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.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Inez Kirk's speech to STUC Budget Day Rally

Inez Kirk, vice-chair of UNISON Scotland local government committee, spoke at the STUC budget day rally at the Scottish parliament. She spoke with our sister unions Unite, GMB, UCU, EIS and PCS. Ines sent a clear message to the Scottish government to start to value local government workers, particularly the low paid women workforce.

Inez said: “Local government has taken the brunt of austerity.  Derek McKay must redress the balance today and invest in local government so we can serve our communities.

The Scottish government must recognise the valuable contribution local government contributes to the fabric of our society.

For too long we have seen our local services cut, closed or sold off to the lowest bidder.

The cuts have been felt most acutely in local government. Nine out of ten public sector jobs lost since 2010 have been in local government.

What is even more stark is the effect on women in our communities and workplaces.

Three quarters of the local government workforce are women, predominately low-paid and delivering the services that vital to our society: caring for our older and more vulnerable people, providing support in our schools, ensuring the health and well being of everyone in our communities.  And it is women who rely on these services.

Yet we continue to see these local services underfunded, cut to the bone or sold off - meaning even lower wages and less job security for the women providing the services but also those who rely on them.

Many local government workers have been forced into in-work poverty, and they rely on welfare benefits and food banks: families struggling to heat and eat in the 21 century. And that is public sector women workers.

Austerity has meant increased demand for local authority services, at same time as budgets have been slashed.

We say to our MSPs, when setting the budget: remember us. Remember the women who provide the services we all need. Remember the women who care, clean and educate. The women who do the clerical work in our councils. Remember all the local government workers who make such a valuable contribution to our communities.

It’s time for women to get decent pay and secure jobs. We need a budget that ensures the scourge of local government low-pay and in-work poverty is assigned to the past”

Friday, 30 November 2018

Please do not be quiet! The campaign to Save Scottish Borders School Libraries.

Thanks to Greig Kelbie for this "guest" blog

UNISON Scottish Borders Public Services branch is the midst of running a campaign against the local authority’s pilot scheme underway at Galashiels, Peebles and Kelso High Schools, which has seen pupils, volunteers and self-service scanning machines working in lieu of librarians.

Scottish Borders Council argues that the libraries pilot scheme is a result of budget cuts imposed on the council, that libraries will not be staff-free zones, and that the project is a result of pupil consultation. Several librarians lost their jobs last year, with less senior staff taking over from them. Neither the staff, UNISON or members of the public have seen any evidence of pupil consultation findings.

UNISON, professional bodies representing Scotland’s librarians, politicians, parents groups and education officials have all lined up to criticise the scheme. Despite this, the council has stayed the course and self-service checkouts have begun to appear in school libraries as part of a pilot project, which may lead to a roll out across all of the region’s schools, pending a full review of the pilot scheduled for April 2019.

We turned up the heat on our campaign. UNISON visited each of the region’s high schools and canvassed parents, pupils and members of the community on their opinions on the scheme. We did this over 19th – 25th November, which was planned to be aligned with Book Week Scotland, the theme of which was Rebel. UNISON Scottish used this opportunity will be ‘rebel’ by campaigning throughout this week across the schools to raise awareness of the detrimental impact this staffing loss could have on our children. We were asking pupils, parents and staff to sign campaign postcards, letters to local councillors, engage with our online materials such as the petition.

We were overwhelmed by the support of hundreds of members of the Scottish Borders communities who refused to be quiet and backed our campaign. From the hundreds of people we spoke to, there were three reoccurring clear issues that were continually brought up: concerns over support for children with additional support needs, the inability for children to receive support and guidance during independent study, and several testimonials which claim the pilot libraries have become disruptive and chaotic without a member of staff there to staff the library.

A recently produced Scottish Government strategy report for school libraries (‘The National Strategy for School Libraries’) states that ‘school libraries are a hub of activity, with library staff supporting a range of creative approaches to learning, addressing issues related to health and wellbeing, and facilitating connections between pupils across the school community. It is clear to us, that the Council is failing to adhere to this strategy.

What is also clear to us, is that not one single person supports the council’s pilot. More than 400 pupils, parents and concerned members of the community have written messages on our campaign postcards about the importance of librarians and almost 1000 people have signed our online petition demanding that the pilot should be dropped.
Where are we now...

