Bottom-up based democracy is the way forward for public services reform says new Jimmy Reid Foundation paper by Dave Watson of UNISON Scotland
In the run up to the local authority elections in May 2017, the Jimmy Reid Foundation launches a major new policy paper on public service reform in Scotland by Dave Watson of UNISON Scotland.
The extensive and wide-ranging paper examines the case for public services, the challenges they currently face, and new approaches to public service reform. The paper is to be launched at a special seminar on Friday 20 January 2017 at the University of Edinburgh’s Academy of Government.
As an expert advisor to the 2011 Christie Commission on local government (‘The Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland’) and an acknowledged expert on public services, Watson argues that financial and political pressures on Scotland’s public services have driven an agenda of piecemeal public service reform.
As an alternative, Watson lays out the case for the delivery of integrated public services built around recognisable communities, whose primary focus is to challenge the underlying inequalities that blight our Scottish society and waste public resources, generation after generation. He argues services should be delivered at the lowest practical level, allowing staff and citizens to design services in a way that best meets the needs of their communities.
Commenting on his proposals, Dave Watson said:
‘The role of central government should be to set the strategic direction based on outcomes – rather than trying to direct services from Edinburgh via detailed prescriptions. The longer governments are in office, the more they believe they can direct services from the centre. But with the small size of Scotland, this cannot be a justification for duplication and difference for the sake of it. That is why public service frameworks are required so that local services can focus on what matters to achieve positive outcomes without trying to ‘reinvent the wheel’. This means breaking out of the sterile ‘centralism versus localism’ debate that we have all long engaged in. It means taking a different approach in order to offers a co-operative, more equal society in Scotland, rather than one left to the vagaries of the market. What this means is building public services from the bottom up based on the principle of subsidiarity, with integration, democracy and transparency at the core of delivery’.
The paper is available here Public Service Reform by DaveWatson
On Wednesday 11th January 2017, the Jimmy Reid Foundation gave oral evidence and delivered a written submission to the Scottish Affairs Committee of the UK Parliament to inform its current inquiry ‘Sustainable employment in Scotland’. The Inquiry is examining how employment in Scotland may change in the coming decades, how the UK Government will support the creation of quality, secure jobs. and is looking at how successful UK policy is in protecting people from unfair employment practices.
The Jimmy Reid Foundation highlighted the problems for workers and their families inherent to the current economic and social system, the threats from Brexit and global changes, and the dangers across Scotland and the UK from withdrawal of current employment rights. Solutions and new directions of travel were offered.
Professor Danson, who delivered the evidence, said:
‘The main argument made was that there is a need to address our long standing productivity problems and that requires a fundamental change in how skills, expertise and experiences of the workforce. Moving towards the high innovation-high wage-high productivity industrial model that has brought success to the Nordic countries and Germany requires a new strategic approach and paradigm. Sustainable employment must be based on utilising the high levels of skills in the workforce, too many of whom are currently under-employed in low wage and low skill jobs. By restructuring employment and industrial markets, the Scottish economy can go through a transition to a new equilibrium that works for all compared with the current state of waste, hopelessness and decline’.
He continued, saying:
‘The current precariousness of many jobs and careers is exacerbated for some by the growth of self-employment and enforced ‘entrepreneurship’. Without the protection of employment rights – with no maternity and paternity rights, no paid holidays, no employers’ pension contributions, and other basic elements of the normal work contract – these workers face insecure and unstable lives, with a bleak old age. With lower incomes, their taxes and NI contributions are lower than expected so that society suffers the consequences. Corporations, public and private, save on their costs, boost their short term profits but society is made poorer’.
Concluding, Professor Danson stated:
‘The Jimmy Reid Foundation is, therefore, calling for conditions to be applied to public procurement to raise standards in the labour market, to increase the number and quality of apprenticeships, to promote gender, BME and disability equality, to support SMEs in gaining access to subcontracting.
Complementing this, the Foundation has demanded that the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Framework is supported with legislation and regulation, requiring the devolution of employment law and all social security powers to the Scottish Parliament. This would allow Scotland’s economy to begin the transition to a high wage-high productivity-high innovation status with sustainable employment, and higher returns to investment. Other institutional initiatives and structural changes would be required, including a national investment bank, a refreshed development agency network, and stronger means to protect indigenous firms from hostile takeovers and monopoly practices’. The submission is available Submission SAC 11.01.17
Independent statistician and economist, Jim Cuthbert, warns the Prudential Code provides Scottish local government with no protection in the coming storm.
