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, 27 August 2014

It's not about us - It's about you (usually)

Two instances stand out this week of how what UNISON does as a union isn’t just about benefitting our members but of making life better for everybody.

UNISON members at the Food Standards Agency – principally meat inspectors were on strike this week. The specifics of their dispute (and they’ve been treated fairly shabbily) are here. I won’t go into precisely what they do either, Dave Watson does thatin a series of blog posts here with illustrations that make tough viewing even for carnivores (ehhhhh yeah thanks for that Dave.)

The other example is cleaners. Here is a group of mostly part-time, mostly female and mostly always badly paid group of workers. They generally don't get much attention,but without them doing their jobs properly most workplaces and facilities would be unusable fairly quickly.The results of a survey we carried out of cleaners from a range of public services has been published as Dishing the Dirt. We asked them about their work not just about wages and living standards (the story there is as depressing as it is unsurprising). But what emerged strongly was that cuts have meant many cleaners in a whole range of buildings are unable to clean to the standard that they used to. They are switched to less efficient cleaning products – examples included being told to use washing up liquid rather than bleach, or even just water. Commonly they now have fewer people cleaning larger areas in less time. No surprise that either it doesn’t all get cleaned or isn’t cleaned to standards it might have previously. Morale needless to say has gone through the floor that’s not quite as spotless as it used to be.

What both these groups highlight is that cuts and pay freezes don’t just have an impact on the workers concerned, but on the public. Even a single glance (and most people won’t take two) of Dave Watson’s slides are enough to make it clear that we want meat inspectors well motivated, happy in their work and conscientious about their responsibilities. Because if these guys don’t find it, we end up eating it. Likewise – we want to be confident that the school our child attends, or the hospital we visit are cleaned to a standard that is hygienic and safe. Better terms and conditions for cleaners will mean cleaner buildings.

We need public services & public services are delivered by people. When UNISON is supporting workers in public services, that helps support the services as well. So the next time you hear anything on the news about UNISON – remember that the benefit of what we are trying to do , probably won’t just be felt by the workers involved, but by the public they deliver services to. So, usually it’s not just about us – it’s about you too.

Cleaners are Worth It

Cleaners are the neglected workers that most of us take for granted. They often begin their shift before or after most of us, but their job is vital to a healthy workplace and in some settings, critical to preventing the spread of infection.

UNISON Scotland has been surveying cleaning staff in areas where we organise to get a picture of how they are faring in the era of cuts and austerity. The report we published, 'Dishing the Dirt' paints a picture of a workforce largely, but far from exclusively, female, mostly part time, and trying simultaneously to deal with an increase workload and wages that don’t go as far as they used to.

A particular impact of the austerity cuts is that standards of cleanliness are declining. Across a range of environments there are complaints of either a lack of cleaning material or of switching to cheaper, less effective cleaning materials. As one NHS cleaner put it:

“Some of our cleaning products have stopped being supplied due to cut backs. We are told to use cold water or hot water with no product added. Hoovers fall apart and are held together with tape.” 

Another concern was work intensification. This usually takes the form of increasing the area to be cleaned without any expansion of working time. The result is that areas are not cleaned to either the standards that cleaners are happy with or that the public should be able to expect. As one school cleaner put it:

“Not enough time for size of area to clean. Was six hours per day between two people, now only me on three hours per day. Raised concerns to supervisor but told just to use initiative and clean what looks dirty. Not constructive answer and adds pressure to daily tasks. I never feel area is clean enough for purpose because of lack of hours”

Cleaners in the public sector have seen their wages cut in real terms by at least 10% due to government pay policy. Even with the welcome application of the Scottish Living Wage, many cleaners have real earnings less than they were a few years ago. The survey shows that cleaners are finding it harder to make ends meet and optimism about the future is in scarce supply. Years of declining living standards have impacted on morale. As a university cleaner put it:

“It has got worse in past three years. The wages don’t change but the cost
of living just seems to go up and up. How can people live healthily when the healthy foods cost so much and the prices keep going up.” 

A particular concern is that nearly one in five cleaners had been in a pensions scheme, but had opted because they couldn’t afford the contributions. This will lead to greater inequality in the long term and higher levels of pensioner poverty.

