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.

Monday, 22 September 2014

World leaders urged to follow Scotland’s ambitious climate laws

As world leaders gather to discuss climate change tomorrow in New York, campaigners today urged them to follow Scotland in committing to ambitious legislation to cut greenhouse emissions.

Stop Climate Chaos Scotland launched a short film documenting how thousands of ordinary people, concerned about the risk to our planet, lobbied politicians here, resulting in unanimously passed world leading legislation.

The Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 set legally binding targets of cutting emissions by 42% by 2020 and 80% by 2050, compared to 1990 levels. The targets also include Scotland’s share of targets from international aviation and shipping.

UNISON Scotland joined today on social media with other members of SCCS in promoting the film and a briefing to inspire other countries to be ambitious themselves, and together in a new global agreement.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Making access to information a real right - @CampaignFoI event

Human rights laws could be used to get round problems with Scottish Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation. 

When you think of human rights, access to information may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but being able to find out what public bodies are doing in our name is in fact absolutely essential.

Freedom of Information (FoI) campaigners in Scotland will focus on the connection, and how to make use of it, at a free event to mark International Right to Know Day (IR2KD) later this month. 

The day, on 28 September, has been celebrated around the world for 11 years. 

The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland says IR2KD is “rooted in the belief that the right to know is a human right - but is also a vehicle for accessing other rights, such as forming an opinion, participating in free and fair elections and in public affairs generally.” 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Food safety is abandoned to meat industry profits

With more than 60% of chickens in the UK infected with a food poisoning bug, you might have expected the UK’s food safety watchdog to be tightening up inspections. Instead they are allowing the meat industry to inspect their own poultry, akin to paying students to mark their own exam papers.
Since 1994, the FSA at the behest of the meat industry has been deregulating the independent inspection of poultry. 37 of the 87 poultry plants throughout the UK have employed their own meat inspectors and the FSA’s latest plans will finish the job.
This comes after the Scottish Parliament approved the visual only inspection of pigs, bringing Scotland in line with the rest of the UK. This means tumours and abscesses will be minced into the sausages and pies we eat. The meat industry lobby works here as well!
Meat inspectors across Europe have warned that the latest measures would place public health in grave danger. According to FSA figures, more than 60% of chickens in the UK are infected with the campylobacter food poisoning bug, which on average kills 110 people each year and results in 22,000 people being treated in hospital. As we highlighted last month, the FSA was heavily criticised for backtracking on a decision to 'name and shame' retailers and abattoirs during a year-long testing programme on retail chicken for campylobacter.
This is all in addition to food fraud, another issue the FSA has ducked. Food mis-labelling is widespread, as is the practice of substituting premium commodity products in whole or in part with cheaper ingredients.
Giving the industry carte blanche to inspect its own products is yet another cynical attempt at privatisation which would save the industry money at the expense of public safety. Nobody should have to worry about eating food containing tumours, faeces, abscesses and other contaminants.
There has been no consultation in Scotland or the rest of the UK over these plans. Official controls currently in place to protect consumers from eating contaminated meat, cost each person in the UK just 38p per year.  A small price to pay for safe food.
Many experts in this field believe that the FSA has been captured by the meat industry. 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 focused 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."
This latest plan shows that the FSA, as currently constituted, has abandoned the consumer. When the Food (Scotland) Bill is debated at Stage 1 in the coming weeks, MSPs should ensure that the new Scottish organisation puts food safety before profits. Meanwhile, everyone in the UK is at risk.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The shift from wages to profits, and what to do about it

The impact of the shift from wages to profits, and what to do about it, is covered in a new booklet by Professor Özlem Onaran, 'State intervention for wage-led development', published by Class.

She explains that the reversal of the trend towards relatively egalitarian income distribution achieved during the post-war period, is associated with a weaker and more volatile growth performance. In order to maintain consumption levels in the absence of decent wage increases households turned to debt and that contributed to the Great Recession. The recovery in Britain is built once again on the shaky ground of household debt instead of wage growth.

What really caught my eye was her concise explanation of the link between wages and the economy. It's worth repeating in full:

"Empirical evidence shows that when the share of wages in national income decreases four things happen. First, consumption decreases, since workers consume more as a proportion of their income compared to the owners of capital; hence when there is a redistribution from wages to profits, domestic consumption in the national economy unambiguously decreases. Second, although private investment may increase due to higher profits, this increase is insufficient to offset the negative effects on domestic consumption. Third, net exports (exports minus imports) increase due to a fall in unit labour costs, but in the majority of countries this increase is not enough to offset the negative effect on domestic demand. Finally, in an environment of the global race to the bottom in the wage share, most of the positive effects on net exports are wiped out as labour costs fall simultaneously in all countries, and their international competitiveness relative to each other does not change significantly. Thus, in the vast majority of countries a fall in the wage share leads to lower growth; this is what we call a wage-led growth economy. The UK is a typical example of a wage-led economy."

Bite sized economics at its best!