After the Scottish Government’s tight local government funding settlement in its December 2016 budget, and ahead of the local elections in May next year, independent statistician and economist, Dr Jim Cuthbert, sheds light on a little known but now critically important rule, the statutory Prudential Code in a new policy paper for the Jimmy Reid Foundation. The paper is entitled ‘The Prudential Code: flimsy fig leaf in the coming storm’.
The Prudential Code for Capital Finance in Local Authorities was introduced in Scotland in April 2004. Since then, local authorities have discretion to determine their own levels of capital expenditure and borrowing, provided they abided by the code which is designed to ensure that authorities act prudently and sustainably.
Since its introduction, the code has operated without attracting much comment. But now that we are in an era of much greater uncertainty, with the Scottish Government in control of much more of its own budget after the fiscal settlement, with economic growth remaining weak, and with the implications of Brexit continuing to be unclear, Jim Cuthbert questions whether the code remains fit for purpose over a decade later.
He concludes that the kind of disaggregated system represented by the operation of the code is unlikely to be able to cope with the challenges it will face. There is a manifest danger that local authorities will find themselves over-committed, both in terms of traditional borrowing, and in terms of the contractual commitments they are undertaking through various forms of Public-Private Partnership, (like the Scottish Future’s Trust NPD (Non-Profit Distributing) schemes.) And, there is also the danger that, if times turn hard, authorities may be exposed to various forms of ‘off balance sheet’ debt, (arising, for example, from Arm’s Length External Organisations (ALEOs)), which are not adequately captured in the current operation of the code.
In his paper, Jim Cuthbert, therefore, makes five recommendations:
1) Local authorities need to work to longer time horizons than many of them are currently using when they are assessing the future budgetary consequences of the capital funding decisions they are making.
2) It is not enough to rely on local authorities independently assessing their future expenditure commitments because they may well be making assumptions which are mutually inconsistent.
3) What is required is a joint-system, under which local authorities’ independent financial plans are informed by, and in turn, inform, a national assessment of the prospects for the aggregate of local authority budgets.
4) It would not be appropriate for central government to attempt to carry out this national aggregate financial projection role so a suitable independent body would have to be commissioned to carry out this role. But central government will have to play its part. In particular, it will have to display much greater maturity than it does at present in being more open about potential long term financial prospects.
5) There are a number of more specific issues about the Prudential Code which need to be addressed, in particular, the code should require authorities to be much more open about issues like the financing costs actually being incurred under the guise of public private partnerships.
Commenting on his Jimmy Reid Foundation paper, Jim Cuthbert said: ‘“Dark storm clouds are now gathering and it is a matter of urgency that the Prudential Code system is adapted to cope with the uncertain environment for local authority finances. More authorities need to work to longer term planning horizons: but that alone would not be enough. In addition, there needs to be a national assessment of the prospects for the aggregate of local authority budgets, carried out by a suitable independent body. My recommendations are intended are intended to help local authorities get to grips with the challenges they face but they will need help from the Scottish Government to do so.’
The full paper is available hereJRFJCPrudentialcode Useful coverage of the Paper appears in Public Finance in an article by Keith Aitken http://www.publicfinance.co.uk/news/2017/02/replace-prudential-borrowing-code-scotland-urges-expert
Carole Ewart argues human rights are the framework for a fair society
A child witness project in Canada evaluated its service after ten years. Respondents, by this time adults, were asked which part of the service had the biggest impact and one replied the worker handing her a tissue when she was crying in the witness box. Until the system was reformed to be human rights compliant for both victims and the accused such behaviour would have been interpreted as coaching the witness and, therefore, forbidden. Enabling the child to have dignity and respect when giving evidence against her abuser, who had violated her human rights, was crucial to the successful delivery of the service.
This good news story about the impact of human rights contrasts with its sustained demonization by politicians and some media, portrayed as friend only to the prisoner, terrorist and generally undeserving. That strategy contradicts international law which states that human rights are to be equally enjoyed and entitle each of us to basic economic, social, cultural, civil, political and environmental rights from which we realise our dignity as individuals.