Employers are not even getting the soft skills right, with many cleaners reporting that they feel under valued. As a college cleaner put it:

“Not very often we get any positive feedback. Doesn’t seem to matter how hard you work, it’s never enough. Only really get comments if something’s wrong.” 

This survey should be a wake up call for employers who are ignoring their hidden workforce. Everyone should be concerned about the impact on hygiene and infection control. Cleaners matter – not just because they have as much right to dignity and respect in the workforce as any manager or Chief Executive. But because the work they do is vital in every respect. This should be recognised, by both ensuring that they are given the environment to do their job properly but also in recognising its value where it is most obvious – in their pay packets. Cleaners are Worth It.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Long term impact of council cuts in Scotland are not being assessed

Cuts might have short-term financial benefits, but negative impacts may take longer to be revealed.
That’s the finding of a new study published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, ‘Assessing the Social and Community Risks of Spending Cuts in Scotland’.
They highlight that councils in Scotland continue to face severe challenges and hard choices in reducing expenditure on services in line with UK public spending cuts. They explore how councils in Scotland can adequately consider social and community risks when making austerity cuts to services and identify barriers to better risk assessment and how to overcome these.
Given the current focus on health and care integration, they also consider opportunities to promote impact assessment through new policies on joint working in health and social care, and community planning partnerships.

As UNISON has pointed out many times, impact assessments are not being used properly. The report states: “Many interviewees admitted that impact assessments were often done after a decision was taken, almost as a ‘loose end’ to be tidied up.”

Key findings include:
  • Not all potential impacts and opportunities will be captured unless they are explicitly articulated as ‘social and community risks’ and considered early as part of the planning process and linked clearly to creative risk mitigation.
  • There is some momentum towards expanding the scope of impact assessments but there is a need for greater leadership, education and the promotion of good practice examples.
  • Offsetting cuts with some investment in reconfigured (and even improved) services can mitigate risks and help support hard decisions about cuts.
  • Simple, challenging questions early in the planning process may be better than producing new extensive guidance.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Council procurement from the third sector

A research report on council procurement with the third sector, highlights some interesting developments in local authority spending in Scotland.

The study was based on a representative sample of five councils in Scotland. This means there should be some caution when extrapolating the data, although there are not dramatic differences between councils.

On average 47% of revenue and capital spending goes externally through procurement, demonstrating that Scottish public spending is not quite the in-house monolith it is often portrayed as. Councils make up half of all public procurement in Scotland.

The research has shown that:

  • The purchasing power of local authorities in Scotland is substantial; between £110m and £453m annually in the councils examined.
  • The Third Sector is now a key supplier to councils. It was found to account for on average 10% of all suppliers in 2012/13 and almost £1 in every £5 spent externally by councils.
  • Third Sector suppliers are more likely than other suppliers to be locally based (and therefore generate local impacts) and more likely to fulfil larger service requirements.

While this is not a longitudinal study, it appears that third sector procurement is increasing. One council had increased the value of purchasing from the sector by 25% over the preceding six years, compared with an overall uplift in its purchasing of 16% over the same period. Interestingly, these third sector suppliers are mostly classified as medium to large organisations, with average payments being just over £100k. Again, not the picture normally portrayed of the sector.

By total value, social care remains the largest category of purchasing from the sector by some margin. For example, the largest of the five councils examined purchased 74% of commissioned social care services from the Third Sector in 2012/13 to a value of £41.2m. Housing management, arts and leisure are also high, but perhaps less obviously so is human resources and clothing.

While this is a limited study, restricted to councils, it does highlight the growing role of the third sector in delivering goods and services to the public sector in Scotland.



Strengthening local democracy

Fifty years of centralisation hasn't solved Scotland's biggest challenges, so let's try strengthening local democracy.

That's the conclusion of the final report of the Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy. It argues that the level of inequality remains intolerable after years of centralisation and has left us with huge social and financial costs. They also identify a link between the absence of strong local democracy and the prevalence of inequalities. It is communities that empower governments at all levels, not governments that empower people.

The report starts by making the case for local democracy. Put simply, they argue that strong local democracy means putting local people in charge of their own lives, and leaving national government to focus on outcomes for the whole of Scotland. They do recognise the countervailing forces of centralisation - consistency, efficiency and public support. As others have put it, one person's postcode lottery reflects another's local circumstances.

