Welcome to my Blog

It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Police Budget

I was giving evidence to the Scottish Parliament's Justice Committee today on the budget.

Police boards face a real terms cut of at least six per cent and, as the Scottish Government say police numbers have to be maintained, the cuts will fall almost entirely on police (civilian) staff. Boards have correctly reported that, as a consequence, they will have to backfill civilian posts with police officers.


Police staff deliver a wide range of routine, complex and specialised functions that are central to modern day police forces, while allowing uniformed officers to concentrate on operational policing duties. Maintaining an additional 1,000 police officers in this budget is a purely cosmetic political exercise. In practice, even more police officers will be taken off the street to perform tasks they are unsuited or unqualified to do - at a huge additional cost to the taxpayer.


It would be a legitimate political objective to require 1000 additional operational staff on the street. But just to target police officers is economic madness.


Many forces in Scotland are already way behind in the efficient deployment of police staffs. In England, 39% of police personnel are civilians (32% excluding PCSOs), while in Scotland it has fallen to 26.5%. The best forces in Scotland have modernised to these levels: Dumfries & Galloway has 33% while outdated Strathclyde can only manage 25%. This means that efficient forces like Dumfries & Galloway will be dragged down to the levels of the worst; like Strathclyde who have large numbers of police officers behind a desk rather than fighting crime.

Last week in evidence to the Committee the Police Federation attacked the growth in HR staff. Well I would agree, in part. In Strathclyde Police the HR department used to have 6 police officers, now they have 13, not one of which has an HR qualification. The same force has 125 police officers in the control room. In the best forces all the control room staff are civilians trained to deliver this role.
Focusing cuts on police staffs will have serious implications for policing across Scotland and it is vital that we protect the ability to deliver our frontline services, rather than score expensive political points.




Friday, 26 November 2010

Protection of Workers Bill

The Scottish Parliament's Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee (EET) announced today that they will recommend to the Parliament that the general principles of the Protection of Workers Bill are not agreed to. This was a majority decision led by SNP, Tory and Liberal-Democrat MSPs with Labour MSPs supporting the Bill.

While the committee agreed with the Bill that ensuring protection of workers providing a service to the public is essential, and that something should be done now to tackle the problem of assault on workers and deter violence, most MSPs said this can be done without additional legislation.



My initial media response was that nearly 30,000 public service workers subjected to recorded violent incidents last year will today feel badly let down by the majority of MSPs on the committee who reached this decision. They will be joined by many thousands of other workers subjected to violence in the workplace who need Parliament to take action to protect them. UNISON has always accepted that legislation is only part of the solution. But to argue that the current criminal law is adequate, when the prosecution authorities don’t even keep statistics, is a less than adequate response.


We welcome the recommendations urging the prosecution authorities to take this issue more seriously, introduce new guidelines and to collect proper data. However, this has been identified as an issue over many years and little has happened. Meanwhile every year more workers are assaulted.


We will obviously have to work harder to persuade MSP’s to reject this recommendation and approve the general principles of the Bill when it is debated in the chamber early next year.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tax Row and the LIT

Parliament yesterday was completely dominated by the tax row as MSPs lined up to condemn John Swinney for not informing Parliament that tax-system payments had been withheld from HMRC. This makes the Scottish Variable Rate (SVR) of Income Tax uncollectable, even if anyone wanted to.

Let me say, that in my book, John Swinney is the most competent minister in the Cabinet. Everyone, especially UNISON, give finance ministers a hard time even when times are good. John Swinney has the least enviable job in government at the present time, coupled with a huge portfolio of responsibilities - the minister for everything as he is known. Despite this he is a fair person to do business with, a skilled debater and I would certainly not question his integrity. On this occasion his defence that the money could have been used better, simply missed the point, and I think he realised that by the end of the debate. This is Parliament's power and it is not for any government, especially a minority one, to take away.

But there is another point arising out of this political storm that hasn't been given any coverage. Whilst the Scottish Government may have had no intention of using the SVR, they did tell us that they wanted a Local Income Tax. More than that, they spent a lot of money working up their plans, issuing consultation papers and the like. A Local Income Tax would also need an up to date database of Scottish tax payers, a point we made during the consultation. I was always sceptical about the Government's real commitment to this change in local taxation. It always looked more like a political strategy to attack Labour over an unpopular tax. Now we know that they had no real intention to introduce a Local Income Tax.

