same time as budgets have been slashed.

We say to our MSPs, when setting the budget: remember us. Remember the women who provide the services we all need. Remember the women who care, clean and educate. The women who do the clerical work in our councils. Remember all the local government workers who make such a valuable contribution to our communities.

It’s time for women to get decent pay and secure jobs. We need a budget that ensures the scourge of local government low-pay and in-work poverty is assigned to the past”

Friday, 30 November 2018

Please do not be quiet! The campaign to Save Scottish Borders School Libraries.

Thanks to Greig Kelbie for this "guest" blog

UNISON Scottish Borders Public Services branch is the midst of running a campaign against the local authority’s pilot scheme underway at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools, which has seen pupils, volunteers and self-service scanning machines working in lieu of librarians.

Scottish Borders Council argues that the libraries pilot scheme is a result of budget cuts imposed on the council, that libraries will not be staff-free zones, and that the project is a result of pupil consultation. Several librarians lost their jobs last year, with less senior staff taking over from them. Neither the staff, UNISON or members of the public have seen any evidence of pupil consultation findings.

UNISON, professional bodies representing Scotland’s librarians, politicians, parents groups and education officials have all lined up to criticise the scheme. Despite this, the council has stayed the course and self-service checkouts have begun to appear in school libraries as part of a pilot project, which may lead to a roll out across all of the region’s schools, pending a full review of the pilot scheduled for April 2019.

We turned up the heat on our campaign. UNISON visited each of the region’s high schools and canvassed parents, pupils and members of the community on their opinions on the scheme. We did this over 19th – 25th November, which was planned to be aligned with Book Week Scotland, the theme of which was Rebel. UNISON Scottish used this opportunity will be ‘rebel’ by campaigning throughout this week across the schools to raise awareness of the detrimental impact this staffing loss could have on our children. We were asking pupils, parents and staff to sign campaign postcards, letters to local councillors, engage with our online materials such as the petition.

We were overwhelmed by the support of hundreds of members of the Scottish Borders communities who refused to be quiet and backed our campaign. From the hundreds of people we spoke to, there were three reoccurring clear issues that were continually brought up: concerns over support for children with additional support needs, the inability for children to receive support and guidance during independent study, and several testimonials which claim the pilot libraries have become disruptive and chaotic without a member of staff there to staff the library.

A recently produced Scottish Government strategy report for school libraries (‘The National Strategy for School Libraries’) states that ‘school libraries are a hub of activity, with library staff supporting a range of creative approaches to learning, addressing issues related to health and wellbeing, and facilitating connections between pupils across the school community. It is clear to us, that the Council is failing to adhere to this strategy.

What is also clear to us, is that not one single person supports the council’s pilot. More than 400 pupils, parents and concerned members of the community have written messages on our campaign postcards about the importance of librarians and almost 1000 people have signed our online petition demanding that the pilot should be dropped.
Where are we now...

On Thursday 29th November, the branch lobbied the full council meeting. We created a booklet “The Views of the People”, which contains a message to Councillors and full of some of the best testimonials from our postcard signings. We attempted to deliver our postcards to Tory Council Leader, Shona Haslam. Unfortunately, the Council Leader avoided the UNISON delegation. However, we had them delivered straight to her office. We will now be formally be writing to the Council Leader to ask for a meeting to discuss further.

UNISON has launched an online petition: please sign and share.

If you live in teh areas you can contact to your local councillor here

The fight continues.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

How Councils Get Their Money

Can’t tell your NDR from your GRG? Then help is at hand. In plenty of time for this year’s budget, on December 12th, the Scottish parliament’s information team have produced a guide to local government finance. It will help non-finance professionals understand how much money local authorities have to spend, the various sources of that money and how it is distributed across authorities.

First things first: NDR is Non Domestic Rates, frequently referred to as business rates and GRG is General Resource Grant. This is the money that the Scottish government allocates to local authorities. GRG is the bulk of local authority budgets.

The guide covers revenue spending: the money that pays for the day-to-day running of services. The funding provided for capital (building things) and any money borrowed are not included in the guide.

The guide covers both the money from Scottish government and via local taxes and charges. This includes non domestic rates and council tax. So you can read about how the GRG is arrived at. Which is via "discussions" with COSLA followed by calculation of individual council allocations using “Estimated Service Expenditure" and "Total Estimated Expenditure". On top of those calculations there are “funding floors”. Working out estimated service expenditure involved Grant Aided Expenditure (GAE) which is a “needs based” calculation. Needs based means that is should take account of the relative needs of the populations of each local authority including for example relative poverty rates. Handily there is also more detail on what "Estimated Service Expenditure" etc mean.

