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 Dave Watson d.watson@unison.co.uk. For other information on what's happening in UNISON Scotland please visit our website.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Care integration - lessons from Wales

Delivering better health and care integration is a challenge in all parts of the U.K. and internationally. We should try and learn from experiences elsewhere, and I was in Cardiff yesterday contributing to the Cymru/Wales UNISON seminar on the issue.

Wales faces similar challenges to Scotland - austerity and Brexit. The Welsh health minister told the conference that reform should be about better ways of delivering services, not just about saving money. They have had a parliamentary review of care integration that has made recommendations for going forward and a new government plan will be published soon.

The minister was not convinced that big structural change was the way forward, but he was in favour of better partnership working between health and local government. There are good examples of integrated system change locally that can be scaled up nationally. He was strong on the need to engage staff in finding solutions - making it a formal part of the system. As he put it; "Motivated staff are much more likely to do a better job."

Wales has similar problems to Scotland with fragmented domiciliary and residential care, many of which are struggling. The minister said better commissioning and standards had to be part of the solution. He recognised the need to increase funding and they are looking a levy to specifically fund the increasing cost. Something that hasn't really been part of the debate in Scotland.

The research report launched at today's conference highlights a very complex picture of care integration in Wales. Words like 'partnership', 'integration' and 'seamless' service are used, and abused, with means often confused with ends. As in Scotland, the driver is collaboration not competition, but that has its challenges around trust and power. Previous reports have been critical of progress and they have similar problems with short term funding initiatives rather than increasing core funding. 

The core of the report is three case studies on integration. 

The Bridgend approach shows real improvements in outcomes like unscheduled care and long term placements. Anticipatory care is key to preventing inappropriate admissions and building trusted relationships between staff.

Monnow Vale in Monmouthshire is a good example of how locality based health and social care hubs can work. Staff are co-located, they talk to each other and staff are empowered to find solutions that work locally. This is an approach that we should do much more of in Scotland as recommended by the Social Care Commission. It resulted in a more welcoming approach for users and greater continuity of care - creating a relationship with the carers. Trade union involvement in designing services and getting pay and conditions right was important in building trust in working together and redesigning home care.

Ynys Mon (Anglesey) case study is an example of enhanced dementia service using a residential home as a base to integrate services with community health staff. It was obvious that staff had a real sense of ownership, being engaged in service design from the outset.

The parliamentary review, independent of government with a cross-party reference group, pulls some of this together. They recognised the case for change is compelling, but it hasn't always compelled action. Amongst ten key recommendations, it makes the case for co-location of staff, a focus on outcomes (what they call the Quadruple Aim) and a recognition that staff are a key element in service delivery. It is not about restructuring, it's about effective implementation of a seamless service across all services.

In my presentation I set out the lessons from Scotland's experience in health and care integration. Many different models have been tried, but it is still work in progress. Demographic change places additional costs on an already underfunded service, particularly in the local government half of the process. In social care we have a hugely fragmented service that makes workforce planning very difficult. And of course there is always Brexit! We do have decent procurement frameworks, including the living wage, but councils put insufficient weighting on workforce matters and do very little monitoring of the quality of service delivery. 

My colleague from London, outlined developments in England. There is very little action on a national basis in England and just a few local initiatives. In essence it's a mess.

Finally, workforce regulation in Wales is following the Scottish model, with the phased regulation of domiciliary care staff. They have similar challenges in terms of recruitment and retention of social care staff.

Scotland is probably a bit ahead of Wales in terms of legislation and structure. However, the challenges are very similar and they do have some impressive examples of best practice, highlighted in the report. On that basis the research report published today is well worth a read. No one has got integration right yet, so we can all learn from experience elsewhere.

Private Sector Fails and the Public Sector Pays Again

Carillion’s board are accused of presiding over a “rotten corporate culture” in a report by two parliamentary committees. The company collapsed earlier this year with £1.5bn of debt leaving the public sector to pick up various public contracts. Rachel Reeves MP said the directors “drove the company off a cliff.”

