Friday, 18 November 2011

Scotland’s Towns Conference

The only conference in the UK to focus on national and local issues facing Scotland's towns took place this week in Dunfermline. CSPP policy director Ross Martin chaired the event and I tweeted throughout it using the hashtag #scottowns .

Due to internet problems the tweets ended prematurely. Some of the key points from the remaining speakers can be found below. A video of the event and presentations will be available in due course.

George Pye, Thinking Place

• Place is the hero. Irrespective of what you are doing, place is the glue.
• Almost every council says their area is a great place to live, work and invest. This is not a brand. It is a given.
• Develop a shared story that is rooted in the past but points forward.
• It is not simply about listing your assets. Be distinctive, be attractive.
• A high quality public realm is imperative.
• The core audience for a town centre, ultimately, is the local people.

Scotland’s towns have got talent

Each ‘act’ had 3 minutes to pitch an idea or priority for surviving & thriving. Cross examination and voting followed.

1. Mary Goodman, FSB Scotland, pitched for an audit of public buildings to identify gaps and promote mixed usage (pub/private sharing space) of these spaces.

2. Fiona Kell, EDI Group/Edinburgh Council, took on the role of “nasty Simon Cowell” for the event and said:

“Let’s accept that we cannot sustain the same number of town centres (some may need to go) and instead create a well-connected structure of attractive and successful towns”.

3. Jim MacDonald, AD+S, called for “Start up Streets” to be rolled out across Scotland, a measure that was co-designed by people of Stirling to re-think the city centre.

The idea is simple: re-consider King Street as a ‘start up street’, which enables business start-ups, scaling of small business and curating events and activities in the public space.

4. Aidan Murphy, IGuide, pitched for Scottish towns to use their app that offers a completely managed interactive digital service - basically a virtual, interactive walkthrough companion.

The guide can be used by consumers, retailers and town centre managers and be tailored to their own specific needs.


Mary - clear majority in favour; Fiona - 50/50 split; Jim - huge majority in favour; and Aidan - huge majority in favour = draw between the last two pitches.

Arthur Potts Dawson, The People's Supermarket

• Food is a conduit for making people aware of where you are in the world and a conduit for communication.
• Concept - create a people’s supermarket, a not-for-profit community owned supermarket. People pay £25 per year to become members and provide four hours of their time per month to reap a dividend (discounted food - 10% off your shopping).
• Spent a year and a half failing to get positive responses. Today, 1450 members with local becoming a key issue.
• Connecting urban consumers with rural producers.
• Empowers and energises the community. The glue that held communities together is no longer there; food can provide the social capital to bind people together.
• “Invest in people and your town will flourish”.

Heather Fargo, State of California's Strategic Growth Council

• Be selective in lifting policy ideas from the US. We are trying to rectify the mistakes we made in the past.
• You need money and in Scotland you cannot easily raise revenue. Thus, why don’t you become a BID?
• If we do not invest in our towns and cities our economy will not turn the corner.
• If it doesn’t match the style of the town, say no to developers. How your town looks is crucially important.

Ian Lindley, Scotland’s Towns Partnership

• Ian fleshed out the STP and explained where they fit in the current policy landscape and why people/organisations should join.
• The key role of the STP is to create a unified voice to campaign and lobby on towns and town centre issues; a co-ordinated voice for change to establish a common ground.
Find out more.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Independence, Devolution Max, or No Thanks?

Monday, 5 December 2011, 0945-1315
Raeburn Room. Old College, University of Edinburgh

Latest findings from the Scottish Social Attitudes survey on attitudes towards Scotland’s constitutional future with Professor John Curtice and Rachel Ormston from the Scottish Centre for Social Research.

"The SNP’s success in winning an overall majority in the Scottish election in May means it now seems inevitable that a referendum on independence will be held at some point between 2014 and 2016. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government has indicated that it remains open to the idea of also including a second alternative on the ballot paper, so-called ‘devolution max’.

The Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey has been tracking how Scots feel about the way that their country is and should be governed ever since the advent of devolution in 1999. It has secured the reputation for itself as the most authoritative independent source on what Scots want their constitutional future to look like.

At this seminar the first results from the most recent SSA survey, conducted in the weeks immediately after the May election will be presented. Thanks to funding from the Nuffield Foundation, the 2011 survey not only charts whether the SNP’s victory was accompanied by a swing towards independence, but also makes it possible to undertake the most detailed investigation yet into what Scots think independence might bring. It also brings new evidence to bear on what the public might make about devolution max.

Amongst the questions that will be addressed:

• Has the nationalist success in May heralded increased support for independence?
• What do people think would happen if Scotland were to become independent?
• How far do people’s views about independence depend on their expectations of its likely economic consequences?
• Which constitutional option would satisfy most Scots?
• Are Scots happy that their taxes and benefits might be different from those in England?


09.45 Registration and Coffee

10.00-10.45 Independence: Trends, hopes and fears. John Curtice
Has support for independence increased? What do people hope and fear would happen if Scotland did become independent?

10.45-11.30 Independence: A pocket book issue? Rachel Ormston
Who is winning the economic argument about independence? How much does support for the idea depend on whether or not people think they would be better off?

11.30-12.00 Devolution Max: United but apart? John Curtice
How popular is devolution maxt? And how different from England do they really want policies in Scotland to be?

12.00-12.30 Final Discussion

12.30 Lunch and informal discussion


The cost to attend this event is £50.00 (no VAT applicable). This includes all refreshments. To book a place contact Lindsay Adams.

By email –

By post – Institute of Governance
University of Edinburgh
Chisholm House
High School Yards
EH1 1LZ"

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Town Centre Regeneration – Learning Lessons?

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

A few weeks ago the long-awaited Douglas Wheeler Associates report on "Town Centre Regeneration: how does it work and what can be achieved?” was published by the Scottish Government. Four parts are available for download on the website: Summary, Report, TCRF Case Studies and Appendices.

The 18 month long research project set out to develop a clear understanding of activities in town centre regeneration in Scotland and the outputs and outcomes following on from these activities. Specifically the research considered the much-lauded £60m Town Centre Regeneration Fund (TCRF) and its success/progress on the ground.

One blog post can not do justice to these documents (c240 pages in total) and the research, so please go and read them yourselves, but some points need repeating here.

Ten learning points and recommendations are presented:

1. Complex concept and town centre regeneration strategies should be integrated and sited within whole town strategies.

2. Recognise scale and distinctiveness of town centres in a changing wider context.

3. Town centre regeneration needs more than physical investment.

4. Need a clear shared vision, strategy and action plan.

5. Partnership is not an outcome; effective and coordinated delivery is essential.

6. Importance of small/medium businesses and potential of community ownership of assets.

7. Improving town centre regeneration project planning; in most cases no clear results chain has been identified.

8. Improving approaches to town centre health check assessment and monitoring.

9. Current effective evaluation of town centre projects has limitations.

10. Address limitations in evaluation: apply Theories of Change.

On TCRF the research notes the importance of the intervention and the ways in which it acted as a confidence builder and accelerator of existing “off the shelf” projects. But the actual TCRF approach was criticised in terms of timescale, capital only requirements, inefficient competitive bidding and a lack of consistent baselines and outcomes. Going forward the research recommends that the TCRF, if re-run, should;

A: Look to a 3/4 year rolling programme to allow better strategic planning.

B: Phase the funding over the 3 to 4 years to allow more considered responses, designs and other potential investment.

C: Allow a longer timescale for the TCRF application process to ensure the full potential of projects and design issues are resolved.

D: Develop Theories of Change as part of the project planning process and follow through on monitoring and evaluation.

Overall the report recommends the dissemination of good practice, development of detailed appraisal criteria skills, development of outcome focused commissioning processes and skills, implementation of town centre health checks and monitoring consistency, and robust evaluation of projects.