Lack of well written papers on the complexities on local government finance make it harder for people to participate in discussions and campaign against cuts to local government budgets. Even a quick read of the two page executive summary will help those trying to make sense of the debate round cuts and service funding. Taking the time to read the full paper would be time well spent.

Monday, 8 October 2018

IPCC Report: Political will essential to deliver on 1.5C Paris target

Today’s stark report on the devastating impacts of climate change should make us all sit up and commit to urgent action.

Politicians need to do the right thing and we must make them, including ensuring a fair and just transition to a zero carbon future.

The warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it very clear that without urgent and unprecedented changes to energy, transport and land use, the world risks catastrophic temperature rise.

The Guardian report said today: “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”

The good news is that the scientists – including the head of Scotland’s new Just Transition Commission - believe it is affordable and feasible to keep to the 1.5C Paris Agreement target, but they point to the need for political will to make sure that policies are put in place in time.

Top priority in Scotland must be to strengthen the climate change Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament to a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, with 77% by 2030.

It’s good that the Scottish Government will now seek new advice on meeting 1.5C from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), but it’s clear from the IPCC report and the recent CCC report on Scottish progress that we must have a step change in cutting emissions, particularly in transport and agriculture.

UNISON wants to see massive investment in public transport, including renationalisation of rail and reregulation of buses, as part of the move to greener transport - and much greater public ownership of energy, including municipal energy.

We are campaigning with the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition and the Just Transition Partnership (JTP) to strengthen the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill.

As well as stronger targets, we want Scotland’s new Just Transition Commission to be set in statute in the Bill and to report to Parliament on progress.

The JTP welcomed Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham’s appointment last month of Professor Jim Skea as Chair of the Commission.

Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC and co-chair of the Just Transition Partnership, stressed that Scotland’s trade unions see tackling climate change as a moral, social and economic imperative. However, in meeting emissions reduction targets, we must ensure a just transition for the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels.

Just transition includes both measures to support retraining and new jobs for those in affected industries, with support for workers and communities, and measures to produce new, green and decent jobs and livelihoods as well as healthy communities. It aims to address environmental, social and economic issues together.

There are clear economic opportunities if we are ahead of the game in building a greener future, but we must ensure no-one is left behind and so climate plans must be integrated with an industrial strategy.

Professor Skea, is co-chair of the working group behind today’s IPCC report. His comments today are reported in the Guardian:

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that.

“We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

That’s where we all come in. There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Let’s make sure Scotland’s politicians continue the unanimous commitment in 2009 of support for world leading legislation. We need them now to agree stronger targets and decisive policy action to protect the planet for future generations, with public sector action crucial in leading the way.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Welcome climate change & #JustTransition commitments from Scottish Labour

Good news for hopes of ramping up the ambition in Scotland's new Climate Bill. Scottish Labour has today backed a net zero target by 2050 at the latest.

This is what the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition has been pushing for. The Scottish Government is only committed to a 90% emissions reduction target by 2050, so Labour is going the extra 10%. And the party is backing a 77% 2030 target.

Scottish Labour's new policy, announced by Claudia Beamish MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform, also includes the Just Transition Partnership’s call for the new Just Transition Commission to be in the Bill, set up on a statutory long-term basis.
The JTP’s co-chair, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC, welcomed the Just Transition commitment, said that unions see tackling climate change as a moral imperative, and stressed the importance of a statutory Just Transition Commission.
UNISON is a member of the JTP and of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. If you haven't already, please support the SCCS E-Action, calling on MSPs to improve the Bill so we can end Scotland's contribution to climate change within a generation.

Here are the press releases from the STUC and SCCS, including the full comments from Dave Moxham, and a welcome from SCCS. The Labour press release is copied below.


Welcoming Scottish Labour’s commitment to put a Just Transition at the heart of their plans to tackle climate change, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and co-chair of the Just Transition Partnership, said:

“Scotland’s trade unions are clear that tackling climate change is a moral imperative and Scotland must play its part in reducing emissions.  However, targets must not be met at the expense of the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels. That is why a Just Transition for workers and communities is so important.

“A statutory Just Transition Commission, involving workers with real frontline experience in the development of a proper industrial strategy, offers the opportunity to reduce emissions while creating new, good quality jobs and benefiting communities across Scotland.”


The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the STUC in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland and WWF Scotland.

Press Release sent on behalf of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland


Responding to the announcement today (Monday) of Scottish Labour’s long-term Climate Change Bill policy, which sets a target for Scotland to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, Gina Hanrahan of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said:

“It’s great to see Scottish Labour back calls for the upcoming Climate Change Bill to include a target to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2050 at the latest and increased action over the next decade.  It’s now up to all parties in the Scottish Parliament to come together, as they did in 2009, to ensure we continue to be amongst the world leading nations in tackling climate change. 