On Thursday 29th November, the branch lobbied the full council meeting. We created a booklet “The Views of the People”, which contains a message to Councillors and full of some of the best testimonials from our postcard signings. We attempted to deliver our postcards to Tory Council Leader, Shona Haslam. Unfortunately, the Council Leader avoided the UNISON delegation. However, we had them delivered straight to her office. We will now be formally be writing to the Council Leader to ask for a meeting to discuss further.

UNISON has launched an online petition: please sign and share.

If you live in teh areas you can contact to your local councillor here

The fight continues.

Thursday, 15 November 2018

How Councils Get Their Money

Can’t tell your NDR from your GRG? Then help is at hand. In plenty of time for this year’s budget, on December 12th, the Scottish parliament’s information team have produced a guide to local government finance. It will help non-finance professionals understand how much money local authorities have to spend, the various sources of that money and how it is distributed across authorities.

First things first: NDR is Non Domestic Rates, frequently referred to as business rates and GRG is General Resource Grant. This is the money that the Scottish government allocates to local authorities. GRG is the bulk of local authority budgets.

The guide covers revenue spending: the money that pays for the day-to-day running of services. The funding provided for capital (building things) and any money borrowed are not included in the guide.

The guide covers both the money from Scottish government and via local taxes and charges. This includes non domestic rates and council tax. So you can read about how the GRG is arrived at. Which is via "discussions" with COSLA followed by calculation of individual council allocations using “Estimated Service Expenditure" and "Total Estimated Expenditure". On top of those calculations there are “funding floors”. Working out estimated service expenditure involved Grant Aided Expenditure (GAE) which is a “needs based” calculation. Needs based means that is should take account of the relative needs of the populations of each local authority including for example relative poverty rates. Handily there is also more detail on what "Estimated Service Expenditure" etc mean.

Lack of well written papers on the complexities on local government finance make it harder for people to participate in discussions and campaign against cuts to local government budgets. Even a quick read of the two page executive summary will help those trying to make sense of the debate round cuts and service funding. Taking the time to read the full paper would be time well spent.

Monday, 8 October 2018

IPCC Report: Political will essential to deliver on 1.5C Paris target

Today’s stark report on the devastating impacts of climate change should make us all sit up and commit to urgent action.

Politicians need to do the right thing and we must make them, including ensuring a fair and just transition to a zero carbon future.

The warning from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) makes it very clear that without urgent and unprecedented changes to energy, transport and land use, the world risks catastrophic temperature rise.

The Guardian report said today: “The world’s leading climate scientists have warned there is only a dozen years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.”

The good news is that the scientists – including the head of Scotland’s new Just Transition Commission - believe it is affordable and feasible to keep to the 1.5C Paris Agreement target, but they point to the need for political will to make sure that policies are put in place in time.

Top priority in Scotland must be to strengthen the climate change Bill currently going through the Scottish Parliament to a target of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, with 77% by 2030.

It’s good that the Scottish Government will now seek new advice on meeting 1.5C from the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC), but it’s clear from the IPCC report and the recent CCC report on Scottish progress that we must have a step change in cutting emissions, particularly in transport and agriculture.

UNISON wants to see massive investment in public transport, including renationalisation of rail and reregulation of buses, as part of the move to greener transport - and much greater public ownership of energy, including municipal energy.

We are campaigning with the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition and the Just Transition Partnership (JTP) to strengthen the Climate Change (Emissions Reduction Targets) (Scotland) Bill.

As well as stronger targets, we want Scotland’s new Just Transition Commission to be set in statute in the Bill and to report to Parliament on progress.

The JTP welcomed Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham’s appointment last month of Professor Jim Skea as Chair of the Commission.

Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC and co-chair of the Just Transition Partnership, stressed that Scotland’s trade unions see tackling climate change as a moral, social and economic imperative. However, in meeting emissions reduction targets, we must ensure a just transition for the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels.

Just transition includes both measures to support retraining and new jobs for those in affected industries, with support for workers and communities, and measures to produce new, green and decent jobs and livelihoods as well as healthy communities. It aims to address environmental, social and economic issues together.

