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.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Audit Scotland’s accountancy speak can’t hide the increasing strain in further education.

 Their latest report states that colleges are “operating within and increasingly tight financial environment”. The sector wide position is challenging but viewing it from that perspective is also masking the sever challenges in some colleges. Twelve colleges are predicting a recurring financial deficits by 2022-23.

While the government can claim to have given colleges some extra cash, this was funding to cover the additional costs of harmonising pay and conditions across the sector following the recent reorganisation of the sector. This does not cover cost of living increases for staff or the extra employer pension costs.

There are also shortages in the capital budget compared to the estimated maintenance costs and the proportion of non-government income generated by colleges is reducing.

The sector continues to change with increasing student numbers. Colleges are changing focus with more learning being provided for over 25s and less for those aged 16-24. The proportion of learning delivered to those from deprived areas has begun to fall after several years on increasing.

While there is considerable variation across colleges for attainment and retention and those going on to so-called positive destinations. Average rates have been relatively static. The attainment rate of 66% for full-time students is still well below the Scottish Funding Council (SFC)  target of 75% by 20-21. There is still an attainment gap for students from the most deprived backgrounds and those with disabilities or who are care experienced.

Audit Scotland is calling on colleges to “underlying financial position with the SFC prior to publishing their accounts and improve data collection round student satisfaction as well as publishing that data. They also call on the government to agree a medium term capital investment strategy for ten sector and review college targets in the light of current trends.

Most importantly they call on government and colleges to work together to deliver performance improvement and therefore meet agreed targets. 

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Improving Line Management

A good line manager improves workers lives and the effectiveness of the organisation they work for.

These are the findings of the latest TUC  research into line management and the impact of good and bad practice on workers and productivity.  Line managers have a huge influence on our working lives and so are vital to any discussions about good work. So it is interesting to hear from workers about their line managers.

The report finds that line managers' strengths lie in trusting people to get on with their jobs and setting out clear expectations. Where they appear to struggle are things like helping boost workers moral, ensuring workers know their rights and actively making workers feel supported.

The report is particularly interesting when read alongside UNISON's Damage reports where workers consistently tell us that where things are good in their workplace it is about the support they get in the workplace to help cope with cuts and when morale is low poor management makes things worse.

The report is in four sections
  • why line management matters
  • workers views on line management
  • why line management isn't as good as it could be in the UK 
  • recommendations for improvement 

The report also shows the lack of diversity in management: 58% of managers are male compared to 51% of all employees. Only down 2% since the 1960s. It's not just sex: white men aged 30 to 59 make up 29% of employees but 43% of managers.

Answers to the survey indicate that a third of workers don't feel comfortable approaching their line manager about work issues and one in ten definitely wouldn't. Only about one fifth of workers think "my line manager wants what's best for me". There is also a section on the lack of training provided for line managers to develop their management skills, which perhaps explains the earlier findings.

In order to move to a more worker focused culture, which will improve workers lives and organisational performance the TUC is calling for:

Better enforcement of workers' rights
better access to training for all staff
access fro trade unions to workplaces
fair performance management procedures

Friday, 1 March 2019

Private Sector Wastes Public Money Shock

It’s BOGOF on failed privatisations today with 2 reports highlighting the costly waste involved in outsourcing.

The National Audit Office are focused on the failed privatisation in the probation service while the Public Accounts Committee reports on Capita’s failings in recruitment for the British Army. Sadly the billions wasted on outsourcing and privatisation still doesn’t appear to dampen the enthusiasm, amongst its clearly ideologically driven supporters, for throwing public money away on these projects

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) decided that the best way to reduce re-offending was to create 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRC) to manage low to medium risk offenders. In 2015 the CRCs were then transferred to eight (mainly) private sector contractors. As ever with these schemes there were predictions of marvellous savings and £10.4b “net economic benefits to society“over the seven year contacts.

Four years in the contacts are ending 14 months early. The MoJ is paying £467m more than planned in the original contracts. This will mean costs of £2.3bn which while less than expected, (no point in throwing more money at failure) is money spent for little if any progress on improving the service.
While there was a 2.5% reduction in the proportion of “proven re-offenders” since 2011 there was a 22% increase in the number of proven offences per re-offender over the same period. There was an expectation that re-offending would reduce by 3.7% but only 6 of the 21 CRC achieved a statistically significant reduction. The Public Accounts Committee report is equally sorry reading. They state that
“the British Army naively launched into a 10 year partnership with Capita”. As is frequently the case with outsourcing Capita didn’t really understand just how complex a task they were taking on and their performance has been “abysmal since it started”.

The online recruitment system was four years late, and Capita have failed to meet the recruitment target every year. There is little evidence that the forecast savings (£267m over 10 years) will be achieved. The costs to the army have increased from £405m to £677m and plans to meet the savings targets involve redeploying soldiers to do the work Capita have been paid for.

It’s the same old story: glittery promises of savings, private companies thinking that the public sector is full of waste so that they can easily introduce slick new systems and then the slow realisation that it’s all a bit trickier than they thought followed by increased costs and failure. We really need to stop falling for the slick sales pitches and wasting money of these failed projects. 

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Cut to Bone

There just isn't enough money in the local government budget to meet the needs of our citizens. Last week's budget debate focused on the big numbers and the now annual smoke and mirrors routine claiming a good deal for local government. The annual benchmark report shows exactly what's happening to funding for individual services. This is more of a horror story.

