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.”

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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.