On the subject of the Council Tax I would recommend reading Professor David Bell's paper to the Finance committee on the budget and in particular the section (p10+) on who benefits from the Council Tax freeze. He makes the point that the freeze is neither fair or supports economic growth. A point reinforced yesterday when the Irish Government introduced a property tax for the first time. UNISON has always argued for a basket of taxation and that if we didn't have a property tax, we would probably have to invent one. Well the Irish have just found that out.

David Bell's recommendation is "that the Finance Committee might consider whether the benefits of the council tax freeze outweigh its costs in terms of the services not delivered by local government or by other public bodies due to lack of funding." Absolutely spot on. 

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

TU Week - Green Workplaces

This is Trade Union Week in the Scottish Parliament, an opportunity to showcase some of the work of the movement in Scotland and discuss current issues with MSPs.



I was speaking at a lunchtime meeting on green workplaces chaired by Patrick Harvie MSP. I was able to highlight the work UNISON has been doing to promote green workplaces in Scotland. This includes a successful Climate Change Fund bid to develop green workplaces in South Lanarkshire Council. The project has only just started but there has been a good response from members. Thirty have already volunteered to become Green Champions. The strength of workplace greening is that it is much more likely to achieve the culture change we need than top down initiatives driven by employers. They should also transfer what they do into the home – a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.


This led on to a discussion about what employers and government can do. The Scottish Government is consulting over statutory guidance to public bodies on how they should meet their public duty obligations under the Climate Change (S) Act. The current draft guidance is a good example of a traditional top down leadership model that rarely succeeds in making real change. At best it will be another tick box policy, or a plaque on the wall. In their negotiations over this year’s local government budget, CoSLA even sought to have their climate change obligations suspended. No real surprise, as they have sought to water down the commitment at every stage in the Bill’s progress. But it does indicate how far we still need to go to tackle climate change in Scotland.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Scottish Budget Briefing

Published today my more detailed briefing and commentary on the Scottish Government's spending plans and draft budget for 2011-12.

Having now worked my way through all 214 pages of the plan and most of the additional documents, my conclusions remain pretty much as I set out on the day. A poor hand dealt by the UK Government - but some poor choices made by John Swinney.

The local government settlement is without doubt the worst piece of politics. We loudly applauded the Scottish Government for reducing ring fencing. However, they have now effectively returned to that approach and taken away any vestige of respect for local democracy. All because they think the Council Tax freeze is a political winner next year. Well no one likes to pay tax, but people understand that local services have to be paid for. This particular tax cut is also fundamentally unfair, as it favours the wealthiest home owners at the expense of the rest, who are paying increased charges for services.

Then we have the wasteful expenditure. Police officer numbers maintained on paper, but in practice they will be pushing a desk, not patrolling our streets. Teachers doing the job of sacked classroom assistants and a new bonanza for management consultants. Then we have the return of PFI. The most expensive form of borrowing possible and another cash cow for the banks who got us into this mess.

As expected there were some nasty surprises in the detail. A number of public bodies have pretty substantial cuts, well above the average, with no justification in the text. SEPA and Skills Development Scotland to name just two. Plenty of rhetoric about the low carbon economy, yet the energy budget gets a big cut.

None of this should distract from the fact that the UK Con-Dem coalition are cutting spending too far, too fast, at a time when economic recovery remains fragile. However, within these constraints, the Scottish Government has made some poor decisions in this draft budget.  

Monday, 22 November 2010

Mobilise 2010

UNISON Scotland ran a different type of training event last weekend. Mobilise 2010 was a campaign skills festival.

Instead of a conventional campaign skills course the weekend included a wide range of skills workshops and participants could choose which modules to attend. They included conventional training on media skills, campaign organisation, lobbying etc to highly participative sessions on public speaking, political song and the use of film. The evening's brought together some of the skills into a social setting.

Over a 100 activists and staff attended and the feedback was very positive. To get a flavour of the activities you can view films and photies on the Mobilise 2010 Facebook page.


Full marks to those who chose to spend Saturday morning with me learning about public finance. Not the most exciting way to spend your weekend! The photie above is of the afternoon session on lobbying decision makers. Thanks to Pauline McNeil MSP for helping me out with this session.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Commission on Public Services

The Scottish Government has announced the membership and remit of its Commission on Public Services chaired by former STUC General Secretary, Campbell Christie.

The remit is broad whilst recognising the ethos of public services in Scotland, or as the FM has described it, "The Commission will therefore examine various options for reform whilst retaining the social democratic ethos of our public service delivery in Scotland".