“Labour’s commitment to a Just Transition Commission in the Bill is also to be welcomed. Such a commission would ensure that the transition to a zero-carbon economy supports workers and communities, and creates new, green jobs.

“No country on earth will be left untouched by the worsening consequences of a failure to move fast. While we’ve enjoyed a period of record warm weather; the extremes of heat experienced around the world this year and over recent years can mean increased mortality, drought, fire, hunger and crop failure. We have all the solutions we need now to get us on the right pathway. Good policies to tackle climate change can help us avoid the worst impacts, but also bring new jobs, cleaner air, and reduced burdens on our NHS. MSPs of all parties need to act together so Scotland can play its part and enjoy all those benefits.”




Scottish Labour will today today (Monday, August 13th) announced its long-term Climate Change Bill policy, which sets a target for Scotland to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.

This plan is in contrast with the Scottish Government, who propose reducing emissions by 90% by 2050.

Labour proposes a pathway to zero emissions with interim targets of a 56% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and 77% by 2030, supported by a Just Transition Commission. 

Launching the policy at the BRE Innovation Park at Ravenscraig, Claudia Beamish MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform will say that it is an “immensely important instrument for Scotland’s future and our standing in the global community.” 

The BRE Innovation Park, situated on the site of the former Ravenscraig Steel works, showcases bold inclusive future opportunities with its full-scale demonstration buildings displaying innovative design, materials and technologies for low carbon living. BRE engages with New College Lanarkshire, highlighting how vital the development of initial and transferable skills will be as we progress towards net zero emissions. 

Scottish Labour will continue to engage with trade unions, businesses, local government, and the third sector to develop the plans for long-term climate action and the ‘Just Transition’ for workers. 

Claudia Beamish MSP, Scottish Labour Spokesperson for Climate Change, said: 

“This summer has been another of record high temperatures, prolonged heatwaves, and extreme weather.  It is our duty to step up for global climate justice, and Scottish Labour’s climate policy addresses these obligations, while giving Scotland time to adapt in a just way for the workforce and communities. 

“This policy recognises the huge inequality in Scotland’s current and historic greenhouse gas emissions, compared to other parts of the world.  The most catastrophic effects of climate change are impacting on the lives and environments of those who did the least to cause it, and this policy recognises greater ambition is needed for those at the front line of facing the effects of climate change.  

“Inter-generational justice is also central to this policy.  We cannot push the job of tackling climate change onto the shoulders of the young.  We need interim targets of 56% by 2020, and 77% by 2030, to ensure we start to act now. 

“Based on Scotland’s historical emissions since the Industrial Revolution, and per capita wealth, Scottish Labour has concluded we must hit net zero emissions by 2050, at the latest. 

“The SNP Government’s draft Bill is far too timid, and ignored the 99% of consultation respondents who called for steeper targets.

“Scottish Labour has always led actions for fair economic transformation and social justice. Ambitious targets mean a clear signal to markets; giving confidence to businesses, investors, and communities. Action must now be spread fairly across all sectors and wider society.

“Scottish Labour will always be the party of the workers, and a statutory, long-term ‘Just Transition Commission’ must be in the Climate Change Bill to safeguard our communities and jobs against injustice. 

“For the sake of those on the frontline of climate change around the world, for our beautiful planet, and for our children: no more complacency – now for real ambition.”

BRE Housing and Energy Director Lori McElroy added:

"When making decisions about targets for emissions and energy efficiency, we should start from the premise of making the best use of scarce resources and impacts on people.  Over a quarter of Scotland’s households are still living in fuel poverty – that's 650,000 homes – this is where our efforts need to be focused.

“Research suggests that the improvement of existing homes could support up to 6,500 jobs throughout Scotland over the next ten years, giving a much-needed boost to the Scottish economy.  BRE is working closely with New College Lanarkshire to support skills and training in this area.

"Poorly heated, damp and cold homes can pose significant health risks for people.  In the winter of 2016/17, an additional 2,720 people died during the winter months in Scotland, compared with the average for the rest of the year.  The World Health Organisation has in the past estimated that 30% of such deaths are attributable to cold homes.

“The BRE Innovation Park@Ravenscraig exists to test solutions to our ageing building stock – showcasing new ways of thinking about constructing new and retrofitting existing buildings, allowing innovative approaches to be tested in a safe environment. Our research shows that better, warmer, safer homes not only promote better quality of life for people but could also save the NHS in Scotland around £60m per year.”