Not much to complain about in these then. Many of the points re-iterate issues and topics that have been mentioned before, notably in the Scottish Towns Group report, though here with a stronger evidence base and specificities from the TCRF.

But for me, two things leap out of all this.

First, why are we still having to make noises about the need for clear and consistent data collection, both spatially and longitudinally? If we wish to be serious in terms of everything we do in Scotland, then good quality data has to be the basic building block. How else are we meant to know what is going on and what works and what does not?

Secondly, can we please, when we introduce schemes and proposals (and the TCRF is a good example) do so via proper planned discussion, awareness of possibilities and desired outcomes, and sustain the intervention for a reasonable period – a one-off can not be expected to solve big problems. The TCRF was rightly, much praised, but Scotland’s towns deserve more than this one-hit (and miss) wonder.

Let’s do TCRF again, this time with feeling and having learnt the valuable lessons.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Interns are not workers

This article was originally published in Better Nation

There is nothing quite like feeling passionate and angry on a wet, dreich Monday. I’m usually foaming at the mouth reading about internships at the best of time, but Nick Cohen’s excellent article in the Observer has (almost) pushed me over the edge.

Before launching into a polemic it’s worth pausing and providing a bit of context. In November 2009 graduate unemployment was spiralling out of control - youth unemployment was approaching one million, a fifth of who were graduates.

Essentially, it was making a difficult task (obtaining a paid internship in Scotland) even more challenging in an underdeveloped “intern industry”. And there was little assistance to help Scotland’s struggling graduates.

With no funding the Centre for Scottish Public Policy (CSPP) created the Adopt an Intern programme (excuse the ancient site - a new one is on the way). The aim was simple: to build a fair, accessible and transparent internship culture in Scotland. Fast forward two years and 107 paid internships have been placed with the assistance of Scottish Government funding and employer contributions across the public, private and third sectors.

It has been a huge success and the programme is now offering intern exchanges between Germany and Scotland. But enough about the CSPP. As Cohen’s article painfully points out, they are only scratching the surface. Quite clearly there are deep-seated and regressive cultural attitudes to internships.

Interns, so the argument goes, require experience in the labour market so do not deserve to be paid. Likewise, they are a different type of employee who is not protected by the Minimum wage or Equal Pay. Thus, their terms and conditions can be altered at the whim of an employer. As new Defence Secretary Philip Hammond (the richest man in the Cabinet) said:

“I would regard it as an abuse of taxpayer funding to pay for something that is available for nothing and which other Members are obtaining for nothing.”

How frugal. It is no surprise, then, to find new companies popping up to provide free interns and quell demand. One of the companies Cohen highlighted is Etsio. Curiosity got the better of me and I checked out their website. Honestly, I wish I hadn’t.

The FAQs section is worth quoting in detail because it’s illustrative of the norms and values embedded in London’s internship culture. I couldn’t resist adding some comments.


Why should I pay for a job?

You aren't paying for a job (yes you are). You're buying experience. Most applicants we come across don't have any experience that would make them useful to our employers (students don’t have work experience? I don’t know what graduates they know).

And remember that our work experience clients are putting themselves at risk by exposing their trade secrets, customers and inside information to you. That isn't the kind of experience that you can get elsewhere.

How much do I have to pay? (Yes, they have to pay for the privilege of working for free)

Each employer sets their own daily fees.

Employers & Interns

Is it ethical? (Mmm)
With students now paying £40,000 for a university education - but zero useful experience for an employer - we don't think it's unreasonable for them to pay a few hundred pounds to get invaluable real life experience.

And many of our employers are small businesses who wouldn't normally take on an intern. Etsio opens up the market to whole new areas. And applicants get to see how real businesses work. (If you or your parents can afford it)

It's definitely morally suspect for an intern to take the place of a worker; and that happens all over the Western world at present. But (a big BUT) the Etsio service allows applicants to get a ringside view of what it's like to work in the amazing businesses that feature in Etsio.

