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Thursday, 16 April 2009

Briefing Note – Pilots for Directly Elected Health Boards SNP Spring Conference 2009

What

NHS health boards have responsibility for the management of local health services and around £8bn of public money. Currently board members are unelected which has led many to decry its ‘democratic deficits’: that is, a health service delivery system which lacks accountability and substantial public engagement.

The willingness to reform health boards is nothing new, however. In 2006 Labour MSP Bill Butler introduced a Members’ Bill on this same issue which subsequently fell at stage one, with 55 for and 64 against.

Reigniting their original support for this measure, the SNP successfully acted on a 2007 manifesto promise to ‘introduce direct elections to health boards’ and provide ‘accountable healthcare’.

The bill to pilot these elections recently passed stage three (see below) and means that:

o The constitution of the health boards now includes ‘elected members’ and for the first time ‘sets out on a statutory basis’ the membership of local councillors on Health Boards. Together these members ‘must amount to more than half the total number of members’.
o They will be two pilot areas which have yet to be selected.
o An independent evaluator, which will be in place before the elections, will assess the effectiveness of these pilots.
o Specifically looking at: the level of public participation in the elections, levels of engagement with patients and other stakeholders, and the cost of holding the election and ‘estimated cost of holding future… elections’.
o A roll-out will only take place if the above has been satisfied and if the order has been laid before and approved by the Scottish Parliament.
o The voting age would be extended to sixteen year olds for these elections which will take place every four years via STV. The ballot will take the form of an all-postal ballot.

The Bill (as passed) can be accessed here.

When

• On 25 June 2008 the Executive Bill was introduced by Nicola Sturgeon MSP
• The Bill passed stage one on 15 January 2009 in which the Health and Sport Committee was the lead committee.
• Following amendments the Bill passed stage two on 4 February 2009.
• After a debate the Bill passed stage three on 12 March 2009.

Why

As a party and Government the SNP are committed to the democratisation of health boards. The following statement by Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon MSP aptly summarises their motivation:

…there is a real democratic deficit in the operation of our health boards… The bill's clear objective, therefore, is to allow the public voice to be heard and listened to at the heart of the decision-making process… We believe that democracy is a good thing and that opening up NHS boards to the public through elections will deliver better decision making and, ultimately, even better services than those we already enjoy.

This move is part of a wider narrative, as outlined by the ‘Better Health, Better Care’ report, to create a ‘mutual health service in which ownership and decision making are shared’ with the public and staff.

Notwithstanding the genuine motivation to democratise health service delivery, the successful completion of this manifesto promise is excellent ammunition for both the party and the Government in a time when they are being criticised by opposition for not fulfilling other manifesto promises – for e.g. classroom sizes.



Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Officer

Dragons Den on Transport Projects: Review of Event at Scottish Labour Conference

The scene was set: West Coast vs. East Coast; Subway vs. Tram; Flexi-Parks vs. political capital. The Centre’s first foray into a dragon’s den format began and the premise was simple: under the stewardship of Bob Wylie (SPT) each transport project would battle it out to win not only the votes of the dragons, but more importantly the support of the audience.


Political Capital

Tension was in the air. Even Ross Martin from the Centre for Scottish Public Policy looked nervous, a feat due in large part to the implicit alpha male aggression exhibited by the Labour dragons. Thankfully Ross was up first. With the aplomb which only a retired politician can display he pitched for ‘political capital’. What? Yes, that was the reaction of the Dragons too – well, until they heard these words:

Be brave: kill the plans for a new Forth crossing and release capital [£3 billion] to make other projects feasible.

This caught everyone’s attention. Ross quickly threw himself into outlining what other projects he had in mind. They included completing the motorway project, electrifying the Railway network and, wait for it, reintroducing tolls on the bridge and congestion charges for Edinburgh. Someone from the East coast Labour delegation nearly choked on their sandwich.