Some of the vision points will be challenging, such as "are democratically accountable to the people of Scotland at both national and local levels". Local democratic accountability doesn't exist for most public services outwith councils and the two health boards that have the pilot direct election schemes. Having said that, this is hardly consistent with the draft budget proposals for local government that effectively reintroduce ring fencing and undermine local democracy.

The membership is a fairly predictable balance of interests. The one rather obvious gap, so far, is anyone who actually delivers public services. The Chair wisely avoided getting drawn into the election and therefore the Commission will report in June.

The Commission approach will no doubt be criticised by some. On the day Lord Young resigned we are duly warned of the shortcomings of the alternative approach. A pompous, opinionated individual, who made proposals on matters of life and death in health and safety law, without a scrap of evidence to support his findings. Give me a Commission with proper evidence procedures any day!

It is a perfectly reasonable idea to ask a Commission to take a detailed look at Scotland's fairly complex public service organisation. My scepticism comes from long experience of public service reorganisation. They almost always cause organisational paralysis for a couple of years up to the change and then a further two years while the structures are established. They rarely achieve the promised service gains or financial savings.

In the current financial crisis politicians talking about reorganisation is a tempting distraction technique from the impact of cuts in services. I was giving a presentation earlier this year to a visiting group of French business and union leaders. They expressed surprise at our Anglo-Saxon desire to constantly reorganise. After all, their key structures have hardly changed since Napoleon. I fear they may have the right approach.

Politician of the Year

I was at the Politician of the Year awards last night and congratulations to all the winners.

In particular to Hugh Henry MSP. His Audit Committee has demonstrated the strengths of the Scottish Parliament's committee system with their detailed scrutiny of government and civil servants. Not always comfortable for those giving evidence, but essential none the less. He went on to become the first backbencher to be named Scottish Politician of the Year. Not many in the room backed that result, but it was well deserved.

Hugh was of course a minister in the last administration and what impressed me was the way he quickly adapted to opposition. When some of his colleagues were still thinking like ministers, Hugh was thinking up campaigns and making contact with civic Scotland to address issues of concern.

A good example of that is his Protection of Workers Bill. I suspect some members of the committee may not grasp the issues as he has, but we will see.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Scottish Spending Review

So after weeks of leaks and spin we finally got the Scottish Government's spending review today in Parliament. A one year budget to get them past the election next year, despite the UK CSR setting out spending plans for three years. £1.3m of spending cuts imposed by the UK Government next year growing to 3.3bn in real terms over the next three years.

The lowlights of the announcements today include:
  • So called efficiency savings increasing to 3%. This is just a weak mask for cuts across the board in every department.
  • A public sector pay freeze for those above £21k and £250 for those below. Even that concession is no where near inflation and constitutes a pay cut for the low paid.
  • A continuation of the Council Tax freeze. A tax cut for wealthy home owners at the expense of services, jobs and increased charges for those who can least afford to pay.
  • The reintroduction of PFI funded from revenue with all the associated costs. Years of cash wasted on the Scottish Futures Trust only to return to a failed policy.
  • The total abrogation of local democracy with a finance settlement and services directed by the Scottish Government. That is unless any council takes the so called choice of a double digit Council Tax rise.
  • One of those directed spending requirements is on police numbers. As a consequence we are likely to have even more police officers replacing civilian specialists instead of patrolling our streets.
A couple of partial highlights. A commitment to no compulsory redundancy in return for 'flexibilities', although it remains to be seen if the Scottish Government can deliver this across the public sector. Plus the introduction of the Living Wage in the public sector, but no mention of extending the benefit to the private sector through procurement.

When we do the detailed number crunching over the coming days I am sure we will find more smoke and mirrors as is normal in these spending reviews. The real villain here is of course the UK Con-Dem coalition and their ideological spending cuts. But the Scottish Government also had choices to make today. Sadly, they took some pretty bad ones.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Consultants

Excellent piece of investigative journalism by Tom Gordon in the Sunday Herald this morning. The Scottish Government are offering a staggering £250m of consultancy contracts at the same time as cutting public services and imposing a pay freeze on public service workers.

Whilst I accept the constraints imposed by the Con-Dem coalition's slash and burn approach to public services, the Scottish Government still has choices to make. One of the areas of waste UNISON has highlighted many times is spending on consultants. For example we published the result of an FoI survey of contracts awarded to KPMG. Always the first to claim they can cut costs, however, they have no compunction about accept millions of pounds of taxpayers cash.