The Commission has identified seven principles that they believe provide a powerful basis for renewing Scottish democracy. They have also concluded that the evolution of Scotlands democratic system across the past 50 years has more or less undermined or inverted all these principles, albeit often with good intentions.

It's recommendations start with the need for a fundamental review of the structure, boundaries, functions and democratic arrangements for all local governance in Scotland. They recognise that calling for another review might appear a bit inadequate, but it requires a bottom up engagement on a scale that is outwith the scope of this Commission.

They do however point to different approaches in different parts of Scotland, in particular, between cities and more rural areas - no one size fits all solutions here. They strongly oppose the 'supersizing' of councils and suggest that 60 to 80 councils might be the way forward. This would bring Scotland more in line with the rest of Europe. It should also consider bringing the array of services currently delivered by national quangos under local democratic control, through a 'right to challenge' national delivery. This would also enable councils to connect services more effectively. Where this isn't practical, councils should have the power to veto the local plans of national bodies.

Unsurprisingly, they identify the lack of local fiscal powers as the biggest limitation on local democracy. They recommend that local government should have full local control of the whole suite of property taxes and a general competence to set and raise new taxes, subject only to not duplicating taxes already set elsewhere. This chimes with the Scottish Parliament's call for a cross party approach to council finance and UNISON's own approach.

Another interesting recommendation is making Ministers undertake subsidiarity impact assessmentson national policy and legislation, as a way of restraining the drift to centralisation. This is balanced by a duty on councils to support and resource community participation in all local decision making about tax, spend and service delivery priorities. This means deliberative engagement, not just more consultation. As they say, language is important here. The report captures this as the choice between cedingpower and seedingpower. In other words it is about subsidiarity, not decentralisation.

The report also discusses how the role and powers of local government could be embedded in the constitution, as is the norm elsewhere in Europe. In particular, the European Charter of Local Self Government should be put on a statutory basis within Scotland.

While the Commission's recommendations will take some time to deliver, they helpfully suggest ways in which we could start the journey now. Community planning, decentralisation schemes and other local initiatives offer a way forward to embed a different approach to developing local democracy. The powers already exist to do much of this. However, we need to take the opportunities of additional devolution or independence to ensure that we don't simply swap Holyrood for Westminster. Scotland is few people's definition of local.

In conclusion, the report argues that communities across Europe have enjoyed the benefits of strong local democracy for decades. Scotland must be no different. Real change can create a vibrant new democracy for this century and a stronger, more equal society.

I would argue that there is much in this report that will be welcomed by those who support genuine local democracy. It gets the balance right between recognising that democracy doesn't end in the council chamber and the rather woolly community development approach that risks capture by unrepresentative interest groups. I suspect many will find the lack of firm recommendations in key areas like structure and finance frustrating. However, there is a direction of travel on these issues that is consistent with some well thought through principles. What stands out from the report is the clear articulation of the case for local democracy. It is welcome for that alone.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Lessons not learned from horsemeat scandal

Two new food safety stories highlight, yet again, the importance of strong regulation in the interests of consumers, not profits.

You might have thought lessons would be learned from the horsemeat scandal. You would be wrong. Results of an initial round of DNA testing carried out in butchers’ shops across Ireland has shown that many products labelled Irish do not come from Ireland. The Irish Farmers Association introduced the DNA certified pig meat traceability programme to identify imported pig meat and stop consumers being misled about the origin of pig meat products. An initial survey of butchers shows that over half the products sampled are not Irish.

The UK inquiry into the horsemeat scandal by Chris Elliott, professor of food safety at Queen's University Belfast, was announced by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 16 months ago and was to have been completed by the spring. It is expected to highlight the impact of spending cuts on frontline enforcement and inspection in the food industry, as UNISON has highlighted.

However, The Guardian has discovered that its publication has been blocked amid government concerns that the public would be frightened by the idea that criminals were still able to interfere with their food. They report that he delivered his final conclusions to the government several weeks ago. Publication was scheduled for 22 July, sources say, but the new environment secretary, Liz Truss, blocked it after the cabinet reshuffle.

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, London, said it was scandalous that the horsemeat report had not been published. Taken together with the recent FSA board decision to keep the names of supermarkets and meat processors secret, it marks a sad return to the old style of government that puts food industry ahead of protecting consumers."