There are clear economic opportunities if we are ahead of the game in building a greener future, but we must ensure no-one is left behind and so climate plans must be integrated with an industrial strategy.

Professor Skea, is co-chair of the working group behind today’s IPCC report. His comments today are reported in the Guardian:

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that.

“We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

That’s where we all come in. There are no jobs on a dead planet.

Let’s make sure Scotland’s politicians continue the unanimous commitment in 2009 of support for world leading legislation. We need them now to agree stronger targets and decisive policy action to protect the planet for future generations, with public sector action crucial in leading the way.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Welcome climate change & #JustTransition commitments from Scottish Labour

Good news for hopes of ramping up the ambition in Scotland's new Climate Bill. Scottish Labour has today backed a net zero target by 2050 at the latest.

This is what the Stop Climate Chaos Scotland coalition has been pushing for. The Scottish Government is only committed to a 90% emissions reduction target by 2050, so Labour is going the extra 10%. And the party is backing a 77% 2030 target.

Scottish Labour's new policy, announced by Claudia Beamish MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform, also includes the Just Transition Partnership’s call for the new Just Transition Commission to be in the Bill, set up on a statutory long-term basis.
The JTP’s co-chair, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the STUC, welcomed the Just Transition commitment, said that unions see tackling climate change as a moral imperative, and stressed the importance of a statutory Just Transition Commission.
UNISON is a member of the JTP and of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland. If you haven't already, please support the SCCS E-Action, calling on MSPs to improve the Bill so we can end Scotland's contribution to climate change within a generation.

Here are the press releases from the STUC and SCCS, including the full comments from Dave Moxham, and a welcome from SCCS. The Labour press release is copied below.


Welcoming Scottish Labour’s commitment to put a Just Transition at the heart of their plans to tackle climate change, Dave Moxham, Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) and co-chair of the Just Transition Partnership, said:

“Scotland’s trade unions are clear that tackling climate change is a moral imperative and Scotland must play its part in reducing emissions.  However, targets must not be met at the expense of the workforce and communities which currently extract or depend on the use of fossil fuels. That is why a Just Transition for workers and communities is so important.

“A statutory Just Transition Commission, involving workers with real frontline experience in the development of a proper industrial strategy, offers the opportunity to reduce emissions while creating new, good quality jobs and benefiting communities across Scotland.”


The Just Transition Partnership was formed by Friends of the Earth Scotland and the STUC in 2016. Membership includes Unite Scotland, UNISON Scotland, UCU Scotland, CWU Scotland, PCS Scotland and WWF Scotland.

Press Release sent on behalf of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland


Responding to the announcement today (Monday) of Scottish Labour’s long-term Climate Change Bill policy, which sets a target for Scotland to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest, Gina Hanrahan of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland said:

“It’s great to see Scottish Labour back calls for the upcoming Climate Change Bill to include a target to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change by 2050 at the latest and increased action over the next decade.  It’s now up to all parties in the Scottish Parliament to come together, as they did in 2009, to ensure we continue to be amongst the world leading nations in tackling climate change. 

“Labour’s commitment to a Just Transition Commission in the Bill is also to be welcomed. Such a commission would ensure that the transition to a zero-carbon economy supports workers and communities, and creates new, green jobs.

“No country on earth will be left untouched by the worsening consequences of a failure to move fast. While we’ve enjoyed a period of record warm weather; the extremes of heat experienced around the world this year and over recent years can mean increased mortality, drought, fire, hunger and crop failure. We have all the solutions we need now to get us on the right pathway. Good policies to tackle climate change can help us avoid the worst impacts, but also bring new jobs, cleaner air, and reduced burdens on our NHS. MSPs of all parties need to act together so Scotland can play its part and enjoy all those benefits.”




Scottish Labour will today today (Monday, August 13th) announced its long-term Climate Change Bill policy, which sets a target for Scotland to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.

This plan is in contrast with the Scottish Government, who propose reducing emissions by 90% by 2050.

Labour proposes a pathway to zero emissions with interim targets of a 56% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and 77% by 2030, supported by a Just Transition Commission. 

Launching the policy at the BRE Innovation Park at Ravenscraig, Claudia Beamish MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Environment and Land Reform will say that it is an “immensely important instrument for Scotland’s future and our standing in the global community.” 