Management consultants rarely offer anything new. They sell the latest fad and most of those are simply a reworking of old ideas. 15 years ago they told us we should decentralise support services. Now they say we should centralise. Of course they always dream up a new name - this time they call it shared services.

John Swinney's article in today's Scotland on Sunday talks about hard choices to be made. Actually John, this is the easiest decision you will have to make - scrap the consultants.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Pay Freeze

According to the large number of media enquiries today the Scottish Government is briefing that they intend to announce a pay freeze alongside the spending review next week. Of course the Scottish Government does not directly control the pay of the vast majority of public service workers in Scotland. Any more than they control job losses, so any linkage is tangential at best.

They also appear to be briefing that public sector workers will benefit from their council tax freeze. This is particularly galling when the biggest gainers from this real terms tax cut are the wealthiest home owners. Not many of our members in that category! What our members and other low paid workers do have to pay is increased charges for the council services they rely on, because that is how most councils are plugging the financial gap. The Government is keen to talk up the tax freeze, but less keen to talk about the services that will be cut to pay for it and the consequential job losses.

Part of this pay freeze is to pay for a shift in revenue to capital expenditure, in a claimed boost for jobs. What the Government forgets is that low paid workers spend almost all their earnings in the local economy. Capital expenditure is not nearly as efficient in creating jobs because the benefit leaks away in company profits and dividends, not to mention out of Scotland. The CBI has, not surprisingly, been busy lobbying for this shift. Company Directors will be amongst the biggest gainers and are the first to call for wage cuts in the public sector. This means they can award themselves the 55% pay increases reported last week.

It is also an issue of basic fairness. Many, including the Scottish Government, have rightly criticised the UK Government CSR announcement as unfair, hitting hardest those least able to bear it. Well a Scottish pay freeze is also unfair. Low paid workers providing public services face increased pension contributions, housing benefit cuts and increasing inflation on essential goods like food. That all adds up, not to a pay freeze, but a very real cut in living standards.

Nobody in the public sector is expecting substantial pay rises in the coming year. But most of the workers who deliver public services in Scotland are low paid and a pay freeze is not only unfair, but will damage the Scottish economy.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Scottish Water Bill

Up early this morning for a BBC Radio debate on the Scottish Water Bill. The Scottish Government got itself into a muddle over the Bill. First it was going to go straight for legislation and now it is going for the more normal consultation route. Whatever the reasons for the muddle, it gave MSPs an opportunity to poke fun at the minister in parliament yesterday.

My main point in this morning's debate was that whilst yesterday's muddle might make good political theatre, we now expect our parliamentarians to raise their game and see the bigger picture.

The aim of the Bill remains to keep Scottish Water in public ownership, but to allow the utility to expand its operations and engage in wider activities such as renewable energy projects. It also provides an opportunity to promote a wider vision of water resources. We particularly welcomed the Minister’s commitment to retain the control of Scottish Water in public ownership. Scottish Labour articulated a similar vision in its policy programme agreed at Oban recently so we at least have a shared vision across a large parliamentary majority.



The long term vision is that Scotland’s water is much more than the provision of a utility. It is a vital economic asset that will become even more important in the years to come. If the 20th Century was dominated by oil, then the 21st Century will be dominated by water provision. Wet countries like Scotland are well placed to exploit the economic and environmental opportunities. Not an easy concept to sell on a typically wet and windy November day in Scotland!


Jeremy Purvis MSP for Liberals used the budget crisis and the concept of mutualisation as cover for their privatisation policy. I would expect the Tories to support privatisation but I am lost as to why the Liberals have joined them. The much quoted Welsh Water is not a real mutual. It is a cosmetic cover for the private water companies that actually deliver water services in Wales. Much emphasis is placed on the £140m of government financing for capital in the current financial difficulties. Less well known is the fact that £90m is returned through loan repayment. None of this would be necessary if Scottish Water had prudential borrowing powers. The implementation of the Calman recommendations or the relaxation of Treasury budget guidance could achieve this. I suggested to Jeremy that he might like to ask his pal Danny Alexander MP to facilitate this now.

We expect the usual vested interests to use the Bill consultation to yet again argue the case for privatisation/mutualisation. This would involve selling off assets paid for by the taxpayer over many years at a fraction of its true value. We would be selling off huge swathes of Scotland, almost certainly to foreign interests, together with the opportunity to exploit Scotland’s water potential for the benefit of big business rather than the people. Charge payers would face higher bills to pay for the purchase debt, fees and directors salaries.When communities across the world are reclaiming their water, it would be crazy for Scotland to abandon our greatest asset.