But this was not his real purpose. Rather, he was throwing the dragons and guests a ‘curveball’. His point of contention was conceptual; ideational even. Ross lamented the lack of ‘sensible discussion’ in Scottish transport policy, describing it as ‘backward’. The penny began to drop. Ross was pitching for a more mature, cross-party and integrated approach to transport.

Ross sat down, his anxiety no doubt exacerbated by the realisation that his proposals were going to be attacked by the dragons. Questions flew at him from all angles: on how he would re-cable the bridge and the effect this would have on traffic, to how we help the local economy and how he expected politicians to change their mind. As the dragons smelt blood Bob Wylie intervened like a good chair should, saving Ross from further questioning.

Flexi-Parks

Gavin Scott from the Freight Transport Association (FTA) was next up calling for Flexi-Parks. Initially there was some confusion over what exactly a flexi-park was. The dragons looked perplexed. But Gavin soon made his case clear: make part of ‘park and ride facilities’ open to HGVs and ‘squeeze some volume out of these assets’ by spending on facilities, ground surfaces, CCTV and showers.

This practical solution clearly resonated with both the dragons and audience, and if they weren’t supportive already their ears pricked at the mention of charging the drivers to use the facilities. To further validate his case Gavin fired stats at everyone; people had to duck – the cost of doing this is £50 per square metre, 10% more of simply producing spaces in car parks.

Gavin was clearly a man with a plan. His proposal was simple, quickly implementable and cost effective. Yet the dragons were not as wooed as they appeared to be. One dragon admitted that the proposal was ‘superficially attractive’ yet worried about the effect it would have on peek traffic flows and on the surrounding environment. Gavin replied that a solution could be found by combing the flexi-park with consolidation centres and directing the HGVs to leave before traffic increased.

Another dragon pointed out that HGV drivers don’t always use the designated facilities, a point Gavin addressed by stating that drivers must be provided with an attractive alternative. Other queries were voiced but it was clear that this was a proposal that the dragons liked. The audience whispered that the pitch was going to be difficult to outdo.

Tram Line 3

Certainly no one told Councillor Andrew Burns who launched into a proposal for a tram line three for Edinburgh. His recent council experiences with the you know what had clearly provided him with the bravery and confidence to take on the flexi-parks – nor was he put by the gasps of surprise that escaped from the audience.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Cllr Burns described investing in tram line three to the south east of Edinburgh as a ‘straight-forward task’ that would cost somewhere in the region of £280m. As the audience and dragons were about to query his description of the project as straight-forward, he pre-emptively struck by offering the dragons a 9% stake in the company if they backed the proposal.

Sensing a change of sentiments was in the wind he outlined the necessity of the tram project by:

1) Painting a picture of Edinburgh in 2025 and thus stressing the demographic changes the city will face (e.g. 11% growth in population and 30% increase in car usage).
2) Outlining what the tram line will consist of (e.g. link it from St Andrews square down to Cameron toll and from Edinburgh bio port to the QMU) and the economic impact it would have on the Edinburgh city region.
3) Stressing the environmental benefits and impact it would have on the city’s air quality.

Cllr Burns pitch was well executed but in many ways it didn’t matter – he had already secured the support of the dragons with the promise of a 9% stake in the company. One dragon, however, was unconvinced and displayed all the ethical valour of Ghandi:

Rather than invest money into the tram company I would rather invest it in RBS. Its better ran and better funded.

In response Cllr Burns explained that Tie had not received the support of the council from day one. As others lined up to quiz the Cllr, it was clear that the carrot was not as enticing as he thought it would be. The Labour dragons asked how, given the shambles of tram line one, he could expect them to fund the project and why they should invest in this transport project and not other possibilities like trolley buses. Cllr Burns stressed again that it was partly down to political leadership and that trams have more capacity than many other transport possibilities. Lastly, he emphasised that they were a proven way to entice people to use public transport.

