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, 25 February 2014

Private Sector Fails Again

The recent failures and subsequent closure of the private Hamilton School in Aberdeen show the important role that public services play in protecting us all. While many who opt for private over public provision don’t think they use the public sector its clear that their taxes turn out to be great value when things go wrong.

Investigations by the Care Inspectorate, Police Scotland and Education Scotland uncovered serious risks to children at the school which led to its immediate closure. Not only have these public bodies stepped in and removed the children from a risky situation, the local authority has taken the costly step of opening a building and providing teachers for those children to ensure that there is as little disruption to their education as possible.

The report from Education Scotland is breathtaking and concludes that:

Due to the extreme and serious management failings, along with the endemic, negative ethos within the school, HM Inspectors are not confident that children at the Hamilton School and Nursery are safe. In addition, the wellbeing and welfare of staff is of major concern.
As a result of the on-going and negative impact of ineffective leadership and in the absence of open, fair and accountable arrangements for governance, The Hamilton School and Nursery does not have the capacity to make the wide-ranging and urgent improvements necessary to meet the needs of children and keep them safe and well-looked after.
HM Inspectors recommend that the Registrar for Independent Schools takes immediate and serious action with regard to The Hamilton School including reviewing its registration as an Independent School

The myth of the efficiency and effectiveness of private delivery is well and truly quashed.

Where the private sector fails to deliver essential services the public sector has to step in. This is why everyone must pay a fair share of taxes. You never know when you may need to call on public services, even when you explicitly opt out and choose a private provider, you may like the parents of Hamilton school, be very glad that the public sector came to your rescue.

Equality duty - much more to do.

Passing the equal marriage legislation doesn’t mean job done as far as changing attitudes is concerned. New polling commissioned by Stonewall Scotland shows that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people continue to face discrimination in almost all walks of life.
The report Your Services Your Say shows that LGB&T people in Scotland still expect to face poor treatment from hospitals, police, schools and other local services.
Almost half (48%) of the 1,000 LGB&T people surveyed by YouGov expected they would face discrimination from fostering and adoption agencies when applying to become parents.  Sixty-seven per cent of LGB&T people think their child would experience bullying in primary school if it were known that they had LGB&T parents.
These concerns are reflected across other public services, with more than a third (36%) of LGB&T people saying they would not feel confident reporting a hate crime directly to the police and more than one in five (22%) saying they would feel uncomfortable being open about their sexual orientation or gender identity with NHS staff.  More than half of LGB&T people think they would be discriminated against in a construction and engineering apprenticeship and eighty per cent stated that they have never been consulted about their needs by local public service providers.
Director of Stonewall Scotland Colin Macfarlane said: ‘This report, the most comprehensive of its kind to be published in Scotland, starkly demonstrates that changing laws doesn’t change attitudes overnight. LGB&T taxpayers contribute millions to the cost of Scotland’s public services. They should be able to have confidence that they’ll receive the services they need when accessing hospitals, schools and policing and this report should provide Scotland’s public services with an insight into the needs of LGB&T people. It is time that their needs, both as citizens and service-users, were properly met.’
This report is also a clear indication that the implementation of the public sector equality duty still has some way to go. In many areas it remains little more than a tick box exercise.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Scotland - It's Time to Care!

The care of older people in Scotland is a national disgrace. Fairly paid, well-trained staff on proper contracts with time to care is the very least older people in our communities have a right to expect.

Today, I was speaking in a panel debate at Scotland’s voluntary sector event ‘The Gathering’, on this issue. UNISON Scotland has also today published a new survey of care staff, ‘Scotland – It’s Time to Care’.

Like others in the sector I have written reports highlighting staffing levels, budgets, structures and care strategies. Words have been written and numbers crunched – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. I participated in a couple of focus groups made up of care workers last year and the messages from the workers who provide care were deeply disturbing. They painted a picture of care in Scotland that nobody would want for their elderly relatives, including my own.

I summarised a key impact of poor employment standards when giving evidence to a Scottish Parliament Committee considering the Procurement Bill:

“The other day, I was doing a focus group with a group of care workers and I said to those who were on zero-hours or nominal-hours contracts, “Would you raise health and safety issues with your employer?” They said, “We’re on these contracts. If we raise health and safety issues, we will not be asked back.” That is exactly the position that colleagues were in with blacklisting. Sadly, when I then asked them, “What if you saw care abuse?”, they said, “We’d be pretty reluctant to raise that as well, to be honest, for the same reason.” People on zero-hours or nominal-hours contracts who raise difficult questions do not get asked back, and people are concerned about that.”