UNISON Scotland regards the Bill consultation as an important step towards a broader approach to water in Scotland. The current approach of the Scottish Water Board and the regulatory framework can act as barrier to this larger vision for Scotland’s water. Scotland needs a democratically accountable, strategic approach to water that is broader than simply providing a utility, important though that is.


We can be the Scottish Government's sternest critic on many issues. But apart from the process muddle, they have the direction and vision right on this one. For politicians there are only two positions in this debate. You share a long term vision for a public water service or you want to sell off our greatest asset. Your choice, but I am confident the people of Scotland will recognise those who have the big vision over the short term privatisers.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Remembrance day

Today is Remembrance Day. The time of the year when by the wearing of a simple emblem, a red poppy, we salute the memory of those who sacrificed their health, their strength, even their lives, that we might live in a free country.

In remembering those who sacrificed so much we should also remind people how the British National Party has repeatedly sided with the Nazis and believed it was wrong that Britain went to war with Germany.


Only this August Adam Walker, a leading BNP officer, attended an international far-right gathering in Japan hosted by Issuikai, a right-wing association that denies Japanese war crimes. While there he visited the Yasukuni Shrine to commemorate the Japanese war dead and excused their actions by claiming they "were doing what they thought was right at the time".

This is typical of the BNP whose leaders have repeatedly praised the Waffen SS. Holocaust deniers are regular speakers at BNP events.

With communities facing huge reductions in public services over the coming year there is a real danger that the BNP will try to exploit the unease and economic difficulties these spending cuts will cause. That is why it is even more important we tell the truth about the BNP.

Hope not Hate is organising a number of events this weekend to tell the truth about the BNP. They quote Doris you lived through World War 2:
"The Nazis wanted to rule over us, but they couldn't," remembers Doris. "People have short memories and the young do not know what we went through, but anyone who lived through the war would never want to vote for the BNP. Nazis should not be allowed to rule anywhere, they must be guarded against, surely everyone must know that."

Like Doris, but unlike the BNP, decent people in Scotland remember those who sacrificed so much to rid Europe of Nazism. That is why we campaign against the BNP.
 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Big Society and the cuts

A number of examples today of how the so called 'Big Society' is all rhetoric and no action.

The closure of Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) offices due to council cuts illustrates the link between public spending cuts and the voluntary sector.

A CAB worker in an office being closed explained this well. Christine Drennan said: “We understand the financial stringency but it is strange that this comes at a time when the country is being asked to stand behind the ‘Big Society’ and volunteers. This essential service is becoming more essential. There is a misunderstanding that you can have people as volunteers without structures. You cannot. And structures cost money.”

Many hundreds of charities dependent on Government funding have agreements which expire in March next year. At the same time they face public funding cuts, other sources of income for the sector are coming to an end. Individual donations are falling as the public tighten their belts and many grant-giving trusts are struggling as investments stagnate.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Big Society concept has not been properly thought through. The Institute for Public Policy Research warns that the funding cliff edge will “undermine the potential of voluntary groups to fulfil the Coalition Government’s Big Society plans”. The New Economics Foundation, report 'Cutting It' goes further. It says, the scale and speed of the cuts leave civic society with “an impossible job to do."

I see that even UK government ministers are struggling with the concept. Delivering a speech to volunteering organisation CSV, the children's minister said: "The trouble is that most people don't know what the Big Society really means, least of all the unfortunate ministers who have to articulate it."

Ed Miliband got it just about right when he said the Tories were "cynically attempting to dignify its cuts agenda, by dressing up the withdrawal of support with the language of reinvigorating civic society."

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

High Pay Commission

A really welcome announcement today of the establishment of a High Pay Commission set up by Compass with the support of the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. It is chaired by Deborah Hargreaves, a highly regarded former business editor of the Financial Times, and now launched it will run independently from Compass. Deborah is joined by a panel of five Commissioners from business, academia and the trade unions.


The recent IDS survey showing 55% pay increases for FTSE 100 Directors has ignited the public debate around issues of high pay.

New polling to mark the launch shows that 85% of people think top executives are overpaid. Only 9% of people realise just how high executive pay is and how out of touch it has become with workers pay in recent years. More than 200 times the average worker.