The right to a decent standard of living, the right to social insurance, the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health are to be progressively realised and to the maximum extent of Britain’s available resources. Collective rights are also set out such as the right to join a union so that one’s interests are represented. These internationally agreed human rights sit uncomfortably with the British Government’s austerity strategy. The political gain in marginalising an asset and making it a liability is that the Westminster government can use its power to promote an ideology rather than being constrained in practice by international human rights standards.
Ensuring human rights principles and standards are respected and promoted in the design, delivery and funding of public services will re-balance power between people and government, and deliver a more just and fair society. People can assert their rights and the government, via public sector agencies, has a duty to proactively deliver those. Unsurprisingly, politicians have invested so much effort into convincing us that human rights are the problem rather than the solution to the injustices that face too many people in our rich nation.
The Labour Government was guilty of this tactic too and was criticised by MPs, as far back as 2010, for not delivering on the very Act it introduced in 1998: ‘The Government is, of course, to be commended for introducing the Human Rights Act; but too often subsequently there has been a lack of leadership to use the Act to its full potential, ensure that public bodies promote human rights as well as do the minimum necessary to comply with the legislation’ (House of Commons House of Lords Joint Committee on Human Rights Paragraph 20, 2010).
Now the Conservative Government thinks it can get away with abolishing the Human Rights Act and maybe even withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights. Instead of Russia initiating a fracture in compliance with European human rights standards and remedies, it could actually be Britain.
How mortifying, but we need to park the emotion and focus upon mounting an effective and inclusive campaign of opposition and therein lies the problem. Domestic human rights activism has been notoriously weak in Scotland and possibly that is part of the political calculation that ultimately there will be no broad coalition of sustained action in support of human rights. A strong campaign needs people and influential organisations who are persuaded of the relevance of human rights to everyday problems.
Public support is thin on the ground as British-wide polling by the Equality and Diversity Forum (EDF, http://www.equally-ours.org.uk/) showed those who are pro-human rights make up 22% of the populace; those who are conflicted are 41%, uninterested 11% and anti 26%. The sample size from Scotland, although small, confirms similar views although polling was done before the referendum and the general election. Contradicting the propaganda that human rights are bad as well as persuading people that not only should human rights be equally enjoyed but that they are relevant is a bit of a mountain to climb in a comparatively short time. So we need some big wins and quickly.
There needs to be knowledge building and sharing using respected institutions. For example, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2001 pointed out that poverty is: ‘a global phenomenon experienced in varying degrees by all States … While the common theme underlying poor peoples’ experiences is one of powerlessness, human rights can empower individuals and communities. The challenge is to connect the powerless with the empowering potential of human rights. Although human rights are not a panacea, they can help to equalize the distribution and exercise of power within and between societies’.
More recently, the UN recognised that in the global economy there is a role for private companies to adopt a ‘respect, protect and remedy framework on human rights within their sphere of influence’. No longer is it just up to governments to deliver on human rights. The UN Guiding Principles (UNGPs) on business and human rights have influenced the Scottish Government which is in the process of commissioning a baseline survey to develop an action plan on business and human rights so that companies based in Scotland comply domestically and in their work globally. That may prove challenging to the political ideology on austerity in Britain.
Working family tax credit is being culled as the Tory Government rolls out delivery of its manifesto promise to cut a further £12bn from the welfare bill. This ‘welfare’ payment is paid to the in-work poor so reductions in tax credits are likely to lead to increased child and family poverty. Such actions are regressive which contradicts international human rights obligations.
According to research from Citizens UK, our low pay culture is costing tax payers £11 billion per year. Too many people are in work but poor. Over 5.24m people in Britain, 22% of all employees, are earning less than the Living Wage (http://www.citizensuk.org/taxpayer). The research shows some of the UK’s largest retailers businesses are benefiting a low wage strategy with Tesco paying £519m in tax but receiving £364m in public subsidy for its 209,000 low-paid workers.
Ultimately, we need to give effect to the new politics in Scotland and work effectively with likeminded people including sympathetic Conservatives. A cross-party coalition working with unions and civil society in support of the Human Rights Act is possible and tests us to think differently about how to achieve the best results using our public services. Mainstreaming human rights in Scotland will rebalance the power relationships between government and people, and between businesses and workers to make our democracy stronger and poverty a thing of the past. That does not need to be a party political issue.