The BRE Innovation Park, situated on the site of the former Ravenscraig Steel works, showcases bold inclusive future opportunities with its full-scale demonstration buildings displaying innovative design, materials and technologies for low carbon living. BRE engages with New College Lanarkshire, highlighting how vital the development of initial and transferable skills will be as we progress towards net zero emissions. 

Scottish Labour will continue to engage with trade unions, businesses, local government, and the third sector to develop the plans for long-term climate action and the ‘Just Transition’ for workers. 

Claudia Beamish MSP, Scottish Labour Spokesperson for Climate Change, said: 

“This summer has been another of record high temperatures, prolonged heatwaves, and extreme weather.  It is our duty to step up for global climate justice, and Scottish Labour’s climate policy addresses these obligations, while giving Scotland time to adapt in a just way for the workforce and communities. 

“This policy recognises the huge inequality in Scotland’s current and historic greenhouse gas emissions, compared to other parts of the world.  The most catastrophic effects of climate change are impacting on the lives and environments of those who did the least to cause it, and this policy recognises greater ambition is needed for those at the front line of facing the effects of climate change.  

“Inter-generational justice is also central to this policy.  We cannot push the job of tackling climate change onto the shoulders of the young.  We need interim targets of 56% by 2020, and 77% by 2030, to ensure we start to act now. 

“Based on Scotland’s historical emissions since the Industrial Revolution, and per capita wealth, Scottish Labour has concluded we must hit net zero emissions by 2050, at the latest. 

“The SNP Government’s draft Bill is far too timid, and ignored the 99% of consultation respondents who called for steeper targets.

“Scottish Labour has always led actions for fair economic transformation and social justice. Ambitious targets mean a clear signal to markets; giving confidence to businesses, investors, and communities. Action must now be spread fairly across all sectors and wider society.

“Scottish Labour will always be the party of the workers, and a statutory, long-term ‘Just Transition Commission’ must be in the Climate Change Bill to safeguard our communities and jobs against injustice. 

“For the sake of those on the frontline of climate change around the world, for our beautiful planet, and for our children: no more complacency – now for real ambition.”

BRE Housing and Energy Director Lori McElroy added:

"When making decisions about targets for emissions and energy efficiency, we should start from the premise of making the best use of scarce resources and impacts on people.  Over a quarter of Scotland’s households are still living in fuel poverty – that's 650,000 homes – this is where our efforts need to be focused.

“Research suggests that the improvement of existing homes could support up to 6,500 jobs throughout Scotland over the next ten years, giving a much-needed boost to the Scottish economy.  BRE is working closely with New College Lanarkshire to support skills and training in this area.

"Poorly heated, damp and cold homes can pose significant health risks for people.  In the winter of 2016/17, an additional 2,720 people died during the winter months in Scotland, compared with the average for the rest of the year.  The World Health Organisation has in the past estimated that 30% of such deaths are attributable to cold homes.

“The BRE Innovation Park@Ravenscraig exists to test solutions to our ageing building stock – showcasing new ways of thinking about constructing new and retrofitting existing buildings, allowing innovative approaches to be tested in a safe environment. Our research shows that better, warmer, safer homes not only promote better quality of life for people but could also save the NHS in Scotland around £60m per year.” 




Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Tories two faced on austerity

In this year’s Spring Statement, the Chancellor had an opportunity to address the devastating impact of eight years of austerity on public services. However, he rejected calls to announce the end of austerity. In Scotland, Ruth Davidson hailed the budget as a ‘win’ for her MPs.

Some argue that the Conservatives' historic strength has been their adaptability. Depending on circumstance, they have been Europhile and Eurosceptic, statist and laissez-faire, isolationist and interventionist. The challenge in Scotland, is trying to convince us they support better public services while saying nothing about austerity.

My local Tory MSP’s newsletter is full of his campaigns to get the Scottish Government and the local council to improve various local services. More should be spent on this, that or another public service. Absolutely right, but you won’t find a similar plea for the Chancellor to end austerity, the underlying cause of all these spending cuts.

The Scottish Conservatives at a national level are not exempt from this double-speak. I have gone back through their press releases over the past six months.