Having experienced those messages first hand I decided we would ask a much larger group of care workers and the outcome of that work is in today’s report. This report gives staff at the front line of care delivery the chance to tell their story about care in Scotland and it doesn’t make comfortable reading.

The majority of workers believe the service is not sufficient to meet the needs of the elderly and vulnerable people they care for – both from the time they can spend and the quality of care they can provide. Almost half of carers (44%) said they were limited to specific times to spend with their clients. One in two workers are not reimbursed for travelling between client visits, while three in four said they expected the situation to get worse over the coming year. They also revealed that one in ten are on zero hours contracts.

Time to do more than just deliver a few manual tasks was important to staff and the people they care for. As one worker put it, “By doing the best that we can with the time given. I'll admit I sometimes miss out a job so that I can sit for two minutes with the person receiving care. That means more to them than the dishes needing dried.”

Adequate training is another concern, particularly for newly appointed younger staff. One said: “Staff are not receiving the training they need to carry out their roles, only the training which is low cost or has been identified as core.”

The isolating impact of personalisation was often mentioned and the threat of losing contracts if they make a fuss. One worker said: “Stop threatening charities indirectly that you will take the SDS contracts away from them and move to another provider if workers challenge decisions...Being told by management this is the case and we all must be quiet even though the workers sole concern is for the service user they care for and want the best for them.”

All of this adds up to staff stress and higher turnover that results in limited continuity of care. As another worker put it: “I feel the staff in our organisation are paid pretty poorly for the standard of work they are expected to provide. This means we often have difficulty in recruitment and cannot attract a quantity and more importantly a 'quality' of staff. It can be hard to keep experienced, well trained staff as staff shortages and low wages lead to overwork, stress and dissatisfaction to a point were employees resign.”

These are the stories of front line workers that illustrate, all to clearly, what we guessed from the hard evidence. This report should be a wake-up call for the Scottish Government and commissioning bodies to take action to end the race to the bottom in care provision. Procurement action should include a requirement that all care provision should mandate:

• The Scottish Living Wage: this will help the recruitment and retention of staff and support continuity of care;
• Improved training: to ensure that care is delivered by properly qualified staff;
• Proper employment standards: ending the abuse of zero and nominal hour contracts;
• Adequate time to care in every care visit.

Scotland’s older people and others, who rely on our care services, deserve better.

Monday, 17 February 2014

The Relational State - a new approach to public service reform

A new IPPR report 'The Relational State' argues that we need to radically reconfigure our public services so they are better able to tackle the complex challenges we face, and meet changing public expectations.

Public service reform has relied too heavily on the use of bureaucratic and market-based tools (primarily in England) that are ill-equipped to deal with a growing range of complex problems, from chronic disease to long-term unemployment. This report sets out a new agenda for public service reform – one that is better able to deal with this complexity, by devolving power, connecting services and deepening relationships.

The two predominant methods by which government has sought to run public services – bureaucracy and markets – are both predicated on assumptions of a relatively simple world in which most problems have a small number of causes which interact in a linear fashion. Such problems – how to collect the bins, for example, or reduce hospital waiting times – can be very effectively tackled by top-down plans and simple market incentives. The difficulty is that public services are increasingly expected to tackle a growing range of ‘complex problems’ – examples of which include antisocial behaviour, chronic ill-health, large numbers of young people not in education employment or training (NEETs), and long-term unemployment. Such problems consume a growing proportion of public expenditure. They have multiple, non-linear and interconnected causes that feed off one another in unpredictable ways, and are precisely the problems that the governments of all the advanced economies struggle to address effectively.

The IPPR report recommends five big steps at national level:

• A decentralisation of budgets to local authorities and city-regions to unlock innovation, improve responsiveness and break down silos.

• Allowing greater pooling of funding, so that services can take a ‘whole person’ or ‘whole area’ view.

• Enabling greater integration of professionals into multi-disciplinary teams.

• Greater frontline autonomy combined with accountability for outcomes achieved, such as through the publication of performance tables that rank providers.

• Expanding new collaborative infrastructures such as school chains, so that providers can share knowledge and learn from innovation.

The report also sets out measures to ensure that at the individual and community level, the relational state means deep relationships instead of shallow transactions.

Ed Miliband’s recent speech on public service reform covered similar ground. While the Scottish Parliament is legislating for greater integration of health and care services through the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Bill, it retains strong centralising provisions that fall a long way short of the ideas in this report.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Child poverty fell twice as fast in Scotland compared to England in ten years to 2012

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has published a briefing on how child poverty in Scotland has changed compared to England in the last decade. The good news is quite a bit, largely because more couples have moved into full working in Scotland. However, Child poverty in workless families in Scotland remains high, and changes to benefits from 2012 are likely to have increased it further.