The joint report, by the Work and Pensions and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy select committees, also criticises the UK government concluding that they lacked the decisiveness or bravery” to address the failures in regulation that allowed Carillion to become a “giant and unsustainable corporate time bomb”.

The bulk of the criticism is pointed at the company’s board who are clearly responsible for the company’s spectacular failure, despite the directors attempt to portray themselves as “victims of a maelstrom of coincidental and unforeseeable mishaps”.

The report calls out the directors’ “recklessness, hubris and greed and describes a business model that was “a relentless dash for cash, driven by acquisitions, rising debt and exploitation of suppliers”. It als suggests that their accounting practices “misrepresented the reality of the business”.
The report also raises questions for the company’s auditors: All of the big four accounting firms (KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst and Young and PWC) had done work for the company and had clearly not provide the degree of independent challenge needed to prevent the problems highlighted in teh report.

The report states that that by failing to question Carillion’s financial judgements and information KPMG complicit in the companies questionable accounting practices. They are accused of “complacently signing off its directors”. “Deloitte was paid over £10m to act as internal auditor but were either ‘unable or unwilling’ to identify ‘terminal failings’. They report also indicates that the lack of completion in the audit market creates conflicts of interests at every turn

This collapse illustrates the risks of outsourcing vital service to the private sector. The risk remains with the public sector who then have to pick up the tab for private sector failures.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Defending devolution in the EU Withdrawal Bill

The Tories and SNP may well be playing with the EU Withdrawal Bill for political reasons, but there are important reasons why those who support devolution should be concerned.

The EU Withdrawal Bill heads back to the House of Commons after some serious mauling in the House of Lords. UK headlines focus on the EEA and customs union amendments, but the Clause 11 issues, relating to devolved powers, remain unresolved. This means that Holyrood is likely to withhold consent for the Bill, leaving the UK Supreme Court to rule on the competency of the Scottish Parliament's Continuity Bill.

The dispute revolves around consent for UK frameworks on powers that come back to the UK from the EU in areas of competence that are devolved. The UK government wants to retain control over 24 areas to create UK frameworks that they claim are necessary to maintain a single UK internal market. The Scottish Government doesn't dispute the need for frameworks, but argues that these must be agreed by consent because a UK veto would undermine the principles of devolution.

The original Clause 11 was opposed by almost everyone, including the Scottish Conservatives. However, they, and others, now argue that the new clause is a reasonable compromise creating a set of procedural hoops the UK government must jump through before it gets the powers it needs to make frameworks. This also means that repatriated powers in devolved areas will go to Holyrood automatically, unless Westminster specifically reserves some for a few years through regulations.

The Welsh government has signed up to this compromise and Lord Hope, who tabled, but didn't push to a vote, some helpful amendments supported by the Scottish Government, appears to partly agree. He argues that the Scotland Act was not designed for a Brexit situation, so a more subtle, pragmatic solution is required. 

The Scottish Government argues that this is a matter of principle, while the UK government argues that the Scottish Parliament cannot have a veto on UK legislation.

I think there is an important principle at stake. This includes a defence of the hugely important Dewar amendment, which embodied the principle that all powers are devolved unless they are specifically reserved. This was not the position in Wales until the 2017 Act, so I appreciate that they may not view this matter in the same way as we do in Scotland.

However, it goes wider than that. The 24 areas that the UK government wants to have its own veto over are already clearly devolved areas. The current Clause 11 would give them the power to interfere, not just with new powers coming from the EU, but existing legislation. A particular concern for me is procurement. Scottish legislation and statutory guidance may be more timid than I would wish, but it's a lot a better than anything the UK government would support. 

If this debate appears to be a bit arcane, let me give a practical example. A care worker in Scotland should receive the Scottish Living Wage thanks to our procurement rules. This could be ended by the UK Government, using Clause 11. A pay cut is not in the slightest bit arcane! 