Subway Modernisation

Bob Wylie moved things along; not that he was in any motivated to hear his own organisations’ pitch which was presented by the Chair of SPT, Councillor Alastair Watson (click here for some footage). Cllr Watson called on the dragons to ‘invest in a proven track record’: that is, the 113 years old subway system in Glasgow city centre.

Against the backdrop of silent East coast Labour animosity, Cllr Watson informed the dragons that it had been thirty years since the subway’s last modernisation and clearly investment was required if Glasgow was to have a ‘metro system fit for the 21st century’. In case they weren’t already on board, the Labour dragons from Glasgow were enticed by the promise that such investment would ‘give Glasgow its true stage as a global competitor’:

The question is how many cities in Europe would give their eye teeth for infrastructure such as we have in Glasgow and not invest in it.

The pitch was well received which, of course, had nothing to do with the imposing stature of Bob Wylie and Cllr Watson. The latter’s emphasis on the effect it would have on Glasgow clearly resonated with the dragons as did the fact that the metro’s frequency could increase substantially – a service would arrive every one and a half minutes culminating in 17.5m passengers using it annually. The pitch went out on a high:

Our pitch is visionary [and is] right for the 21st century and right for Scotland.

Despite some of the dragons voicing their support the project - ‘maybe it’s time to look again at the subway’ and ‘we need to invest in what is an important of the economy and transport network’ – others raised serious questions: how do you fund it; what funding mechanism would you use; could you extend the tram system to the East of Glasgow; and is it really needed. Cllr Watson paid particular attention to the last question and assured them that there is a ‘great desire for more availability’.

Results: The Dragons Scorecards

One thing was clear: it was going to be close, excluding the pitch from Ross Martin. Predictably the dragons made everyone wait - longer even than Chris Tarrant - which exacerbated the already nervous participants. Suddenly it became unbearably warm until the chair was informed that the results were in.

Everyone knew the result before it was announced because of the large smile painting Bob Wylie’s face. This show of emotion, however, was shelved and Bob returned as the professional, impartial chair - well, sort of. Yet just as SPT were about to bask in the sunshine of success, the public had their say.

Tyranny of the Majority

Bringing a whole new meaning to Alexis de Tocqueville’s infamous phrase the public vote, as it always does, threw a spanner in the works. There was a new victor. Coming from third and against all odds - the event was held amidst damaging headlines for the tram project - tram line three was triumphant gaining an extra twelve votes from the public. Even Cllr Burns was surprised.

With calls for recounts and opposition voices growing ever more vociferous it was like a scene from the US Presidential elections in 2000. Bob Wylie reluctantly concluded that SPT had been ‘edged out by a large Edinburgh delegation’, whilst Gavin Scott looked pleased with a seven point leap and a bottle of whisky which someone from FTA had won in a prize draw. Meanwhile, Ross Martin asked himself whether or not it was a wise idea to describe transport policy as backward given it was led for eight years with a Lib/Lab coalition.

Undeniably the event was a success. Matching humour with serious debate, it showcased numerous transport projects which could get Scotland to work and confirmed that the Centre for Scottish Public Policy is the place to go for innovative fringe events. Naturally, this event could not have happened without the kind support of our sponsors: SPT; Tie; FTA; and Mott MacDonald. We greatly appreciate their backing.

Future Events

In the coming months the Centre will be busy organising a range of events: from a debate on elected health boards featuring the Health Secretary at the SNP conference to hustings events (ran in conjunction with the Hansard Society and the European Movement) for the European elections in June; not to mention another transport dragons den at the Conservative conference, a debate on Transport Options for Edinburgh at the STUC conference and our annual Edinburgh city region event in July.

Keep an eye out for more details in the near future.


Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Officer

Green Labour? Review of Event

INTRODUCTION

The CSPP (“the Centre”) held a discussion on Energy and the Environment at this year’s Scottish Labour Party Conference, with the kind support and sponsorship of RSPB Scotland and Eaga. The focus of the discussion was “green jobs”: what they are, why they are important, and how their creation can be promoted through policy.