These disclosures again emphasise the importance of strong regulation in Scotland, through the Food (Scotland) Bill. It is hardly surprising that the demoralised workforce has also voted to take strike action after a pay offer that is below even the government's miserly pay policy. Consumers and staff deserve better than this.


Women are shut out of the economic recovery

Women, especially those on low pay, are firmly shut out of the economic recovery.

That’s the conclusion of a new report - The changing labour market 2: women, low pay and gender equality in the emerging recovery’, published by the Fawcett Society.

The key findings include:

Since the start of the crisis in 2008, almost a million (826,000) extra women have moved into types of work that are typically low paid and insecure. Since 2008, female under-employment has nearly doubled (to 789,000) and an additional 371,000 women have moved into self-employment, which is typically very low paid. 1 in 8 low paid women now describe themselves as on a zero hours contract.

The increasing levels of women in low paid work, along with the declining value of low pay, is contributing to the widening inequality gap between women and men. Last year the gender pay gap increased for the first time in five years and now stands at 19.1 per cent for all employees.

Low paid women are feeling the cost of living crisis sharply: nearly 1 in 2 say they feel worse off now than five years ago; nearly 1 in 10 have obtained a loan from a pay day lender in the last twelve months; nearly 1 in 12 low paid women with children have obtained food from a food bank in the past twelve months

This report is published on the same day as the Prime Minister announces that all government policies must pass the ‘family test’. You might therefore expect some action on the issues highlighted in the Fawcett Society report. You will be disappointed. The initiative focuses on age ratings for music videos and a throwing a few pennies at the counselling service Relate. Not a mention of the impact of welfare cuts on the family, the closure of sure start centres or the consequences of his austerity economics.

The Fawcett Society report sets out the harsh reality of a Britain the Prime Minister simply doesn’t understand.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Fragmentation leads to poor quality in care services

The latest statistics from the care inspectorate highlight the fragmented nature of care services in Scotland and plenty of poor quality delivery.

There are now more than 62,000 people who receive some form of care in their own home in Scotland. These people are cared for by 814 different registered providers of services, including private firms, councils, the NHS and not-for-profit organisations. This is a level of fragmentation that Scotland has avoided in most other public services, unlike south of the border.

This fragmentation isn't doing much for the quality of service either. The latest report from the Care Inspectorate says: "There was a notable increase in the number of poorly performing services during 2012-13...... Services achieving these very concerning grades generally improve, but these improvements are not always sustained."

More than 100 home-care services for the elderly have been given low ratings for how they are run, one in ten have been rated adequate or below for care and support, 70 have been given low ratings for the quality of staffing. 5% of private companies were graded "unsatisfactory or weak for every theme".

Annette Bruton, chief executive of the Care Inspectorate, told The Herald that the failures should not be tolerated, She said, "We should have a zero-tolerance approach to the quality of care that the most vulnerable people get in our society. We should not tolerate that five per cent failure of service."

Failures include risk assessments not being in place for pensioners, or being carried out by staff who were not qualified. In others, "staffing levels which were clearly insufficient to meet the needs of the individuals" or staff not trained or qualified to carry out the tasks required. The administration of medicines was also found to be unsafe.

Kenny Campbell, a complaints team manager for the Care Inspectorate, said providers did respond to the Care Inspectorate's interventions. "The most common complaints that we see coming through the door are mostly about people not turning up, not turning up on time, not knowing who is going to turn up or the number of different people turning up to give care."

This all reflects the findings in UNISON Scotland's report 'Scotland: It's Time to Care', in which we asked care workers to describe the conditions they have to work in. A rigorous care inspection regime is fine, but what's really needed is a new approach to delivering care in Scotland. That needs proper funding and fair employment standards including the Scottish Living Wage. A less fragmented service would also be an improvement.



Wage growth is needed for a sustainable economic recovery

There are still some very mixed messages on the economy in the latest batch of reports.

Scotland's economy continued to strengthen over the first half of the year, with a forecast to of the strongest year of growth since 2007, according to the Scottish Government's latest State of the Economy report. Output expanded by 1% in the first quarter of 2014, moving beyond pre-recession levels, and business surveys indicate that expansion has continued in the second quarter of the year.