Carole Ewart is a public policy and human rights consultant. She is also a member of the Jimmy Reid Foundation project board and, in this connection, will shortly be publishing a major paper on the issues of workers’ rights as human rights for the Foundation. For more information on human rights in Scotland see https://hrcscotland.wordpress.com/
The Scottish Review has featured Jimmy Reid in its online, oral archive of 6th May 2015.
‘Storm the heavens’ was recorded in front of an audience of young people with Jimmy Reid on politics in Scotland. There is an introduction by Kenneth Roy
(6 mins 57 secs)
Glasgow University holds the personal papers of Jimmy Reid. The full reference for the collection is: University of Glasgow Archive Services, Papers of James Reid, GB0248 DC455
The catalogue for the Jimmy Reid collection is available online here:
Scroll down in the right-hand pane to browse through the collection in reference order, or click on the folders and links in the left-hand pane to jump to particular sections.
To arrange an appointment, please use the webform here:
and a campus map showing the archive location at 13 Thurso Street is here:
For further information contact:
University of Glasgow
13 Thurso Street
Glasgow G11 6PE
Tel: +44 (0)141 330 5515
Fax: +44 (0)141 330 2640
The People’s Assembly Scotland Against Austerity has a petition against
austerity cuts. To find out more go to
The outsourcing of public services provision to private providers has a detrimental impact on the workforce and a knock-on effect on the quality of care, says a new TUC report.
The research, conducted by the New Economics Foundation on behalf of the TUC, looked at the scale and scope of outsourcing in five key sectors – social care, health care, offender management, local government and employment services. The report also examined the effects of outsourcing on staff working in a variety of public service jobs, such as care workers, nurses, prison officers and security guards.
The TUC findings show that compared with public service employees, workers in privatised services are more likely to work longer hours, receive less pay and be on insecure or temporary contracts. Some key figures broken down by job-type are:
- Security guards are more than twelve times more likely to regularly work longer hours (more than 48 hours per week) if they are employed by a private company rather than the public sector.
- The hourly wage for a private prison officer is more than £4 less than an equivalent public sector employee.
- Residential care workers employed by the public sector typically stay in post more than three times longer than private sector workers.
Low pay and poor working conditions in the private sector can affect the commitment and the motivation of employees and have repercussions on the quality of service provided.
For more information and a breakdown of the statistics see the full press release at https://www.tuc.org.uk/node/122318
Scottish Parliament warned action needed to protect FOI
The Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, has warned the Scottish Parliament that immediate steps must be taken to protect freedom of information (FOI) rights from the damage caused by the outsourcing of important public services. The Commissioner has made the warning in a Special Report to Parliament which is available on her website at: www.itspublicknowledge.info/reports. If you support her recommendations please let her know at email@example.com.
The Report explains that the provision to extend FOI to non-public sector organisations delivering public functions has been “woefully underused” in the ten years since FOI law came into effect, with the consequence that some public functions are no longer open to full public scrutiny.
The Commissioner’s report reflects growing concern about the impact of changes in public sector delivery on information rights. For example, since 2005, over 15,000 Scottish households have lost FOI rights following the transfer of local authority housing stock to housing associations, and the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee is currently considering a call for FOI rights to apply to all housing associations. While the Scottish Government has the power to extend FOI to third parties that provide public services, this power has only been used once in the last decade. This was in 2013 for the designation of local authority leisure and culture trusts.
Commissioner Rosemary Agnew said:
“The first decade of FOI in Scotland is a real success story. Over 60,000 requests were made last year alone, and recent research revealed that 95% of the public believe that the right of access to the information held by public bodies is important.
“Worryingly though, our right to information is being slowly eroded. Rights have been gradually lost over the last 10 years as the responsibility for public service delivery is passed to third parties. These rights are fundamental to ensuring public services are open, cost-effective and accountable to the public.
“As the models for the delivery of public functions evolve and change, it is vitally important that the public’s right to the information held about the services that deliver them are protected and strengthened”.