The discussion incorporated voices from politics, business and the non-profit sector: all important players in the green jobs agenda. It was thorough and thoughtful, and the details of it are described in this report.

The Centre views the discussion as just the first chapter in an important conversation about green jobs. Newspapers, periodicals and bookshelves are these days replete with references to “green agendas” and the “green economy”. But there is a paucity of discussion about what exactly these terms mean, how they can be realised, and how realising them will change the nature of Scotland’s economy and environment. The Centre will continue contributing to this important conversation at forthcoming political conferences.

Details of our event at the SNP Spring Conference can be accessed here.

OVERVIEW

What follows is an overview of the event. It covers the main points made by the individual speakers and the content of the ‘Question & Answer’ Session.

SPEAKERS

Chair of the discussion, Sarah Boyack MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment), framed the discussion in the form of a question: What do we need to do to implement a green jobs agenda?

She urged that “now” is the “ideal time” to ask this question. She also stressed the importance of making sure that in answering it we be careful to make only the right investments.


Graham Downie (of NESTA) focused on the need for innovation. His central argument linked the green agenda and the recession: a key component of an innovative economic strategy will be the green sector.

He discussed the Finnish experience of “growth based industrial strategy”. In the early 1990’s the Finnish economy endured a deep recession. An important component of their response was the creation of a “technological ten year plan”. Graham recommended that the UK follow the same approach.

He also stressed the importance of getting more “bang for your buck”. He identified three important variables in attaining that goal: (1) The regulatory system (the correct balance between competition, rewarding innovation and entrepreneurship is vital if we are to encourage and nurture an “innovative culture”); (2) Access to capital for new sectors (risk capital is needed to invest in green sector’ which is why NESTA promotes a Government-funded £1bn venture capital fund; and (3) “Intelligent government/public service provision” (NESTA’s preferred approach is to “start with something small” and then “scale it up”.

Graham concluded by recommending that a “policy framework for the future” be developed. It should pay attention to the three ideas identified.

Anne McColl (of RSPB) focused her contribution on Scotland’s obligation to—and self-interest—investing in its natural assets. “Investment” means supporting (financially and rhetorically) a great many different projects: wetlands restoration, damn repair, changes in approaches to farming; and many others (for more details, see here).

She discussed past regeneration strategies—both successful and unsuccessful—and shared her insight (based on these experiences) that “decision makers will go for win-win situations”.

Her view is that currently there are plenty of policy ideas, but a shortage of delivery. Two things are therefore required: funding and political leadership. Anne pointed out that there are lots of policies being successfully implemented elsewhere (from Norway to Spain to Wales) but not in Scotland.

Anne also related her discussion to the problem to poverty. She ended with a direct message to Sarah Boyack MSP and the Scottish Labour Party: “When you write up your manifesto we don’t need new legislation. We need buy in to support Scotland’s poorest communities”.

Ross Armstrong (of Eaga) was optimistic about the scope for new jobs that our environmental problems present. He imagines that we could be about to witness a “social, economic and technical revolution” which could be a source of “exponential growth”.

In his view, a core element of this revolution is domestic insulation and renewable sources of energy (“renewables”). As regards conventional insulation, he believes that the “potential for increased skilling and jobs” is still very significant. He acknowledged that so far “a lot has been done but” but stressed that there is “plenty more” (i.e. more jobs and investment) to do. With regards to renewables, he believes it is now “time to deliver”. Again he pointed to the importance of retraining and re-skilling.

He emphasised that these are not merely questions about the “physical improvement of home”. The “behavioural” component is also essential. He believes that investing in re-skilling and restraining will begin to effect the “cultural change” that is much needed if we are to make serious progress in protecting our environment.

Ross ended by noting the dual nature of our environmental problems: they present both a massive challenge and a massive opportunity for growth.

SB concluded the opening remarks, praising them as “relevant, crisp and succinct”.