The key points in the briefing are:

• In the ten years to 2011/12, the proportion of children in poverty in Scotland fell ten percentage points on both the ‘before’ and ‘after’ housing costs measures – about twice the fall in England (six and three percentage points respectively).

• Much of the fall in child poverty in both Scotland and England is due to a fall in the high poverty rate among lone-parent families. This is likely to be due to a net improvement in employment rates compared with ten years ago, and policies – both UK-wide and Scotland-specific – that have sought to address poverty in this group.

• Much of Scotland’s additional fall in child poverty is due to a drop in poverty among working-couple parents. This is partly due to this group’s shift towards ‘full’ working (where both adults are in work and at least one of them is working full-time). This has not happened in England.

• Despite this success, poverty for children in workless families in Scotland remains high. Changes to benefits from 2012 are likely to have increased it further. The Scottish Government only has limited powers to intervene on welfare reforms. However, moves such as absorbing the cut to Council Tax Benefit and replacing the abolished components of the social fund will have mitigated some of the impacts.

• Scotland’s challenge is to find a route out of poverty for the many families that experience periods when work is not an option (for example: due to ill-health, caring responsibilities, disability, skills).

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Better to invest in public services

A couple of news stories this week illustrate all to clearly why it's better to invest in public services than roll back the state as the Tories are doing.

Today we have the Prime Minister telling us, "Whatever money is needed, we will spend it”, as another 1000 homes are evacuated. UK Ministers fall over themselves to blame anybody other than themselves for their inadequate response. But the real lesson is not emergency responses, but rather why are we not investing in the services needed to prevent problems like this. 

As the PM himself said today, "We are a wealthy country”. Tell that to his climate change denying Chancellor. 

Our television screens have been full of communities pulling together in an effort to help themselves. However, the relief on one person's face when the public services arrived was all too clear. A wide range of public service staff have been working beyond the call of duty to help their local communities. The problem is, that if the Tories get their way and roll back the state, those staff may not be there next time.

Another story illustrates, on a more mundane level, a similar failure to invest. In what is becoming an annual story, Scottish councils spend £1600 a day compensating car owners for the damage caused by pot holes that they don’t have the funding to repair. Rather than compensating, we should be investing in council services. This is particularly true this week as many councils cut their budgets as a consequence of the latest government grant cuts.

The key lesson from these stories is that austerity economics don’t add up. Good quality public services and preventative spending makes economic sense.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Workers missing out on the economic recovery

The Living Wage Commission has published an analysis of low pay and working poverty with a warning that 1 in 5 working people could miss out on the economic recovery.

The report highlights the changing nature of poverty in the UK with the fact that for the first time the majority of people in poverty are in a household where at least one person works. Some of the findings include:

• The number of people paid below a Living Wage (£7.65 an hour and £8.80 in London) has increased by 9%, or 400,000, in the last 12 months.
• Housing costs have tripled in the last 15 years, one and a half times the amount by which wages have risen. Electricity, gas and water bills have risen 88% in the last five years.
• A Living Wage employee gets nearly double the amount of family time during a typical working week as somebody on the National Minimum Wage
• Prices of ‘everyday’ items have risen faster than high priced goods. For example, food costs 44% more than in 2005 and energy costs have more than doubled, while vehicle costs have remained stable and the cost of audiovisual equipment has halved.

The regional analysis shows that 435,000 workers in Scotland, 20% of the workforce, earn less than the living wage.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Economic recovery is sluggish by historical standards

The latest economic report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) puts a realistic dampener on the economic recovery for most workers.

They say workers will have to wait six more years before their inflation-adjusted wages are back at pre-crisis levels. Average real wages are still at 2004 levels and it will take until 2020 before they return to their 2009 peak. They also warn that the gradual rise in wages could take even longer if Britain's productivity performance, which has been "abysmal" in recent years, did not improve. This reinforces the warnings we highlighted last month when the latest unemployment figures were released.

NIESR identify consumer spending as the main driver for growth, which is expected to rise by 3.4% this year. This is largely a product of a housing bubble, particularly in the south, encouraged by government schemes such as Help to Buy. While average UK house prices will rise by 6.3% in 2014, it is then expected to almost halve to 3.2% in 2015, and to between 0.5% and 1% per year over the period 2016 to 2018.