The latest retail sales figures for Scotland increased in the second quarter but at a slower pace than Great Britain as a whole. Data indicated that sales volume grew by 0.8% between April and June and on an annual basis, they were up by 2.9%. In comparison, retail sales in Great Britain increased by 1.6% during the second quarter, and by 4.5% annually.

However, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) said Britain is growing at its slowest pace in a year, following news that the manufacturing sector is performing less strongly than the City expected. NIESR believed the economy expanded by 0.6% in the three months to July, down from 0.8% in the three months to June. Their estimates come after ONS released figures showing manufacturing lagging well behind the service sector in its ability to recoup ground lost during the "great recession" of 2008-09. The ONS said that output from UK factories remained more than 7% below its pre-recession peak. The strong pound is also a concern for exporters.

Increasing growth is also having little impact on wages. The FT highlights that very few have increased the starting salaries they offer, denting hopes for a recovery in wages after six lean years. Just 2% of the 1,000 employers surveyed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported a significant increase in starting salaries. The organisation’s survey of 1,000 employees showed the median pay rise this year was just 2 per cent, down from 2.5 per cent in 2013. The summer Labour Market Outlook (LMO) report also warns that wage growth is expected to remain weak, even though output is growing strongly and the jobs market is buoyant.

Further evidence comes from today's ONS Labour Market statistics. Unemployment in Scotland has fallen by nearly 1% in the last quarter with significantly bigger reductions for women than men.

Irritatingly, there is again no Scottish wage data, but UK data shows that average wages excluding bonuses rose by 0.6% in the year to June, the slowest rise since records began in 2001.

Low average wage rises are an indication of the level of so-called "spare capacity" in the economy. This is the Bank of England's measure of the extent to which the UK economy is underperforming, as a result of a lack of business investment either in hiring new staff, technology or machinery. It is also an important factor in their advice on the timing of any interest rate rise. There is some, albeit outdated, evidence that the wages of full time workers are rising faster than average wages. This might indicate a further shift to part time work.

Francis O'Grady at the TUC sums this up well, "The combination of rising employment and falling pay growth suggests the economy is very good at creating low-paid jobs, but struggling to create the better-paid work we need for a fair and sustainable recovery. Self-employment has been responsible for almost half of the rise in employment over the last year. The fact that self-employed workers generally earn less than employees means our pay crisis is even deeper than previously thought, as their pay is not recorded in official figures. Falling unemployment is always welcome – particularly for young people who are finally starting to find work – but unless the quality of job creation increases Britain’s living standards crisis will continue and people will be locked out of the benefits of recovery."

Overall, it does appear that the economy is recovering slowly. However, better employment numbers still reflects insecure and part-time working. Most importantly, wages are not increasing and that is an essential element of sustainable economic growth.



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Chicken contamination shows that profits come before safety

A recent survey for the Food Standards Agency showed 59% of raw chicken bought at supermarkets contained the potentially deadly bacteria Campylobacter, with 16% being heavily contaminated. This demonstrates, yet again, that the light touch regulation favoured by the UK and Scottish government's is not protecting the consumer.

Campylobacter is the most common form of food poisoning in the UK, affecting more than a quarter of a million people every year. It causes stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhoea and is responsible for more than 100 deaths a year, costing the economy £900m.

Stephen Jardine highlights the regulatory failure in his Scotsman article, "After a decade of trying to get the poultry industry to clean up its act, the Food Standards Agency had promised to name and shame the worst offenders in the first quarter of its year-long survey. However, pressure from the industry has led the FSA to back down". He concludes "Action will only come when culprits are named and shamed, forcing them to act tough with suppliers to protect their market share. Then, and only then, will things really start to change."

Even that bastion of the free market, The Daily Mail, was outraged, "The survey results are a damning indictment of supermarkets, farmers and processors who are putting customers at risk every day of the week"

Food safety experts have highlighted the close links between the industry and regulators. Erik Millstone, professor of science policy at the University of Sussex said, "The FSA has failed to keep its promise to the British public. This means that consumers can no longer trust the FSA to put the interest of consumers ahead of those of the food industry."

Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University, said the FSA had been ‘captured’ by industry interests. "This is a sad day for British food policy. A quarter of a century after the British learned of the extent of contamination of poultry, we are back again with unacceptable levels of food-borne pathogens. Then, it was salmonella. Now, it’s campylobacter."