Is it legal?
Yes. It's a legal requirement to pay workers a minimum wage. But the interns are not workers: they don't have regular tasks, they aren't under the control of the employer, and they can come and go as they please. The intern is paying to learn, just as they pay to attend university. (All of this is complete and utter nonsense).

How does Etsio make its money?

By adding a small admin charge. It's included in the fee that's shown against each employer. There are no other charges.”

There is no shortage of organisations or politicians (a certain Mr Clegg comes to mind) that could have been named and shamed. The list is long, very long and by no means is it restricted to England (see Kezia Dugdale’s article). The exploitation of interns (graduates who will become critical to the success of the national economy) will continue until we settle some basic, fundamental questions:

1. If interns are not workers then what are they?
2. What rights do interns possess in the workplace?
3. Should interns be paid (at least) a Minimum wage?
4. At what point in the internship does an intern become an employee? 6 months? 9 months? A year?

The dictionary defines a slave as “a person who works in harsh conditions for low pay”. I’ll let you decide whether an unpaid intern is a slave. But one thing we all should be able to agree on is this: paid internships, a “proven access point to professions”, are central to making a fair, equitable and mobile society.


Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Manager

This article is the view of Barry and not necessarily the CSPP.

Christmas and Hogmanay had better be good

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail (a number of graphs are available in the original post)

Two sets of figures out this week:

CPI is 5.2%; RPI is 5.6% (where did the 2% target go?)

Scottish Retail Sales: Total up 0.8%, Like for Like down 0.6% (UK comparables +2.5% and +0.3%).

As the Scottish Retail Consortium note in their commentary on their (SRC-KPMG Scottish Retail Sales Monitor) sales figures, put these two sets of data together and you can see why retailers in Scotland are in deep trouble. With consumer inflation way ahead of retail sales, business inflation equally high (and that’s forgetting any “health levy”), disposable incomes set to fall further and job losses in the public and other sectors likely to increase, Christmas and Hogmanay are the only real potential bright spots on the horizon.

Scotland has now underperformed the UK for almost the last two years, with the detailed figures showing a real collapse in non-food sales in Scotland. The only hope is that we get a good festive season to tide retailers over. Given the huge sales and proportion of profits made at this time of the year by retailers, there is much still to gain – and lose. A bad Christmas and we could see quite a lot of closures in the New Year. A good Christmas – if consumers loosen their belts a bit and celebrate – or if retailers have bought and managed costs well – will see them well placed to soldier on.

The problem for retailers is that consumers are nervous about the future and worried about their costs, whether it be energy or food. As a result they are holding back big purchases, trading down to value and lower brand points, perhaps paying off debts at record low rates and generally hunkering down. Yes, there is the occasional treat and replacement of luxuries, but for many it is about surviving.

The Scottish Government is reported as saying that it was doing all it could, within its current powers, to boost economic security and consumer confidence in “tough times”. “Measures such as the council tax freeze, free prescriptions and no tuition fees are helping promote consumption in Scotland by protecting household budgets at a time of rising inflation and fuel prices.”

However, I am not sure such measures actually “promote consumption”. Do consumers see the money they don’t have to pay for prescriptions as money they can then spend on other things, given the rising costs of fuel etc? I doubt it. I suspect they recognise the lack of added costs, but don’t equate this to “go out and spend”.

It does make one wonder therefore why all the effort and fuss about Quantitative Easing (which seems to be a case of “do X and hope like anything that Y happens, and if it doesn’t do X again”) putting money into and through the banking system. I wonder what would happen if a scheme could be devised to put money directly into the hands of consumers, to be spent on consumer goods through (all or some) shops? Might that have a more direct effect on promoting consumpiton and supporting some hard pressed businesses?

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The Great Tram Disaster

CSPP Board Member Richard Kerley was interviewed on the BBC's recent documentary into Edinburgh Trams.

Fast foward to 5:15 and 11:46 for Professor Kerley's comments.