This domestic growth masks poor export performance, as domestic demand for UK and imported goods outweighs foreign demand for UK goods. NIESR said; "In the near term, we expect the deficit on the UK's external trade balance to widen."

They are not expecting any increase in interest rates, despite better headline employment figures. That at least will be good news for house owners.

Overall the report predicts global growth of 3.7% in 2014 and 2015 - an improvement on growth of 3.1% last year, "but still a sluggish recovery by historical standards". 

The legacy of austerity economics is clearly going to be with us for some time.

Friday, 7 February 2014

School support staff do make a difference

New research shows the value of pupil support staff in schools - particularly for pupils with low attainment levels or from disadvantaged groups.

The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), a UK charity set up in partnership with the Sutton Trust has published the first of six reports funded by the English department of education. Another 66 studies involving 450,000 children are ongoing at one in ten schools in England. The studies – based on trials with 6,800 pupils at 238 schools – focused on programmes to help children at risk of arriving at secondary school without the level of literacy and numeracy expected of them. Some of the programmes were seen to be more effective than others.

One report called Catch-up Numeracy, an intervention in which pupils struggling with maths had two 15-minute sessions a week for 30 weeks, found that the one-to-one time with teaching assistants led to a significant gain in numeracy skills.

The research shows that Teaching assistants can help children improve literacy and numeracy skills if they work in small groups with specific pupils known to have low attainment levels. The findings appear to contradict previous research on teaching assistants, which had suggested that they did little to help struggling children.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Slow progress on improving care for older people

Reform of care for Scotland's older people needs to accelerate according to Audit Scotland.

As the Public Bodies (Joint Working) Bill moves towards the end of its legislative journey, Audit Scotland's report 'Reshaping care for older people' is a timely reminder of the challenges. Moving the managerial deck chairs around is only a small part of the solution.

The report reviews progress three years into the Scottish Government's ten-year plan to improve health and social services for people aged 65 or over. It is one of Scotland's biggest and most complex programmes and involves NHS, local government, voluntary and private bodies. The Government is supporting it with a four-year, £300 million Change Fund.

The report says:

• Improving care for older people and joining up services has been a policy focus for several years but progress has been slow, and monitoring of its implementation and impact needs to improve

• The Scottish Government needs to work with its partners to clearly plan how resources will move from institutions such as hospitals into the community. They also need to better understand why activity and spending on services for older people varies across Scotland

• The Change Fund has brought bodies from the different sectors together to develop and agree joint local plans to improve care, and a number of local initiatives are underway

• The information needed to make decisions and assess their impact on older people is not nationally available. Bodies need to improve and maintain data on costs, activity and outcomes for health and care services.

As usual with Audit Scotland reports, they are strong on analysis, bringing together the available data in a presentable format. This info graphic sets out the key data very helpfully.

The weakness is that the recommendations focus on getting public bodies to produce more data. Important though this is - it misses where the key focus needs to be.

For example, the funding of additional community care is almost entirely missing from the financial memorandum to the Bill. It has been assumed (Christie Commission) that the funding is coming from reducing unplanned admissions to hospital, calculated at £1.5bn. However, health boards are now arguing that far from reducing beds, they need more, and the Health Secretary has said he agrees.

The next problem is that care for older people in the community is little short of a national disgrace. The big numbers in this report do not reflect the problems facing home care staff in particular. Many are paid well below the living wage, employed on zero or nominal-hours contracts and given insufficient time to provide a quality service. The BBC File on 4 programme covered the cost of delivering care in England earlier this week. The same problems are all too evident in Scotland.

Numbers in this report are useful, but quality outcomes are more important.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Transforming Scotland Through Free Childcare

Last September we blogged on two reports from Save the Children and IPPR on how what parents need and want from childcare. UNISON is a long term supporter of free publically delivered childcare as a route to transform Scotland.We are therefore delighted that the debate in Scotland has now moved on to “when” rather than “if” for free childcare.

UNISON represents workers who need childcare and workers who deliver the childcare. This largely female workforce faces all the same challenges as other working women in balancing their own caring responsibilities with work and the high costs of childcare. That is why UNISON believes that the promised expansion of childcare has to be publically funded and delivered. Free childcare cannot free some women through supporting them to work and develop their careers while condemning other to long hours on low pay working in childcare.

Delivery will require substantial funding. We know this will pay for itself through increased tax revenues and cuts in benefits spending. Childcare workers need flexible part-time working. Many choose this work because it fits in with their own caring responsibilities. There needs to be a substantial increase in staff numbers to cope with both the extra hours the current children will now attend for but also the extra children who take up the service. As many will want to work part-time the number of actual people will be higher than the FTE figure. We are therefore not convinced that the number of staff required to deliver expanded childcare is being properly calculated and costed.