She also assured the audience that there is “no question mark after the term “Green Labour”, and offered the party’s manifesto for the last Holyrood elections as proof (This was in response to the title of the event: “Green Labour? Innovating to Compete”)

QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

Is there a simple solution that we (the CSPP) can get into the Scottish budget next year? Also, why did the Green party’s proposal fail in the budget negotiations and can there be a Scottish consensus established?

SB: Energy efficiency is ‘high on the agenda in Labour and across the party’. Everyone signed up to my bill on this and on microgeneration. This is part of Labour’s fifteen point plan to combat the recession. The “political will is there” and it “will happen”. All that we need now is to “roll it out”. The Scottish Government presently has in place “too incremental a programme”.

There are great ideas out there. Why are they not happening? What are, in your experience, the “barriers to sustainable development”? And what can be done to remove these barriers?

GD: The Finnish comparison is of interest. Can Scotland consider it in the current environment? And what can be done to emulate this approach? They managed the risk very well and picked what industry they thought would grow. Risk management is very important in this strategy. The culture in relation to public services is quite risk averse in Scotland and is undoubtedly a barrier to sustainable development (e.g. Scotland missed the boat in making the most of wind energy). Yet the potential is still there and must be fully exploited.

AM: Technical problems and money are the perennial problems: “There are a lot of well able and high profile pots of money to access but can’t get to it”. A good example of this is the Climate Challenge Fund. The RSPB finds it very difficult to access these forms of income. Another barrier is the “knowledge base” of the decision-makers. There are “great ideas in policy” but no follow through in the case of many local authorities. This is partly due to the heavy workload they have.

RA: One of the biggest barriers to sustainable development is the lack of “political boldness”. But sustainable development is a “long-term game” and in 10-15 years the impact will be evident.

From the Centre’s perspective, the government needs to get the following right: (1) the need for local diversity and true decentralisation and (2) programmes need to be implemented at the service user’s point of view.

RA: There is “some political momentum for true localism: so called double devolution”. We need to give it a change to succeed. And on the end-user point, the important thing is working with industry. The Government must listen to these views and implement them.

GD: The best way to do things is “from the bottom”, where there is a lack of political attention. We need to “keep politicians out of the picture” for as long as possible. Also there is a lack of transparency in Government spending.

AM: To truly encourage green growth we need to avoid a “one size fits all” policy. Yet “confidence doesn’t exist to foster the unknown; the innovative solutions. This is new but not nasty. This is the biggest challenge”.

There is no point in “re-inventing the wheel”. We have not learned from the best practise out there. “Until we’re past that point we won’t get anywhere”.

SB: ‘Knowledge is key’.


CONCLUDING REMARKS

SB concluded by asking “How do you make this kind of event a big meeting at a conference and get it into the mainstream”? The CSPP must keep this issue on the agenda and should keep it going in a steering group.

Ross Martin (of CSPP) responded by stating that the CSPP has an energy and environment programme which is led by a steering group. The CSPP will be in touch and will ensure that this very important issue is kept on the agenda.

Paul Hughes, CSPP Research Associate

'Is it Time to Adopt the Euro'? Review of event

INTRODUCTION

The CSPP (“the Centre”) held a discussion on the Euro at this year’s Scottish Labour Party Conference. It was a stimulating and productive session, the details of which are described in this report.

The event was the latest development in our European programme and precedes a range of hustings events (in cooperation with the European Movement and the Hansard Society) that are due to take place in advance of the European Parliament elections in June ’09. The first of which will take place in Edinburgh on the 21 April, an informative session aimed to outline why the European Parliament matters and why people should vote.

Details of other events will be posted in due course.


THE ROLE OF THE EUROPE EVENTS


The European Union (“the EU”) has a profound impact upon the lives of Scottish people. Yet interest in what the EU is and does, is startlingly low. Recent polling confirms this fact: turnout in the 2009 elections is expected to be around 30%.