The Commission has a website and is inviting evidence.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Big Climate Connection

The Stop Climate Chaos Coalition is calling on people across the UK to connect with other people in their communities on the 5th or 6th of November and lobby their MPs. SCCS is Scotland's biggest member coalition representing nearly 2 million Scots calling for action on climate change.



The world needs a global solution to climate change delivered by a fair, ambitious and binding agreement under the United Nations. The UK should deliver real leadership: leading by example to deliver on a low carbon economy at home, and leading in the global negotiations to push for richer countries to provide support for action in developing countries.
 In the next few months there are two key opportunities for MPs to influence the global and domestic climate change agenda: the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill and the UN Climate Conference in Cancun.

In the Energy Security and Green Economy Bill, introduce enabling legislation so a strong Emissions Performance Standard (EPS) for fossil fuel power stations can be set to enable delivery of a decarbonised electricity supply by 2030.

At the Cancun International Climate talks in December the UK should support the establishment of one common climate fund to help developing countries adapt to climate change, develop in a low carbon way and protect their forests. The UK should also champion innovative sources of public climate finance and guarantee that UK money for adaptation in developing countries will be provided as grants rather than loans.

Lots of materials to support the Big Climate Connection can be viewed at the SCCS website.


And on the subject of climate change please support stronger duties on public bodies. Scotland has tough targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our local authorities and other public bodies have a major part to play in achieving these targets. Thanks to campaigning by UNISON and others in Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, public bodies have statutory duties under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009. Yet the Scottish Government does not plan to require public bodies to report on what they are actually doing to reduce emissions – making it difficult to monitor their performance and therefore their overall progress. You can respond to the current consultation through our Green Workplaces page.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Improving Public Services

I spent today at a seminar looking at how to improve public services. There are many of these events in Scotland at present and most are just a platform for the outsourcing providers and management consultants to pitch to the public sector. Whilst there was an element of that at this seminar, the speakers and the debate was much more balanced than others I have been at.

My presentation aimed to give a reality check to some of the main proposals for improving public services. First and foremost there is the financial position. This will restrict the ability to innovate as many schemes require spending to make eventual savings. The 40% cut in capital is also being used as an excuse to privatise, with the contractor providing the capital investment. What is often forgotten is that this has to be paid for from the revenue budget, at far greater cost than local authority borrowing. There is a real risk that we end up wasting similar amounts of taxpayer pounds as happened with PFI.

Outsourcing is back on the agenda with a range of doubtful claims being made for potential savings. A new breed of officials who weren't around during the 1980's CCT and market testing period will need to relearn the lessons of that period. Contractors will almost always cost to the margin and make their profits through variation orders and corner cutting. The Edinburgh trams are all over the media this morning and that is a classic example of this contractor strategy. I used Liverpool Direct as my case study. A recent audit report of this flagship Joint Venture reported that the council could save £23m p.a. by taking the work back in-house.

Shared services in principle is a good idea. However, in practice the promised savings rarely materialise and costs are often shunted to operational functions. Contact centres can work for simple transactions but are not always suitable for the complexity of public service provision.

Service redesign is always best done in partnership with the staff who actually deliver the service. If job security is guaranteed under an organisational change agreement, then staff are more willing to innovate and there are many examples of real service improvement using this model. It's also a lot cheaper than the £2.8bn wasted each year by the public sector on management consultants!

Monday, 1 November 2010

Scottish Labour Conference 3

Day 3 and the weather breaks to remind us what a beautiful place Oban harbour is.

Traditionally this is the quiet final morning, although the attendance first thing clearly benefited from the clocks being turned back!

The main debate was the economy and skills. Brilliantly led off by Richard Leonard with his usual balance of history and radical vision. Good contributions from the floor including UNISON's Edwina Phillips, a front line careers advisor, setting out what life is like for job seeking young people in the current economic climate.

I was asked to give the vote of thanks. So many people work hard to ensure a conference of this size runs smoothly and we should give them full credit. I tried to resist rodent jokes after Harriet Harman's outburst - but failed! Too tempting. 

But it was an opportunity to point out that this was the conference when the New Labour brand was finally binned. Not before time. Although as one supporter of the ideology pointed out to me - In Scottish Labour the brand never really reached any further than the notepaper. More importantly party leaders and speakers showed at this conference that substance is more important than spin and Labour values beat market values every time.

Overall this was one of the best Scottish Labour conferences I have attended. Always good to meet old comrades, but as in the UNISON delegation, there were plenty of first time delegates. That is a good sign for the future.