Quality of childcare depends on the skills of those who work there. This will require training and ongoing professional development. Pay must reflect the skills and experience required to do the job. Cuts and centralisation in FE will impact on colleges’ ability to delivery this training. Meeting even the longer term aspirations requires investment and planning now.

The childcare workforce, particularly in the private sector, is not well paid. The skills required to deliver high quality childcare, as with much work traditionally done by women, are not widely recognised or rewarded in the market. There has been progress in the public sector and one of the key reasons for our support for ensuring that the public sector delivers childcare is to ensure that this is not pulled back by expanding the low paid private sector.

Gender segregation in the workforce and its impact on the gender pay gap is a key issue in Scotland and just as there needs to be support for girls in schools to consider a wider set of job options, boys should also be encouraged to consider childcare as a career.

Free publically delivered childcare can transform Scotland. With proper investment it offers the opportunity to take pressure off families by enabling more women to take up paid work and ensuring they have more of their pay to spend or save. This will also ensure that working mothers can continue to pay into pensions, preventing poverty in old age. More than that through creating high quality care and education and seamless transitions through to school it will give children the best possible start in life. This will bring savings to a range of public services in both the short and long term. There is a lot more to be won than cutting the benefits bill and increased income through taxation.

Making work better

The Smith Institute is undertaking an independent inquiry to identify what government, employers, employees (and those that represent them) can do to improve working life in Britain. The focus is on what makes for a better workplace and better employment. What government policies and actions by employers, management and unions would make a difference; and how can we aspire to a high-skills, high-productivity, high-wage economy where more people are satisfied with their work and have greater opportunities and more control over what they do?

Amongst the topics for consideration are:

 Productivity and performance: Both employers and employees should be the beneficiaries of rising productivity. Which workplace practices are associated with high productivity? How widespread are these practices in the UK? To what extent is productivity related to voice and industrial citizenship? Are highly productive workplaces necessarily good workplaces? What steps are needed to ensure that wages rise in line with productivity?
 Making a living: What can be done to tackle in-work poverty and improve pay for those on low to middle incomes? How can the National Minimum Wage and other employment rights (equal pay) be enforced more effectively? What other measures might be taken, such as extending the Living Wage to more low paid workers? Is there a case for a new and systematic approach to standard setting in public procurement (“Fair Wages”)? What can be done to secure more ‘passporting’ or rights and benefits at work?
 Opportunity and progression: What can be done to enhance the quality and value of employment and improve personal development at work? How can we get more young people into (suitable) work and what should be done about volunteering and unpaid internships? How can we improve opportunities for promotion and career advancement? What can we learn from training systems in other countries; what can be done to ensure that employers fully utilise the skills of all their staff? How can we best combat discrimination at work?
 Getting people back to work: As we move out of recession how can we get more people back to work and combat under-employment? At the bottom of the labour market there seems to be a revolving door from unemployment, to bad work, to unemployment. Do other countries achieve better results through their unemployment insurance systems and active labour market programmes? How can we improve the apprenticeships system and graduate employment?
 Security at work and work-life balance: How can policy tackle long-hours cultures and the lack of good quality part time jobs? How big a problem is casualisation of work and what can be done to combat zero-hours contracts? Is poor corporate governance and boardroom culture at the root of the problem, and if so what should change? What can be done to ensure that men and women share paid and unpaid work more equitably? How can we ensure that workers are offered a range of working patterns consistent with their caring and other domestic responsibilities?
 Working in the public services: What should be done to improve the quality of work across the public services so that job quality and organisational performance are enhanced at a time of public expenditure constraints? How can frontline professionals be empowered to innovate and be given an effective voice; how can the public sector be a leader on standards of employment?
 Employment relations: What are the barriers to employee engagement? How can policy support innovative trade union approaches to the modern workplace? What can we learn from good practice in the UK and Europe? Is there a case for developing a robust works council system in the UK?
 Machinery of government: is there a case for reforming and streamlining the different institutions, agencies and regulatory bodies involved with the world of work? Is there a need for a tougher (co-ordinated) approach to enforcement and compliance?

Comments to:

Making Work Better Inquiry
C/O The Smith Institute
Somerset House, South Wing
Strand, London, WC2R 1LA
Tel: 020 7845 5845
Email: makingworkbetter@smith-institute.org.uk
Web: www.smith-institute.org.uk