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.

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.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

The case for Just Transition

Any plan to tackle climate change has to have Just Transition and an industrial strategy at its core.

Those of us who take a close interest in climate change tend to leap into the detailed aspects of the policy. In the era of Trump and false news, we should always remember to start any discussion by making the case for tackling climate change. 

In short, we are faced with rising temperatures relating to the build up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. To address this, the Paris Climate Change agreement seeks 1.5°C and 2°C commitments. However, if we continue with ineffective mitigation measures, in less than 12 years current emissions will see the 1.5°C aspiration pass by, with the 2°C carbon budget exceeded by the mid 2030s. We need to put long-term planetary stewardship before short-term profit, if our generation is going to bequeath a sustainable planet to our children. 

Scotland can rightly take credit for our radical Climate Change Act, secured with cross party support. However, grand aspirations and ambitious long-term targets need to be backed up by practical action. A new Climate Change Plan should be an opportunity to set out a clear pathway for slashing emissions and building a thriving green economy. Sadly, Parliament found Plan fell remarkably short on new policy action and lacked credibility in key areas like the budget, energy efficiency, cleaner transport and agricultural emissions.

There is public support for stronger action. 99% of people who responded to the consultation want the Government to commit to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and increased action in the next decade with a stronger 2030 target.

On Just Transition, we should welcome the announcement of Just Transition Commission, but again this has to be about more than just process. For example, the growth in renewables has benefited our energy mix, but Scotland has a shockingly poor record on manufacturing jobs associated with renewable energy. Workers in these industries are entitled to expect that Just Transition plans are closely linked to a new industrial strategy. Warm words and vague aspirations don't pay the rent, or put food on the table.

Just Transition plans should build in the principles that livelihoods will be maintained; and training and re-training will be funded. They must also include measures to tackle disadvantage in the labour market.

Practical action should include:

  • A heat map of vulnerable industries and companies.
  • Advance planning, not last minute BiFab style interventions.
  • Links to a green industrial strategy and Fair Work principles.
  • Investment, including the National Investment Bank and pension funds.
  • Community benefit including the use of local supply chains.
  • Recognising that ownership matters, including taking a stake in enterprises to ensure just transition and support for co-operatives.
  • Using public sector procurement to promote transition.

There are international examples of good practice that we can call upon including; Statoil, Alberta coal and the Latrobe Valley in Australia. Canada and New Zealand are also looking to develop Just Transition commissions.


I am concerned that the Scottish Government is planning a very low key Commission model, reporting just to ministers with a short life span. The Commission needs to adopt a social dialogue model with social protections; an independent secretariat and adequate resourcing, not a rehash existing funding pots

It should also report to Parliament as well as ministers, allowing the economy and climate change committees to scrutinise its work. There is a case for putting it on statutory footing in the new Climate Change Act, but at a minimum it must have a balanced membership, with credible people, a realistic work programme and extensive worker engagement.

The Just Transition Partnership will shortly be publishing their detailed proposals for the Just Transition Commission. These proposals will argue that the focus should be on transforming Scotland’s whole economy through driving the transition to low carbon emissions, attending to jobs and job quality and the needs of workers and geographical communities. Setting out what needs to be done and how it can be done expeditiously and with a fair distribution of costs and benefits.