Then there is the 'veto' argument of the Tories which claims the Scottish Government wants to extend the powers of the Scotland Act to block UK legislation. A line reinforced by the usually more sensible Tory MSP Adam Tompkins in Scotland on Sunday. This is highly misleading. Of course it is the case that s28 of the Scotland Act 1998 gives Westminster the power to legislate on Scottish matters, but the principle in the Sewell Convention, incorporated into the 2016 Act, was that they would not normally do that. 

This is not a veto on UK legislation. It just means that UK legislation would not apply in Scotland without the consent of the Scottish Parliament. That leaves the UK government with the option of amending their legislation to get the Scottish Parliament's consent, or excluding Scotland from the geographical scope of the Bill. 

As a consequence of devolution, we don't have a single market in many areas. If you are a UK firm trading in Scotland, you already have to deal with different rules between England and the devolved administrations. Procurement is again a good example, but there are many others. In fact, some of these pre-date devolution in Scotland. New EU powers may add to these, but it isn't a new challenge. 

So, the nationalists and the unionists may pose on constitutional principles and use the dispute to further their politcal strategies. Those who support a devolved or federal model for the UK should focus on defending the devolution settlement. There is a pragmatic solution to be found that resolves differences over UK frameworks, while respecting both parliaments. What's missing is the political will.

Friday, 4 May 2018

If you want quality you have to pay for it

The Minister for Childcare made a statement to parliament this week about the extra funding for local authorities childcare expansion plans.

Disappointingly she is still boasting about guaranteeing the Living Wage as if this was a reasonable wage for a highly skilled and qualified workforce. As I said when the trade unions met with the Minister: the Living Wage is the bare minimum to live on it's not a wage that will help with the recruitment and retention challenges the sector faces.

The Minister's statement is worth watching. This week's announcement, about agreeing funding with local authorities to pay for the expansion was, I assume, prompted by Audit Scotland's report which highlighted a range of issues with the government's planning. The most headline grabbing being the difference between their and local authorities estimates of the cost. While the agreement has been reached, the funding still seems to be short of what will be needed. Particularly as they still don't seem to have got on top of the staffing issues.

There still seems to be little acknowledgement of the fact that many of the current and new staff will work part-time and that therefore the estimates of staff numbers needed are too low. Even with their own estimates the number of training places the minister states in her answers falls short of the numbers needed.

More significantly this notion that the Living Wage is an acceptable rate of pay for childcare workers is ridiculous. There is constant reference to quality being the key to closing the attainment gap, to a highly qualified workforce but no commitment to appropriate pay for those (mainly women) who they expect to deliver.

It is true that for some outwith the public sector nurseries this will mean a welcome wage rise. This is because they are shockingly underpaid. They deserve a much more substantial pay rise.

In order to deliver the aims of the policy we need a qualified workforce. You cannot expect workers to study for HNCs and then degrees for the promise of £8.75 an hour. The reality is that those who don't pay wages that reflect the skills of workers will continue to lose staff to those who pay more.

Why would you work for £8.75 an hour in a nursery when you can make the same on a supermarket checkout without the responsibility of educating young children, child protection and report writing or Glasgow City Council will pay you approx £19,000 for 38 weeks of the same work?

I know I keep repeating this but we can't have a system that keeps some women on poverty pay in order to create free childcare for others. Done properly lives will be transformed but there is a lot more to do to make sure that the result is reduced poverty and the end of the poverty related attainment gap.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

Remembering Elaine

Guest post by Pam Duncan-Glancy

Saturday will be International Workers Memorial Day.  This is when we remember the dead and fight for the living.  I want to take a moment to remember Elaine McNeill.  I didn’t know Elaine, but I know a lot of people like Elaine.  People who will go that extra mile, and more, to support disabled people to do the things others take for granted.  Elaine died on her way to work in the snow.  Despite the freezing conditions, Elaine tread through ice and snow to reach the people who relied on her for care and support.