There are numerous calls for more spending on NHS Scotland. Spending on mental health services, particularly services for children, is apparently inadequate. So is spending on GP services, A&E departments, doctor training, smoking cessation, care of veterans, ambulances, drug and alcohol services, cancer services and various drug treatments. Not to mention complaining about bed cuts in several hospitals. Thanking our members for their efforts during the 70th anniversary celebrations is all well and good, but ending austerity funding would be even better.

Local government is also underfunded according to the Scottish Conservatives. It is, but austerity isn’t going to pay for their £100m ‘pothole fund’, or stop councils having to dig into their reserves, as the Tories have helpfully highlighted! It is also somewhat less than credible to argue for a cut in business rates and complain about Council tax increases – all of which would add to council cuts.

In education, they have complained about falling teacher numbers, cuts in FE colleges, while also asking for extra spending on textbooks. They want to ensure that foundation apprenticeships are a part of every single Scottish school’s offer by 2020. They have also highlighted underfunding of the early years expansion, which although true, will not be solved under the austerity policies of their party.

There are regular press releases claiming the Scottish Government is ‘soft on crime’, calling for longer sentences without any understanding that prison spending is way above the European average and a huge wasteful burden on public spending. They attack community alternatives to prison that actually work and are more cost effective. They complain about police numbers falling and the fire service budget, but not about austerity.

Of course, the Scottish Government now has the powers to address austerity. However, the Scottish Conservatives haven’t urged them to do so, instead they have opposed tax increases for the better off. If parliament had voted for their tax policies, funding for public services would be cut by £335m. 

I understand the de-toxification strategy and many of the press releases highlight legitimate concerns about public services. However, you cannot avoid the reality that services are stretched largely because of austerity. An unwillingness to say anything about that is simply hypocritical. Facing two ways might make a nice local leaflet, but it does nothing for political credibility.

Friday, 6 July 2018

The case for a radical Transport Bill

The Transport Bill is an opportunity to take a radical look at integrated transport in Scotland. Sadly, the Bill as introduced falls somewhat short of this aim.

The Scottish Government has introduced a Transport Bill to the Scottish Parliament. The main provisions are summarise in the UNISON Scotland briefing.

Tackling the appalling air quality in our cities should be a government priority, given it could be contributing to around 15,000 early deaths in Scotland every year. The Bill puts the regulatory structure in place to introduce low emission zones. This is welcome, but the key challenge is to put in place real action to cut emissions. We don't need more plans about plans.

Other provisions on integrated ticketing, ending (some) double parking and another go at regulating road works are worthy measures, but they are unlikely to make a significant difference.

A key issue in the Bill will be the regulation and delivery of bus services. The Bill extends the powers of local authorities to run buses and develop bus partnership plans. The aim is to allow councils to act more flexibility to improve services, either by working with bus companies or by stepping in and running services themselves.

Local buses are the most frequently used mode of public transport in Scotland. With 393 million passengers on local bus services, more journeys are made by local bus than by rail. However, there has been a dramatic fall in the number of journeys, down from 487 million in 2007. There has been a 10% reduction in past five years, which is double the reduction in Great Britain as a whole. Part of the reason has to be that bus travel is 65% more expensive in 2018 than in 2008, at a time when real household incomes have been falling. There has also been a 16% reduction in the number of buses in operation.

So something is going seriously wrong in Scotland.

While bus passengers are losing out the companies are not. They have just raised prices to cope with the decline in services and in any case 43% of bus company revenue comes directly from local or central government through grants and concessionary travel reimbursement.

Bus companies argue that they offer competition. However, the Competition Commission’s 2011 report into local bus services said, “head to head competition between bus operators is uncommon", because of “customer conduct”. The worst, most irrational thing these difficult customers did was to ignore the choice of operators the free market had to offer, opting instead “to board the first bus to their destination that arrives at their bus stop" - there's a shock!

While the Bill talks about the role of local authorities, the companies view it as an opportunity. That's because the Bill will allow private operators to cherry pick the profitable routes, leaving councils to pick up the bill for the rest. Ironically, the Scottish Government is following the English Tory policy in the Bus Services Act last year.