There is a thus a clear need for more engagement with the EU. The Centre’s Europe Events are designed to assist in meeting this need, in three ways. First, the events provide a forum for politicians to explore questions about the EU from a Scottish perspective: a perspective that very directly relates to the concerns and interests of the Scottish public. Second, they enable a range of Scottish voices (beyond just politicians) to participate in the conversation on the EU: voices with fresh perspectives and ideas. Third, it is hoped that they will contribute to raising awareness—and so to kick-starting discussion—about Europe among the wider Scottish public.

The events of the past year only make the case for engagement more urgent. The financial crisis has revealed starkly how interconnected the lives of European (indeed all) citizens are.


The EU will therefore naturally be expected to play a major role in shaping the future. It is crucial that the conversation about how it ought to do this is as full and as thorough as possible.


OVERVIEW

What follows is an overview of the event. It covers the main points made by the individual speakers, and the content of the ‘Question & Answer Session’.

SPEAKERS

David Martin MEP began by discussing the topic of British entry into the Euro. He queried whether the “five economic tests [imposed by the UK Treasury] are still appropriate today”. He pointed out that Labour are “in principle” in favour of the Euro if these conditions are met, but stressed that now is “not the time to join”. The economic crisis makes membership “more urgent” but “not immediate”.

He stressed that support of the Eurozone is important: because European solidarity helps marginal countries (like Ireland); and non-membership makes countries less stable (consider Iceland).

He argued that more needs to be done to publicise the issue of the Euro at home. The lack of attention presently paid to the question arises from “a combination of Labour apathy and Conservative antipathy”.

On the topic of banking reform, he stressed that constructing a secure banking infrastructure will be “easier to achieve in Europe”.

Peter Jones focused his remarks upon the question of British entry into the Euro. Like David Martine MEP he believes that “now is not the time” to join.

He argued that the Euro still has “a lot to prove”. On the one hand, it has been the source of a lot of stability in the Eurozone. Yet on the other, the economic crisis presents big questions, among them: (1) Whether Ireland can pay its debts (the markets are worried about this); and (2) Whether the enormous pressures in Eastern Europe will lead to severe consequences (he pointed, in this regard, to the fact that several banks (particularly in Austria), lent large sums to countries like Hungary. There is, he argued, a “worrying historical indicator” in that the depression of the 1930’s depression was “kicked off” by the collapse, in 1931, of the Austrian bank Credit Anstalt)

He stressed that the seriousness of the current economic crisis should not be underestimated: these are “perilous times”. He raised the possibility that a crisis in the EU—more probable in light of increasing social unrest (consider e.g. Greece, Italy, and others)—could bring down the Euro.

Looking forward, he suggested that if the Euro does survive, and so it proves itself to be adept at coping, then a renewed debate on entry into the Euro should begin.


QUESTION AND ANSWER SESSION

With Labour going into the European elections, what campaigning line should we take to assuage voters’ fear of the economic crisis?

David Martin MEP: We need to inform the voters’ that European economies are currently acting together to set “new rules for financial banking”. Recently, United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on the European Parliament to do just this (See an excerpt here).

If Greece breaks, what would happen?

David Martin MEP: There is no real debate in the Eurozone about Greece leaving the Euro. It would be “disastrous’ for them as they would be “crucified by the markets”.

Peter Jones: There is no signal that countries are considering leaving Euro but these are “extreme times” in which things can happen very quickly. Logic tells us that countries are ‘better together than apart’ but logic and rationality “fall out of the window in such times”.

What would be the best outcome of the G20?

Peter Jones: What we need now is international institutions to enforce a renewed “transnational framework”. How a reformed global financial architecture will look is “up in the air” but the EU can point to the European Central Bank (ECB).

What can the Centre for Scottish Public Policy do to promote UK entry to the Euro?

David Martin MEP: Get people talking about the issue again “exactly like we are doing today”. Have a discussion “within and out with the party”.

Peter Jones: Be the vehicle to “campaign for Euros to be accepted in shops in Scotland”. Now is exactly the time for this due to the currency rates.


Paul Hughes, CSPP Research Associate