I saw the news on Facebook.  I was in the middle of trying to find a way for my own Personal Assistant (carer) to get back to her family, safely.  You see, for some people, not getting to work is the difference between life and death.  My husband and I rely on our PAs to provide round the clock support and that day was no different.  However, it should have been.  Personal Assistants, like Elaine, are overworked, underpaid, undervalued and under-appreciated.  Now, I’m not saying that more money, less work and more appreciation would have changed what happened that day, no one could know that for sure.  But what I am saying is that in some ways it was unsurprising, and is a dire testimony to the savage cuts to local services.

Perhaps if salaries were better, there could have been different travel options for Elaine that day.  Or if we valued social care work like we value other work maybe more people would be recruited into it and there would be more people, who might not have to travel so far, to provide care.  Or, what if we spread the service less thinly?  Losing one 15 minute visit is pretty catastrophic when you only have 4 of them throughout the day to help you eat, go to the toilet, get clean and go to bed.  It’s even worse if that visit was the one in 12 hours that you get to swap your 12-hour incontinence pad.  This is the sad reality for so many disabled and older people in Scotland.  Social care funding is cut to the bone.  Users of it are being denied their human rights. 

Elaine would have known this.  I suspect she, like so many like her, was a women committed to delivering the best support she could, against the odds.  As a disabled person who lives and breathes this reality, I can tell you categorically that, coupled with the harsh reality of the abuse of our own human rights, the exploitation of the care workforce bears heavy.  And I know the same true the other way around.  When the human rights of my husband and I are at risk, our PAs feel the injustice and the fear – for our future and their jobs – too.

Our fight is the same fight.  We want – no, we need – a social care system that protects and fulfils the human rights of the people who use it and the people who work in it.  One that is free at the point of need for the user and that pays the staff who deliver it, in a way that recognises their hard work and commitment. 

Free at the point of use and a pay increase, that’s more money all round’ I hear the astute economists among you note.  Yes.  More money is needed in the system.  Enough already with the whole ‘let’s use the money differently’ crap.  The elastic in that particular nicker is snapped.  It’s time to create a National Care Service, designed to protect and promote human rights, publically funded, free at the point of delivery and with industry leading pay and conditions.  And by the way, this is not a spending agenda, it’s an investment agenda – 7 people are in work because my husband and I get social care.  Seven more people with money to spend.  In fact, if you count my husband and I too, that’s 9 more people working, and spending because of social care!  And I haven’t started on savings through the prevention of illness (physical and mental), social isolation or benefit costs.

So on Saturday, when we remember those who have lost their lives at work, through their dedication and struggle, let us remember Elaine, and fight for every other Elaine out there.

Pam Duncan-Glancy is a UNISON member standing to be Labour’s Candidate in Glasgow North. She tweets @glasgowpam.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Why government needs to address the march of the robots

The robots are coming to take your job - or maybe not quite yet.

As the recent ScotGov/ STUC paper puts it, there are two schools of thought. Those who believe we stand on the cusp of widespread technological unemployment to those who believe the labour market will prove, as it has in the past, much more resilient. It may simply be my age, but I tend to fall into the latter category.

I can recall futurologists telling us that we would all have portfolio careers, yet in practice the amount of time we work for the same employer has actually increased. Yes, automation has resulted in fewer jobs in some sectors, but it has created new ones that we would never have thought of twenty years ago. 

I was pleased to read that my ageing instinct is supported by Danish academic robotic experts who argue that there is still a long way to go before robots will be able to match a number of fundamental human skills. They give five reasons why robots aren’t about to take over the world. These include the abilities of the human hand and manipulation that robots are nowhere to replicating. Humans also have tactile perception through sensors in our magnificent skin. Finally, robots haven't got the human interaction and reasoning skills of humans.

So, robots are a reality today in industry and they will appear in public spaces in more complex shapes. But in the next two decades, robots will not be human-like, even if they might look like humans. Instead they will remain sophisticated machines.

That doesn't mean that we shouldn't plan for the future. At the start of my career as a trade union official, we were busy negotiating 'new technology agreements'. They addressed the direct workforce implications of computerisation, but didn't always tackle the workforce planning and wider economic and social policy implications of automation.