In contrast, the public want government to go in the opposite direction. A recent poll shows clear public support for buses to be run by public operators - only 15% of Scots believe they should be run by private companies. Interestingly, almost half of Tory voters support public ownership.

So, we don't need local partnerships, we need local public ownership. Publicly owned Lothian Buses is the best operator in Scotland, even getting the middle classes onto the bus. Levels of customer satisfaction for Lothian Buses are the highest in the industry and the publicly owned company recently returned £5.5 million to the public purse.

This is one of the models we could adopt in Scotland, together with other non-profit initiatives like co-operatives. As the Co-operative Party's 'People's Bus' campaign shows, across the UK, co-operative, social enterprise and other forms of not-for-profit bus operators are proving that it’s possible to run bus services that are affordable and responsive to the needs of local people. Most recently in David Cameron's constituency of Whitney.

If we are really serious about cutting vehicle emissions, how about free transit? This is an idea being piloted in Germany by “the end of this year at the latest”. Five cities across western Germany are involved, including former capital Bonn and industrial cities Essen and Mannheim. It won't be easy, but has some links to a new industrial strategy given the demand it would create for electric or hydrogen buses.

It is difficult to accurately cost free local transit because a key element would be funding increased demand. Based on current funding and demand, it could be somewhere between £200m and £300m per annum and that doesn't take account of the savings from not having to pay for dividends and expensive borrowing. Not an impossible ask by any means and we should account for the preventative spending benefits from the emission reductions.

Scotland needs a more integrated public transport system that results in a meaningful shift away from car use. Re-regulating buses and more public and community ownership would be helpful in doing this. In addition, we need green travel plans at work, with incentives for lower energy transport, cycling, car-share, public transport, walking and the use of lower emissions vehicles.

We need a radical transport policy, not another dabble with market mechanisms.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Happy Birthday to our NHS

Happy Birthday to our National Health Service, one of Labour’s finest achievements in government. A brilliant socialist concept that shows the benefits of collective action to tackle the challenges facing our society.

There are a range of celebrations in the coming week to mark the 70th anniversary of the NHS. I was pleased to be speaking at one of those today in Glasgow, organised with the new Scottish Labour Westminster candidate for Glasgow North, Pam Duncan-Clancy. One of a great group of UNISON women who will be contesting the next UK general election in Scotland.  

Some people, including NHS staff, can be a bit cynical about NHS anniversary celebrations. While they welcome the praise and celebrate the NHS they have dedicated their careers to, they wish politicians would also be thinking of those warm words when they are allocating budgets and funding their pay and conditions. A bit like Firefighters after Grenfell - warm words from the Prime Minister after she had slashed the fire budgets in the name of austerity.

None the less we should welcome these celebrations and I argued today that NHS 70 offers two broad opportunities.

Firstly, to remind everyone of the importance of the NHS - something we can take for granted. For most of us it has literally been there from the cradle to the grave. In a column in the Guardian this week – Emma Brockes coming back from the USA, compared the two approaches. She said:

"For all its faults and in spite of terrible under-investment, the very fact of the welfare state when seen from the US is nothing short of a miracle. I used to take it for granted, but that has gone. We are not supposed to think of the world in terms of us and them, yet it is impossible, moving between the two countries, not to see the welfare state, the NHS, and the philosophy that underpins them, as the greatest bulwarks between society in the UK and life as it is lived in the US. I know which side I’m on."

Most people in Scotland don't get to experience that comparison. However, on the train the other day I listened to two young women discussing an American medical drama - The Resident. This drama highlights the shocking profit driven approaches of a big US hospital. They concluded 'thank god we have the NHS'.

Well apologies to those of a religious persuasion, but the NHS isn't an act of God. It was campaigned for by organisations like the Socialist Health Association and delivered by a visionary health minister in a radical Labour Government. And it has been Labour government’s that have funded it better than any others.

We only have to look at the shambles of marketisation in NHS England to see how easy it is to drift into privatisation. So, we should also thank the Labour health ministers Susan Deacon and Malcolm Chisholm who took Scotland in a different direction in the early years of devolution.

Secondly, while we should celebrate achievements - should take the opportunity to recognise the challenges and look forward. These are set out in the SHA Scotland paper launched today, and Professor David Conway outlined these at today’s event. 