In June this year, I gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Health Committee on the Food (Scotland) Bill that will create Food Standards Scotland. I highlighted the work of Scottish meat inspectors in preventing over a million instances of diseased animal carcasses from entering the food chain. The FoI data we released included 100,000 chicken tumours. I said, "This shows what a vital job meat inspectors do. We are calling on the Scottish Government to ensure that Food Standards Scotland is focussed on safety of consumers not food industry profits. Meat inspectors and vets must be able to carry out thorough independent inspections, free from food industry influence."

Meat inspectors and environmental health staff have been warning of the implications of deregulation and cuts in food safety for years. To add to the demoralisation caused by unheeded warnings, meat inspectors are now suffering real term cuts to their pay. They are not even getting the miserly government pay policy. Meat inspectors, official veterinarians and support staff employed by the Food Standards Agency have therefore voted for industrial action. That action will have a serious impact on food output.

The food industry hasn't done enough to clean up its act and deregulation has simply encouraged them to put profits before consumer safety. The FSA has been complicit in this process, being far too close to the industry. The Scottish Government has an opportunity through the establishment of Food Standards Scotland to take a new approach. Early signs are not good with the Scottish Parliament passing regulations that allow visual only inspection of pigs.

Hopefully, this latest survey will cause ministers to think again and put the consumer first.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Building a Better Scotland

Scotland has an inadequate and inelastic supply of housing. That’s the conclusion of the RICS Scottish Housing Commission in its report ‘Building a Better Scotland’. They argue that there is not a simple, single factor that can solve this difficulty. Development, planning, design, management, finance and taxation systems, singly and together, all shape Scotland’s housing challenges. A smarter Scottish housing system, with better outcomes, will not emerge from some fast individual measure or sector change.
The report identifies Scotland’s deteriorating housing outcomes: 

    • In the best case scenario, it could take more than 20 years (from 2011/12) before enough new homes equate to the projected increase in new household formations; 
    • Burdens of paying for housing are historically high for both private tenants (23% of their incomes in contrast to 18% a decade ago) and younger home owners face loan to income ratios of 4 to 5; 
    • The number of households in need and applying for social housing is rising sharply, with over 184,000 households on local authority housing lists, whilst social housing output has fallen in the midst of a static vacancy turnover; 
    • More households in need are renting in the more difficult segments of the private rented sector: 190,000 Scots in poverty now reside in the social sector, and 120,000 rely on market rental provision; 
    • The rate of improvement to social housing is falling, and neighbourhood renewal schemes are small in scale in contrast to a decade ago; 
    • Starts in the private sector remain at historically low levels almost everywhere in Scotland; 
    • After the 1997-2007 boom, Scottish house prices fell back in the wake of the global financial crisis (GFC) but largely stabilised by 2012, and are now showing signs of significant annual increases in the range of 5 to 10 percent in areas where employment is recovering. 
Put simply, as UNISON Scotland’s own report ‘Making Homes for a Fairer Scotland’ does - we need to build more homes.

The RICS report makes a series of recommendations:
  1. a Scottish Housing Observatory is established
  2. the Scottish Parliament debates an Annual State of the Scottish Housing Market Report
  3. the post of Housing Minister is elevated to a Cabinet Secretary position
  4. there should be new and continuing assessment of key housing market indicators
  5. the Scottish Government should continue to explore new methods of supporting the housing market to sustain demand
  6. the Scottish Government makes an effective private rental housing market one of the key pillars of the future housing system for Scotland
  7. the Scottish Government shapes a skills programme for planning
  8. the Scottish planning system should deliver at least a 100% increase in effective supply of land for development by 2016, and that all local authorities should be able to demonstrate a 10-year effective land supply as standard
  9. the Scottish Government, in partnership with planning authorities, undertakes a review to assess the nature of existing planning consents in Scotland
  10. the Scottish Government develops a new emphasis on consumer research to inform a local housing systems analysis approach to assessing housing need and demand in Scotland.
  11. the Scottish Government establishes a Scottish Land Delivery Agency (SLDA)
  12. the Scottish Government endorses effective provision in growing areas by enabling the delivery of six to eight major new communities
  13. there is a reduction in VAT to 5% on refurbishment and maintenance building works
  14. the Scottish Government puts in place a change fund for the social housing sector
  15. the Scottish Housing Regulator should take a greater role in effecting system performance knowledge and change in Scotland.
While it is hard to disagree with the thrust of these recommendations, they are very process driven. It may be true that there is not a simple single factor that will solve Scotland’s housing problems, but there are a few absolute essentials. The UNISON Scotland report argues that building more social housing is the most important of these.