As I said in Monday's Herald feature on the ARI report"Proper planning and strategy is needed now, not further down the line. We should be anticipating where we are likely to see job losses and putting measures in place to ensure that we have a just transition to new types of jobs.  Industry will not do this, it's very hard to get companies to plan that far in advance, so government needs to step up to the plate."

The ARI report revealed the UK is lagging behind other countries when it comes to preparing for the changes - with education and training the main areas of concern. It lists the UK as number 8 in the world in preparing for the expected rise in robots. Education and training in schools and the workplace is a key concern. The report found that UK primary schools have not focused enough on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills.

That brings me back to the ScotGov/STUC report. It gives us a very balanced view of the evidence, without coming down on one side or the other. However, they highlight that researchers on both sides of the future of jobs debate share concerns over the potential distributional consequences of technological change. The OECD finds that; “low qualified workers are likely to bear the brunt of the adjustment costs... the likely challenge for the future lies in coping with rising inequality"There are also significant regional differences. For example, the OECD report says 33% of jobs in Slovakia are at risk, compared to only 6% in Norway.

The report points to labour market trends in Scotland, few of which have been driven by technology. The Scottish Government points to their labour market strategy and the Fair Work Convention. As well as their support for new industries and the planned Just Transition Commission.

These are all worthwhile initiatives, although they are often stronger on process than delivery. If we are to seriously address the challenges of automation it requires a radical industrial strategy coupled with much stronger Fair Work measures. We need to be more like Norway than Slovakia, otherwise automation will have significant job consequences and create an even more unequal society.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

World Water Day

World Water Day, on 22 March every year, is about focusing attention on the importance of water. This year’s theme, ‘Nature for Water’, explores nature-based solutions (NBS) to the water challenges we face in the 21st century.  

Water is a human right according to the United Nations, which in 2010 declared that every man, woman and child should have access to clean drinking water and safe sanitation.  As the most precious life source the earth has to offer, without which humans cannot survive, the recognition of water’s importance to human beings as equal to their right to life and dignity goes without saying.

In Scotland, we take the provision of clean water from our taps and the safe removal of waste water for granted. Sadly, this is not the case in many parts of the world:

  • 2.1 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water services. 
  • By 2050, the world’s population will have grown by an estimated 2 billion people and global water demand could be up to 30% higher than today. 
  • Around 1.9 billion people live in potentially severely water-scarce areas. By 2050, this could increase to around 3 billion people. 
  • 1.8 billion people use an unimproved source of drinking water with no protection against contamination from human faeces. 
  • Globally, over 80% of the wastewater generated by society flows back into the environment without being treated or reused. 

This February, the European Commission published the Re-cast of the Drinking Water Directive. We have been waiting four years for this first concrete outcome of the European Citizens Initiative, following the Commission’s unambitious Communication in 2014. The proposed Directive, as the ETUC and others said at the time, is a step forward, but misses the opportunity to recognise the Human Right to Water. Now we have to mobilise allies in the European Parliament, the European Social and Economic Committee and the Committee of the Regions to push the European Union to commit to really implementing the Human Right to Water. Hopefully it will happen before Brexit, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

In Scotland, we have the benefit of a largely public sector water service. Despite Scottish Water’s persistent reference to ‘the company’, they are in fact a public corporation. This public service delivers a quality service more cost effectively than private companies in England, despite the additional costs of managing water in Scotland. The private sector has crept into a few corners of the service through competition measures in the non-domestic market and through ruinously expensive PFI schemes. However, the core service remains in public hands. 

There is a case for greater democratic accountability and moving away from the regulation model that seeks to copy the private sector model in England and Wales. We could also do much more with water as an economic asset, something envisaged in the Hydro Nation concept. Sadly, that vision hasn’t been realised in full. I hope that is something Scottish Labour and other political parties will consider in the run up to the next Scottish Parliament election. 

The sharks are always circling around Scottish Water and we need to remain vigilant. Scotland’s water is not for sale.