The Commissioner’s Special Report, FOI 10 Years On: are the right organisations covered? contains a number of recommendations for action by Scottish Government Ministers to address her concerns. The recommendations include:
· adopting a policy to ensure FOI rights are migrated whenever a body delivering public functions or services changes
· carrying out a review to identify where FOI rights have been lost over the past decade, and reinstate them
· taking steps to ensure that FOI rights apply to those bodies responsible for social housing and private prisons and
· adopting a factor based approach to wider FOI designation, to ensure that FOI rights apply to bodies which are considered to be delivering functions of a public nature.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland welcomed the report and said “We fully back the concerns of the SIC. indeed we have said since the FOISAct was passed in 2002, that a much wider range of organisations need to be covered. At that time the then Deputy FM (Jim Wallace) promised that housing associations would be considered for inclusion at an early stage. Unfortunately, successive Scottish governments have failed to act on this and the only extension has been to cover leisure and cultural trusts. It is long past time for FOI rights to cover all public services – whoever delivers them.”
The Campaign believes that the public’s right to know should be further extended to ensure accountability and transparency in the delivery of services:
“in addition to the list presented by the SIC, we could add many other bodies. Our care services are increasingly delivered under contract by voluntary or private bodies. Privatised services delivering public transport, roads maintenance, water and sewerage services et al. Even some regulatory services are now delivered by non-public bodies like the Citizens Advice Service. If the Scottish Government doesn’t grasp this challenge Ms Agnew’s concerns about the legislation being eroded will be well-founded.”
The latest Edition of Scottish Left Review carries an article by Chris Bartter of the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland which explores these issues in greater detail.
The Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FoISA) came into force ten years ago and gives people an enforceable right to access information held by certain bodies with devolved public functions in Scotland. For example councils, health boards and Universities. It is also 10 years since the introduction of the right to access information held by UK Government and public bodies such as the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
So what difference has the right made? Research, conducted by Ipsos MORI in October 2014 found that public awareness of FOI is at an all-time high of 84%, 95% of the Scottish public thinks that the right to access information held by public authorities is important while just 8% of people feel that freedom of information (FOI) is a waste of public money.
According to the Campaign for Freedom of Information in Scotland the enforceable right has played a major part in informing the public about the state of public services. The Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, said: “The FOI Act has been responsible for a new generation of official data showing where standards of public services are falling short, regulators are failing to keep up and policies are not having the promised effect.” But the Campaign said that the increasing use of private contractors and others to deliver public services is weakening the public’s right to know. Now is the time for FoISA to be extended to a range of new bodies so that the public’s right to know remains robust and relevant to our lives and concerns.
There are numerous examples of how using this enforceable right has benefitted service users and staff alike, individuals and communities For example much of the home support provided to elderly or vulnerable people is supplied in short 15-minute visits commissioned from private providers. It is often impossible to provide the range of support people may need in this time, including help in getting out of bed, dressing, bathing, using the toilet and taking medicines. An FOI survey carried out by UNISON in 2013 found that 69% of English councils provided at least some of their care in 15 minute slots with 83% of Welsh authorities and 88% of Scottish councils doing so.
To read the Campaign’s press release in more detail go to http://www.cfoi.org.uk/2014/12/foi-act-celebrates-its-10th-anniversary-on-january-1/
The Scottish Information Commissioner enforces the right to access information and she has declared that ‘Access to information is one of a range of mechanisms through which citizens can engage with public bodies and hold them to account for their performance, their spending and their decision-making. Scottish FOI is in generally good health and is a right that is known about, valued, and used. Data from public authorities suggest that over 60,000 FOI requests were made in 2013/14, with more than 90% resulting all or some of the information being provided, and less than 1% being appealed to me.’
“It’s not all positive news though. At the same time as support for FOI has increased, real concerns have arisen that FOI rights are being lost as the delivery of public services changes. For example, in the 10 years since FOI came into force, it is estimated that over 15,000 households in Scotland have lost information rights through the transfer of local authority stock to housing associations. It is a loss not only to the households themselves but to the public at large, calling to question whether such a vital service can truly be open and accountable. I am also not convinced that enough consideration has been given to extending the coverage of FOI to new areas.
“That is why I am preparing a Special Report for the Scottish Parliament to explore this important issue. My aim is for the Report to promote a constructive and grown-up debate about how we collectively ensure that rights keep pace with change, rather than fall increasingly behind.”
The Commissioner’s Special Report will be published in January 2015.
For more information go to the OSIC website http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/home/News/20141211.aspx
The Scottish Government has announced that it will publish a consultation paper on the extension of FoISA to new bodies, and other matters, in Spring 2015. In the meantime you may want to check out the information it produces on FoI at http://www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Information/FOI