She then sets out a strategy of wage-led development with a policy mix that includes labour market policies aiming at pre-distribution, as well as redistributive policies through progressive taxation. Specific recommendations include; Strengthening collective bargaining, increasing the minimum wage, enforcing pay ratios, ending public sector pay freezes and restoring progressivity into the tax system.

Well worth a read.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Britain needs good jobs and a pay rise

Britain needs a pay rise, not just to bring relief to hard-pressed workers, but also to drive a sustainable economic recovery.

That’s the message from the latest research and is particularly relevant to our members in Scottish local government, who are being balloted on industrial action over pay from next week. Their pay is the lowest, even across the hard pressed public sector, as they are asked to keep public services going against all the odds.

A TUC study on the living wage showed that women earn just 66p for every pound earned by men working full-time (which is a pay gap of 34.2%). One of the main reasons for this huge gender pay divide is the large concentration of women doing low-paid, part-time work. This has led to a majority of women working part-time earning less than the living wage in over 50 local authority areas across Britain.

It’s no better for young workers. The proportion of workers aged 21 to 30 who are now classed as low paid has more than tripled over the past four decades, according to new research from the ResolutionFoundation.  Almost three in ten (29%) are now low paid, equating to almost 1.5 million young workers. In 1975, the proportion earning low pay was less than one in ten (8%). This also explains why many young people are locked out of the housing market, with just 3% of buyers in June aged between 18 and 30.
Missing out on the claimed economic recovery is not limited to these groups. The Poverty and Social Exclusion in the United Kingdom project has revealed that 800,000 Scots were too poor to participate in basic social activities, more than 400,000 adults do without essential clothing and almost one-third cannot afford to heat their homes adequately in the winter. The majority of children in poverty come from small families with at least one parent in work – so much for the UK government’s ‘strivers and shirkers’ analysis.

Across the UK, the percentage of households below what the public considered a minimum standard of living has risen from 14% to 33% over the last 30 years. This is despite the size of the economy doubling, indicating the gap between rich and poor is increasing.

Low incomes are also linked to underemployment. The TUC’s analysis of the latest labour market data shows that while unemployment has fallen by over 400,000 since early 2012, under-employment has risen by 93,000. And at 3.4 million the current level of under-employment is over a million higher (46%) than it was before the recession. It also highlights that the numbers who want more hours in their existing jobs means that under-employment is still increasing. In UNISON, we see this in sectors like care, with nominal hours contracts becoming more prevalent.

The answer to what some economists call the productivity puzzle is that we have too many low-pay, low-skill and low-productivity jobs in low-investment workplaces. We need to rebalance the economy with an emphasis on creating good jobs and promoting fair levels of pay for everyone – not just those at the top.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Re-inventing our economy

We can re-invent our economy so that it works for people and the planet.

That’s the theme of a major conference organised by civil society organisations, including UNISON and the STUC, across Scotland in Glasgow next week. The conference brings together some of the leading experts from across the UK on alternative economic approaches. The aim is explore these alternatives and chart a way forward that offers a radical, sustainable, alternative economic pathway.

There is a widespread view, not just in Scotland, which argues that our current economic system isn’t working. We have growing inequality, high levels of in work poverty and stubbornly high unemployment. Even the new jobs being created are likely to be part-time and insecure with the growth of bogus self-employment and zero-hours contracts. The conventional economic development solutions simply aren’t working and are also driving climate change and resource depletion. The bankers and financiers have learned nothing from the crash they caused and are leading us into future financial chaos.

The conference will pose key questions such as how do we generate investment into rewarding jobs while at the same time, cutting polluting greenhouse gas emissions and reducing poverty? How can we extend public democratic controls over our economy and the financial sector so that it serves our ends?

If all of this sounds like leftie ranting on the fringe, take a look at who is now talking about inequality - and I don’t just mean the Pope!

Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England noted in a recent speech that all the research suggests that "relative equality is good for growth”. He also said: “All ideologies are prone to extremes. Capitalism loses its sense of moderation when the belief in the power of the market enters the realm of faith. In the decades prior to the crisis, such radicalism came to dominate economic ideas and became a pattern of social behaviour.”

Carney also lauded an inclusive social contract and recognised that tackling climate change actually offers great scope for technological progress and economic growth: "Environmental degradation remains unaddressed, a tragic embarrassment now seldom mentioned in either polite society or at the G20."

The authors of a new booklet ‘Trade Unions and Economic Inequality’ point out that the decade in which the equality gap in Britain was at its narrowest was the decade in which trade union penetration was at its greatest, with more than 80 per cent of British workers covered by a collective agreement. They provide an excoriating critique of inequality and its consequences. But unlike others, the authors provide a blueprint for how to tackle it.

Solutions are also what we hope next week’s conference will offer. So why not come along to the debate and the conference. Both events are free, thanks to generous support from the Carnegie Trust and others. There is an impressive range of speakers and opportunities to contribute your own ideas. There is a better way!

There is a public debate on the evening before the conference on Wednesday 10 September at the University of Glasgow Union starting at 7:30pm. The conference is in the Kelvin Gallery at the university on the 11 September. Registration details at the conference website.