Total revenue funding for councils has fallen by 8% in real terms across the 8 years the report focuses on. Spending on teacher numbers and social care has been relatively protected. Education and social care make up 70% of expenditure within the bench-marking framework so this means substantial cuts have had to fall on other areas. 
  •  a 22% reduction in culture and leisure spending
  • a 34% reduction in planning
  • almost 15% reduction in roads spending and 
  • almost 10% in environmental services spending

Children's Services 

 The education budget has reduced by 2.5% since 2010/11 but the number of primary school pupils and pre-school registrations has increased by 30,000. So it doesn't take a degree in accountancy to see that is a big cut in the money available for each pupil. The numbers people tell us that total spending on primary and secondary education has grown in cash terms the real spend per pupil has fallen since 2010/11. (8% for primary and 4% for secondary) It will come as no surprise that satisfaction with schools has fallen for the sixth year in a row.

Adult Social Care 

Total social care spending has grown by 10% since 2010/11 although spending on home and residential care for older people has fallen as a percentage of that total. 
Although the number of hours of home care has been relatively static spending on home care has risen by 15% since 2010/11. Much of this will be due to moving towards paying staff teh living wage. Spending on residential care has fallen by over 12% although the number of residents has only fallen by 2%. 

Culture and Leisure Services

 Culture and leisure services have seen substantial increases in demand alongside a 22% spending cut. Sports facilities have increased visitor numbers by 19% , libraries by 36% and museums by 29% over the period analysed. Numbers have fallen over the last year though. Perhaps a reflection on the impact of budget cuts? Spending on parks has also reduced by 5% . Public satisfaction rates have fallen for all culture and leisure services in the last 12 months. 

Environmental Services

Despite the direct importance of these services to the health and safety of citizens real spending has reduced by 10%. Waste management has been cut by 3% and street cleaning by a massive 27%. Preventive services like trading standards and environmental health have been cut by 18%. Spending on roads has fallen by 15%. 

There is no doubt that local government has experienced substantial cuts to its budget and ability to deliver services to the public.UNISON's Damage reports allow you to hear directly from the staff about the impact of these cuts. They are available here 

Friday, 25 January 2019

Failing Our Children

The Conversation has an article this morning about the problems faced by children with autism in schools. In Scotland the high hopes of those (including UNISON) who supported the 2000 Act around mainstreaming of pupils with additional support needs (ASN) have clearly not been realised. The needs of children with ASN are not being fully met in our schools or early years settings.

While children with additional support needs now attend mainstream schools many are far from being mainstreamed into school life. The policy has not been supported with adequate funding for the learning support, healthcare needs and behavioural support that children need. There have been cuts to support staff numbers as well as specialist like educational psychologists and social workers.

There is also widespread misunderstanding about who is actually providing support for children with ASN on a day-to-day basis. Classroom assistants provide the majority of their support and those (mainly) women do not get adequate training, support or pay for the work they undertake. School nurses are not part of a school’s staff complement: pupils’ healthcare needs are taken care of by support staff. Pupils with challenging behaviour are also most often supported by school staff not teachers. Schools need appropriate funding for both the day-to-day delivery of specialist support and for training and professional development for all the staff.

Unsurprisingly the lack of proper support means that there are increasing problems with challenging behaviour, including violence. Staff are very concerned about the violence they experience in schools and the lack of support they receive from employers after an incident has taken place. Many report that they are told that it is just “part of their job”. Reporting systems are inadequate and many incidents go unrecorded. Even when reported there is little if any assessment of what happened or action taken to avoid a repeat. No one should be expected to be the victim of violence as part of their job.
The following are the incidents recorded by local authorities in the 2017/18 (not all authorities give separate figures for education):
Aberdeen City – Education Services - 244 physical assaults, 188 Staff Verbal
Aberdeenshire Education & Children’s Service 544(employee) 70 (non employee) Violent Incident
South Ayrshire – Education –56 verbal, 77 physical, 65 verbal & physical, 9 threatening behaviour
Renfrewshire –68 Classroom assistant, 21 nursery officer, 166 Teacher -physical/verbal
West Dunbartonshire – 95 education physical assaults
West Lothian - Education, Pupil support worker 709 incidents, Education, Teacher 402 incidents
Dumfries &Galloway – 463 violent incidents
Clackmannanshire - Teaching Staff 53/32physical 21 verbal, school Staff 78 physical /21 verbal
Stirling – Schools & Learning - 194 physical assaults on employees
City of Edinburgh :Early Years Officer 3 violence with injury 1 violence with no injury Early Years Practitioner 28 violence with injury 16 violence with no injury
Learning Assistant 26 violence with injury 8 violence with no injury
Nursery Nurse 125 violence with injury 47 violence with no injury
Teacher-Nursery 2 violence with injury 2 violence with no injury
Teacher-Primary78 violence with injury 43 violence with no injury
Teacher-Secondary 4 violence with injury 7 violence with no injury
Teacher-Special 122 violence with injury 24 violence no with injury

Violence is not a minor issue. Action needs to be taken to ensure that incidents are reviewed, that staff are given adequate ongoing support including counselling and adequate time out to recover. Incidents must be properly investigated. There needs to be action in terms of appropriate staffing going forward and specific support for the child. Other children also need to be protected from unacceptable behaviour. Accepting violence in schools fails the children who exhibit violent behaviour as much as it fails everyone else involved. They need support to express themselves in a more appropriate manner. It is those pupils who have most to gain from school leaders reacting properly to violent incidents with full risk assessments and then taking action to deal with the issues identified.

Schools are struggling to meet the needs of pupils because of budget cuts. On top of cuts to resources demand is rising, adding additional pressure. The number of pupils with additional support needs has doubled since 2010 but there are 1841 fewer support staff in local authorities. It is clear that cuts to support staff in schools and to “expert advice” services such as educational psychologists who could support staff and pupils directly is having an impact on the whole school not just children with identified support needs.

If next week’s budget cuts local government funding as proposed things will only get worse.

My earlier report Hard Lessons on the impact of cuts on school staff is available here

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.