The recommendations are also weak on the recent rapid growth of the private rented sector. It largely ignores the need for better regulation and rent controls, at a time when private rents are rising twice as fast as wages. The vast majority of those in private rented accommodation are not there by choice. Only 6% of private renters want to be in that sector, most want a secure social housing tenancy. The campaign group Generation Rent, has recently launched its Renters’ Manifesto that highlights these issues.

Housing policy in Scotland has been diverging from the rest of the UK since devolution and constitutional change, whatever the outcome of the referendum, could enable further change. In particular, the devolution of Housing Benefit provides the scope for a more creative solution. This point has recently been articulated by housing bodies including, CIH, SFHA and Shelter.

The RICS report is therefore a welcome contribution to the debate, but perhaps lacks the radical edge needed to tackle what is a growing housing crisis.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Connecting and deepening public service delivery

Three years ago the Christie Commission reported on ‘The Future Delivery of Public Services’. It was a landmark report that set the direction for reform in Scotland and some core ideas have spread into wider UK thinking on the subject.

I wrote an article in last Friday’s Scotsman that reviewed progress with some of the Commission’s key recommendations. It was a mixed scorecard, with centralisation and insufficient focus on the workforce being the main delivery problems. Government legislation all too often largely ignores the workforce component of service delivery, giving the impression that services are delivered by robots. There is no workforce strategy that creates a framework to stop everyone reinventing the wheel in every service change. The Christie "one public service worker" concept is nowhere to be seen.

A number of Christie concepts can be seen in an interesting IPPR paper, "Many to many: How the relational state will transform public services". While the analysis focuses on English public service reform, the analysis is very similar to Christie.

The authors argue that top down delivery might be appropriate for transactional services, like bin collection. However, other more complex problems require a relational engagement between staff and service users - one that provides continuity and a deeper relationship. Care, early years and maternity services are good examples of this. They also require a cross cutting response from teams drawn from different delivery partners, breaking down the service silos. This was also a key recommendation in the Christie report.

This table explains the differences between transactional and relational services.

While I largely agree with the point they make about relational services, I would disagree that transactional services are best provided with limited differentiation. Christie highlighted the work of systems thinking that show that bottom up design works here as well, albeit in a different way to relational services. Public service users are not always the well connected citizens they might be.

As ever, solutions are more difficult, particularly at time of service cuts. The authors argue for two big reform moves which they call ‘connect’ and ‘deepen’.

First, at the system level, the relational state means managing public services as interconnected systems. This means a decentralisation of budgets to local authorities and city-regions. There should be greater pooling of funding, so that services can take a ‘whole person’ or ‘whole area’ view using integrated multi-disciplinary teams. These teams would get greater frontline autonomy with systems that encourage them to share knowledge and learn from innovation.

Second, at the individual and community level, the relational state means deep relationships instead of shallow transactions. This means linking service users with lead professionals with whom they can develop a relationship over time, such as the same care worker in their home. Professionals would be allocated to neighbourhood-based patches with a single point of contact for users. On the collective level, institutions would be designed in ways that strengthen relationships between citizens and enable them to tackle shared problems together.

The paper gives many examples of where this approach has been adopted in practice. There are parts of the solution, such as the use of league tables, that don’t appear consistent with the overall approach. However, much of this analysis would be familiar to the Christie Commissioners who travelled Scotland to look at similar best practice.

Finally, the paper looks at the political challenges, persuading politicians at the centre to ‘let go’. There is also the cost of building these deeper relationships, although the paper shows how this can be more cost effective in similar ways to the preventative spending concept championed in the Christie report. There is also the challenge of engendering greater civic participation, creating the space for people to help themselves, or co-production in Christie terms.

Three years after the Christie report it is interesting to see others reach similar conclusions. The IPPR report has clearly been influential in Ed Miliband’s thinking around public services. Scotland starts from a different place, but there is much common ground on the best way forward.