 It is important to emphasise that while the NHS does a lot of preventative work it is largely about patching and mending us when we get ill. So, preventing ill health requires action outwith the NHS.

With the exception of Asthma, you are more likely to suffer every other illness the lower your income group. That points to the fundamental challenge facing health of the nation - inequality. The research in the book the Spirit Level showed us how unequal societies are also unhealthy societies. Interestingly, it also showed that even the relatively affluent members of society also do worse in unequal societies.

And the NHS points the way towards the collective action we need to take to seriously tackle inequality. The NHS commands widespread support because we all use it. Even the rich understand that while they can buy a luxury room in a private hospital, it will be an NHS paramedic or the staff in an A&E dept who will save their lives in an emergency.

In Glasgow in the 19th century the council delivered many of the great projects that did so much to improve health in the city. It wasn't just hospitals. It was clean water from Loch Katrine and many other public health measures that made the difference. You can imagine one of those rich merchants saying to another on the council, why should I pay for these things. The answer was that disease knows no boundaries, even the rich couldn't inoculate themselves. 

It's that collective approach, yes socialism, that should drive our thinking as we move forward. In housing, social care, the economy and the broader welfare state. 

I may not make the 100th anniversary of the NHS, but if I do, I hope that we will have addressed the 21st century challenges, which will reduce the demand on the NHS. By creating a more equal society that will honour the socialist giants, like Nye Bevan, on whose shoulders we stand.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Pensions reform isn't easy, but scale matters

Scotland’s largest pension scheme is considering major changes in the way it’s £42bn worth of assets are administered.

The Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme (SLGPS) Advisory Board is asking employers and trade unions to compare the current structure against three options that, by degrees, consolidate the functions of the scheme’s 11 constituent funds by collaboration, pooling and merger. Today’s launch seminar in Edinburgh heard from speakers outlining the options and experts who advised the Board on the available options.

Current SLGPS governance structure 

There is an international movement towards greater scale in pension management that makes the status quo very difficult to sustain. This was set out very clearly by Iain Clacher, from the University of Leeds at today’s seminar. With greater scale in pensions come economies of scale, which reduce costs, increase efficiencies, and this ultimately secures the pension benefits of members. Every basis point (0.01%) shaved off costs equates to £3.5m. 

UNISON's own research reinforces the benefits of scale. While UNISON would normally champion the cause of localism, there are very few local factors in pension management that make local control the determining factor. 

Given the case for scale the status quo does not look like a viable option. Some scale could be achieved through collaboration. This has been tried by Lothian and Falkirk, but it offers only modest gains in scale while retaining complex governance arrangements. 

The English model of pooling assets provides scale, although the funds retain their responsibilities for administering the scheme. Governance is a problem with this model and UNISON colleagues in England and Wales have significant concerns. 

The most radical option would result in a full merger of funds, which would have the advantages of scale. However, governance would need to be centralised either on a joint board or NDPB model. There would also be significant implementation challenges. 

This is not a straightforward or easy decision. However, pension funds are consolidating across the world for good reasons. When I meet fellow union pension negotiators across the world, they are astonished that we voluntarily retain such small funds.

Scale gives greater investment clout, tackles fee transparency, enables in-house expertise to invest in new areas like infrastructure, and reduces duplication and cost. It’s not a decision that we can afford to duck.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

A Quality Service Needs to Pay Quality Wages

The provision of a free at the point of use public childcare service has been a demand of the trade union movement for over a hundred years. Investment in the provision of quality childcare is therefore very welcome. But the service model must be one that closes rather than widens the attainment gap. There is a very real risk that done the wrong way we could make inequality worse rather than better. There is growing evidence that this has been the case following the move to 30 “free” hours per week in England . UNISON’s full response to the consultation is available here.

To be fully effective the proposed expansion of “free hours” in ELC will also require investment in a range of public services not just nurseries. The services also need to work together. This is why it important that all education services including early years are embedded in local authorities where links to social work, libraries, youth work, leisure and cultural services as well as social work, welfare rights, educational psychologists and housing can be best coordinated.

The government consistently state that they are focused on the provision of a quality service. The quality of an ELC services is entirely based on the quality of the staff. Stating that the Living Wage is the minimum pay for the sector contradicts that ambition. It should be shocking that that around 80 per cent of practitioners and 50 per cent of supervisors in partner settings are paid less than the Living Wage . So while the commitment will bring a welcome pay rise for many it is much less than is being paid in the public sector.

UNISON believes that the government has substantial underestimated the number of extra staff needed to meet their ambition but even accepting their figures it will be very difficult to attract sufficient people at that rate of pay. Why would anyone undertake the training (in-work or at college) needed to become an early years practitioner with all the responsibilities, the demands of maintaining professional registration and required ongoing professional development to earn the same rate of pay you could cleaning or in a supermarket?

In the short term the better rates of pay and pensions in the local authorities mean that authorities will be able to fill their current vacancies by attracting qualified staff from other sectors and lower paying authorities. The average earnings for practitioners across the sectors are
• public £28,000
• private £15,000
• voluntary £16,000

A practitioner moving from the private to the public sector is looking at an average wage rise of £13,000 per year plus a final salary pension. A recent report from the National Day Nurseries Association (Scotland ) states that private nurseries currently lose 3 staff per year to the public sector. Lower payers are going to struggle to keep and recruit staff during such a massive expansion According to the Skills Development Scotland report the current vacancy rate is 19% and 35% report problems filling vacancies. This will only get worse without proper pay. Low pay puts the whole expansion at risk.

The evidence is clear that an anti-poverty early learning and childcare service (ELC) needs to follow a supply side model rather than the “funding follows the child” “provider neutral” model laid out by the Scottish government.

As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation state
“international evidence and the best examples of high quality provision in the UK suggest that the most effective approach to funding pre-school childcare is supply side funding, where investment is made directly in services. This approach provides the means to offer universal access to services and effectively shape quality, affordability and flexibility. .....demand side subsidies do not offer the same means to achieve integration and deliver improvements in services. The case for supply-funded childcare is simple. It is the most effective means of delivering reliable access to affordable, flexible and high quality childcare regardless of parents’ ability to pay”

We really want this expansion to work. This could be a life changing investment in public services. There's still time for the Scottish government listen and make the right choices.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Time for coordinated workforce planning

Workforce planning in Scottish local government is largely a local and ad-hoc approach, which is simply inadequate for the challenges created by austerity and will not cope with future demand. It is time to develop a more coordinated approach.

Today, I was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Local Government Committee inquiry into workforce planning. Workforce planning is the process that organisations use to make sure that they have the right people with the right skills in the right place at the right time. 

With nine out of ten austerity job losses in Scotland in councils, the impact of job cuts on the workforce has been huge. This is highlighted in UNISON Scotland's damage series of reports in which staff describe the daily stress and plate spinning, which is how they do their best to keep services going.

Added to this we have an ageing workforce, with around 40% of the public sector workforce in Scotland likely to retire within ten years. That has huge consequences for service delivery, particularly in local government. We already have experienced staff retiring, leaving junior staff, often without the necessary skills or knowledge, to muddle through.

In this context you would have hoped that workforce planning would be high on the agenda. In practice workforce planning in Scottish local government is generally very limited, at best local and largely ad-hoc. There is some national discussion with specific professions, or when a recruitment crisis highlights specific difficulties, such as planning. There is little strategic engagement with workforce representatives across the sector.

A current example of short-term thinking is the planned closure of the Master of Public Administration programme at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh. This would leave Scotland with one MPA programme. I was in Wales recently and was impressed by their approach, while in Scotland we appear to be relying on others. Where is the next generation of public service leaders going to come from if we close down quality teaching and research programmes?

There are some local plans as well as guidance from CIPD, Audit Scotland and the Improvement Service. However, there is little national coordination, with silo working the most common approach. There have been some early attempts at a national approach in the care sector. Even here with a looming crisis, we are only at the early stages of a challenging process, given the fragmented nature of the service. 

Effective workforce planning requires access to good workforce data. Our experience of collating data shows that councils often struggle to produce even the most basic workforce data. In some councils the data is only held at departmental level and because every council has a different structure, it is very difficult to put together a national picture.

A new approach to workforce planning is required across the public sector, including local government. Service integration means that this can no longer be undertaken in silos. Here are six steps we could take: