Friday, 24 December 2010

Ross Martin: Curtain up on Political Panto

Published in the Scotsman, 24/12/10

"As Scotland continues to feel the effects of an increasingly harsh winter, with economic growth in the deep freeze, we might be reassured if we saw signals that our politicians are stoking the furnace of recovery; that they are burning with democratic desire in preparation for the forthcoming Scottish election; that they stockpiled fresh policy fuel to energise our economic engines. So what positive smoke signals can we discern amidst the freezing fog?

Given the public's propensity towards reality TV, with I'm a Celebrity and Strictly part of a real resurgence of viewing figures, it might be argued that politicians who indulge, and are indulged in return, are simply representing the electorate by seeking their 15 seconds of fame, or alternatively just skating on thin electoral ice. Did the chalk-on-board screech of Lembit Opik's performance grate with you? How did Ann Widdecombe's manoeuvres go down, demonstrating all the grace of a nuclear sub grounded in a Scottish loch? And what of the season's longest-running reality "show"? How has the Sheridan court battle been for you? Enlightening? Entertaining? Enhancing?

As an increasing number of our politicians (current, former and possibly future) finally succumb to the cult of celebrity, we might imagine those responsible for domestic social policy strutting their stuff under the stage lights. If so, how would they fare? Can we picture our MSPs performing on the stage, waltzing around the dance floor or even munching through a bush tucker challenge in the jungle?

However, as there is a fine tradition of pantomime here in Scotland, a strong case for MSPs treading the stage boards can indeed be made. Let's face it, pantomime is essentially an opportunity for the audience to suspend reality, something well-practised in the Holyrood chamber, and for the actors, an opportunity to pretend that life's not that hard. So, in the festive spirit, let us imagine which of our Scottish politicians might tread the boards and what panto character they might play.

First up, it's got to be Cinderella, played by Auntie Annabel Goldie herself.

Still sweeping up the ash from when the Thatcherite flame was snuffed out by the bleak political winter of '97, will she ever get to the ball and find a true partner, or will her ugly sisters, played by Tory MSPs Murdo Fraser and Jackson Carlaw, win the day? Her cousin, dashing Dave Cameron, has already found his true love in the UK coalition, but the plot, such as it is, will focus on whether our Annabel will find her political prince this May.

Perhaps a pair of red shoes would do the trick, as used to great effect by our very own Dorothy, Margo MacDonald. Margo simply needs to click her heels and she is right back home in the corridors of power, using all the magic that the parliament's electoral arithmetic Wizard has granted her, to strike a Capital City Supplement deal.

In the wonderful world of Holyrood, during the production known as the Scottish Budget, other MSPs should learn this very basic lesson in parliamentary arithmetic of working together for the greater good of the areas they represent. Will MSPs find enlightenment on the electoral yellow brick road? We must hope they find a strong heart to lead for their local community, demonstrate the brains to secure a better deal for their patch and display the courage to set aside their party whips and work together for the greater good of their town, city or region.

If the land of Oz is an unusual panto, we must not forget Jack and the Beanstalk. Tavish Scott, the Liberal Democrat Scottish leader, was certainly responsible for germinating some of the beans that grew into the UK Coalition tree, having been an integral part of previous partnerships in Scotland that paved the way for Westminster. In this production the question is can Tavish/Jack now reap the electoral reward for planting those maturing cross-fertilising political seeds, or will he get chopped down by an angry Scottish electorate? Who knows?

Now, Christmas wouldn't be the same without Snow White, and there would be fierce competition for this glamorous role at Holyrood. It would perhaps be inappropriate for me to nominate any MSP for this role, so I'll let you choose your own favourite. As for seven political dwarves, well, perhaps I can leave you the terrifyingly difficult ordeal of identifying this lot. No mean task at Holyrood.

But what's that noise? Look, he's behind you: There's Iain "Aladdin" Gray, Labour's Holyrood leader, rubbing his policy lamp for all it's worth, looking to unleash the magic that he insists saw his party successfully defend its ground in this year's election, when all his dreams came true. The problem is, however, that he may not have any wishes left to use in next year's manifesto.

And he must fear that the electorate is going to put the anti-Tory Genie that boosted his support back into his bottle, given that they have no chance of winning next year.

And to finish our merry-go-round of Christmas favourites, let us imagine First Minister Alex Salmond as the Widow Twankey, Aladdin's pantomime dame of a mum. Like Twankey tea is "oor Eck" - who some might see as a pantomime villain and hiss whenever he appears - is past his best, it has been said. But he may yet play the part of telling the election story through audience interaction and brew up another stunning election victory. So, the lead role could be Eck's again, or will the electoral gods conspire to effect a result that ushers in a new political cast of players? If so who might these new panto talents be?

Finance minister John Swinney is an obvious Peter Pan, youthful, charming and yet wielding a mean little dagger. Just ask Glasgow Council's Labour leader. But, he's not the one to watch this time around. That role goes to his real-life political partner Nicola Sturgeon playing the part of Wendy. Look, there she goes, sprinkling pixie dust over those pirates in the press gang. Supportive, yet forceful, Nicola has had another good year, soaring above criticism, but will her dream of the top prize really come true?

And who would play cunning old Captain Hook? Enter stage left, none other than that seasoned veteran of the political play, Labour MP Brian Donohoe, scourge of the Scottish Parliament and all things nationalist. There he is, brandishing his amendment to the Scotland Bill, seeking to destabilise the good ship Holyrood by removing its balance, or to you dear voter, the parliament's proportionality.

So, the performance of our MSPs in the panto knockabout that is Holyrood does shed light on the coming election. We did start this winter season with a shock ministerial resignation, when transport minister Stewart Stevenson - after a week of Oh, yes he will, Oh, no he won't - fell on his sword, in a clash of his principle and others' political pragmatism. True grit he had in spades, but even he couldn't plough a clear road through the political storm that hit that week.

This could be seen as a sign that the parliament is growing up, but others may believe our MSPs have still to prove that they are worthy of applause rather than the hissing and booing traditional of pantomime audiences. They will hope that, despite the jokes and slapstick along the way, they are seen as serious people, helping the voters face up to the reality of the economic crisis, and leading us to the happy ending and curtain calls when Scotland becomes a land of stability and sustainable growth?

But hold on, what's that noise? Tick-tock, tick-tock. The electoral croc approaches, as a reminder to our parliamentarians that they are on borrowed time.

If the student fees fiasco, or the disgrace that was the alcohol debate is anything to go by, then alarm bells should indeed be ringing. Just like their pantomime alter egos, our MSPs, whichever groups form the next Scottish Government, will have to front up on opening night and face their audience. Now, that really will be a pantomime worth watching".

Ross is the Centre's Policy Director

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Joint Letter to the Auditor General for Scotland

Image Courtesy of

Today a joint letter has been sent to the Auditor General for Scotland calling on Audit Scotland to conduct an urgent investigation into the background to the additional Forth Bridge and the alternatives to it before any contracts are let. It calls on Ministers to ensure that any contracts are in the public interest.

The full letter states:

"Dear Mr Black,

As you will be aware, the Forth Crossing Bill is likely to be passed by the Scottish Parliament today, and it will empower Ministers to let contracts for the construction of an additional road bridge over the Forth. This project, should it go ahead, will be the most expensive single capital project ever supervised by a devolved administration, or indeed any Ministers in Scotland, with a final cost currently estimated at over £2bn. We believe it will be essential for Audit Scotland to look urgently into the background of this project and the alternatives to it.

In 2008, the Forth Estuary Transport Authority assessed the cost of repairing the existing bridge at up to £122m [1], even assuming the current dehumidification work is unsuccessful. It should however be noted that this ongoing dehumidification work "is producing the expected slow and steady fall in the relative humidity within the cable" [2], and that a contract is currently being advertised to examine progress in this area during 2012-13 [3]. A decision to proceed with contracts for the additional Forth Crossing prior to the results of this exercise therefore looks premature.

Furthermore, the Scottish Budget is under the gravest pressure since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, with a reduction in overall spending of £1.3bn in 2011-12 compared to the previous year. [4] Further reductions in the Scottish Block Grant are expected during the course of the next Parliament, just as capital sums of up to £400m per annum are projected to be spent on the additional Forth Crossing should it go ahead.

Scotland's recent history of capital project procurement and cost management has been mixed to say the least, and we have also seen recent examples of capital contracts signed prior to an election which ensured that future administrations would pay more to cancel those contracts than to proceed with them - so-called "poison pill" contracts. The timings currently being projected for the signing of the main contracts associated with the additional Forth Crossing are in the immediate pre-election period, and it would be legitimate to question whether such timing is in the interests of good governance. Your 2008 report "Review of major capital projects in Scotland" also notes that "Once a contract is agreed, significant changes to a project are likely to be costly and disruptive, and may not represent value for money." [5]

As that report points out, three fifths of these projects run over cost, with an average over-run of 39% against the initial cost estimate. This report, which does not consider the additional Forth Crossing project, also calls on public bodies to "prepare robust business cases for every project. These should be clear about the project aims and benefits, and include assessment of: risks; the range of options to be considered; and a clear basis for assessing, reviewing and reporting".

With these facts in mind, it is in our view essential that a full comparative audit be carried out before any contracts associated with the additional bridge are signed in order to consider the cost-effectiveness of repairing the existing Forth Road Bridge as against the costs associated with the construction of a new Forth Crossing. Both options will be disruptive, and a consideration of those consequences would also be useful. Finally, in the interests of value for money, it would be useful for Audit Scotland to provide advice to Ministers on the timing for and nature of any such contracts so that the public interests here can be properly protected.

Without such a vital piece of work, the risk is that a substantial amount of public money, even assuming no increase in costs during construction, will not be spent "properly, efficiently and effectively", as Audit Scotland's remit puts it. This project and the alternatives to it will be the most significant test of the public finances, of governance, and of the audit structures of this country for decades to come, and there are risks associated with this project for all concerned if such an audit is not carried out and its advice taken seriously. It will be too late once contracts are signed. Only Audit Scotland has the capacity and skills to deliver this work, and we would therefore urge you to consider taking on this project as a matter of urgency.


Richard Dixon, WWF Scotland
Keith Geddes, former member of the Accounts Commission (2002-2008)
Patrick Harvie MSP, Co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party
Colin Howden, Director, Transform Scotland
Lawrence Marshall, former Convener of the Forth Estuary Transport Authority
Ross Martin, Policy Director, Centre for Scottish Public Policy
Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland


1. Information from this Scottish Parliament's Information Centre briefing, page 6:

2. See the Forth Estuary Transport Authority's February 2010 "Main Cables and Anchorages Update", page 2:

3. For details of this contract, see:

4. See the Scottish Parliament's Information Centre briefing, page 2:

5. Your report, page 6:

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

SFF Report into Sustainable Communities 2030

The Scotland’s Futures Forum has recently published a research project entitled “Scotland: sustainable communities in 2030”. It outlines three scenarios of what communities might look like in 2030. Watch the video below for more information.

Scotland 2030 from 00:/ on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Richard Keley: "The sliding scales that will beat pay freeze"

Published in The Scotsman, 1/12/10

Over the better part of the last week, parliament and press have paid rather more attention to what we now know the Scottish budget cannot do for the next couple of years than what the budget for the next year does actually contains.
This is unfortunate , because there are many aspects of this budget that require examination, either because they suggest interesting developments, such as the health monies to be spent on social care, or because they are not quite what they seem – such as the widely broadcast pay "freeze" for all public service employees earning more than £21,000 a year.

Some form of action on pay is clearly a central part of the budget, as pay represents approximately 60 per cent of the total public service spend, a proportion of budget that rises to over 80 per cent in the police service.

When John Swinney, the finance secretary, made his announcements on public service pay, the official record indicates there was '(Applause]'. Clearly these announcements were popular with some MSPs. So just which measures were so popular?

The Cabinet Secretary stated his aim: "…to maintain public sector jobs and services by constraining pay and to support those who are on the lowest incomes". A number of measures were announced that are intended to achieve this, including a continuing freeze on ministerial pay, reductions in senior civil service numbers, reductions in executive pay in some government influenced public bodies and a pay freeze – or, more technically "…a 0 per cent basic award – for all staff in 2011-12, with the exception that staff who earn less than £21,000 will receive a minimum increase of £250…" There is also a commitment to introduce a "living wage" of £7.15 per hour for all employees under Scottish Government authority (calculated as a little under £13,500 annually].

While the freeze level follows the lead previously announced by the UK government, the living wage announcement is a distinctly Scottish departure. Interestingly, however, the Westminster freeze is for two years.

So, although Mr Swinney only announced a one year budget, we must assume two years of freeze is factored into figures that have not yet been released.

On the face of it this seems to provide greater protection for lower paid workers – that is, those earning under £21,000 – than it does for those above this level, whose pay will notionally be frozen. There is, however, an unmentioned and largely undiscussed aspect here: the difference between any annual settlement (which the government wants to freeze] and the annual incremental increase that many public employees have built into their salary schemes. A wide range of local government employees, all teachers, a wide range of health service workers, police officers and firefighters are all on incremental salary scales of various complex kinds.

The consequences of these arrangements are that, regardless of whether a cash increase comes from any negotiated annual settlement or a freeze, many thousands of public employees will receive a pay increase next year that may even be greater than any negotiated annual settlement might be. This was an issue which the members of the Independent Budget Review considered in their report, and commented that an ad hoc approach to such incremental payments would be inequitable. But they also recognised that such payments are part of the contractual arrangements for hundreds of thousands of staff and could not be unilaterally scrapped. They recommended early negotiations should be commenced to discuss this with the relevant trade unions.

Such incremental arrangements apply to a wide range of posts in the public services. The table illustrates the impact of this in the first two years of appointment for some typical entry level posts that have salaries starting at just over £21,000.

Such annual increases generally run at approximately the same percentage level for each year (with the exception of Year 1 of teaching and an increase after the first 31 weeks of police service training] over a number of years. The nature and length of these incremental scales varies between different sectors of public service employment and different occupational groups.

Typically for most local government posts the scale runs over five points over five years; for teachers seven points; for nurses eight points; and for police officers ten points.

For employees on such incremental scales, such annual percentage increments have generally been greater than any negotiated annual settlement agreed over the past two years, and certainly that in prospect for this coming year.

In this context, the promised minimum increase for employees paid under £21,000 for next year seems less than generous: £250 represents a 1.19 per cent increase on a salary of £20,999, although a proportion of this cohort will also be entitled to annual increments. The figures prepared for the Independent Budget Review indicate that some 47 per cent of public service employees fall under the £21,000 barrier – which of course means that 53 per cent of the public service workforce whose pay is notionally frozen can continue to benefit from annual incremental increases.

It is very complex and difficult to establish how many groups of staff employed in the public services in Scotland benefit from automatic annual progression on such incremental salary scales, progression that is only denied in exceptional circumstances. That is, if an employee remains in post over a number of years his or her pay increases, regardless of any negotiated annual settlement or freeze – just for staying another year, as some describe it.

The only major departure from this in recent years has been in the core civil service, where pay progression is performance related, and based on appraisal of the performance of the individual member over the past year. This group of staff is one of the smallest groups of public service employees in Scotland, which means the Scottish Government only has direct control over approximately 8 per cent of the pay and conditions of the public service workforce.

The government is also changing arrangements to exert more control over the wider range of public bodies that are more closely connected to the centre – what is now widely known as "the Scottish Government Family" with some success.

Estimates suggest that, of the approximately 500,000 people in devolved public service employment in Scotland somewhere in the order of 412,000 are in employment groups entitled to annual incremental salary increases. As all the data suggests, annual incremental increases alone may account for between £150 million and £200m in each year.

The actual cost figures in any one year are impossible to calculate on the current information base available. Some key features of any incremental scale are how long it is; how long is the typical tenure in any post and what is the typical turnover of staff? That is why, for example, the incremental scales for teachers and police officers tend to be longer than others – incumbents typically stay longer in their posts.

The detail of such figures is, therefore, exceptionally challenging to establish, but the broad consequences are clear. Many public service employees earning over £21,000 will not see a "freeze" as most of us would understand it.

And in the coming year, the discussion promised by Mr Swinney about "flexibility in employment" as a means of saving jobs will surely focus on annual salary increments.

Richard Kerley is a CSPP board member and professor of management at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Big Event - Only 5 days to go

Our policy wrap up event is only five days ago. Come the 29 September in Edinburgh we'll be hosting a cross-party consultation event to provide ideas for our cross-party manifesto for the 2011 Scottish Parliamentary election.

If you haven't signed up to attend (register/join here) here are details of the programme to wet your appetite.

Date: Wednesday 29 September
Time: 0900 - 1430
Where: Storytelling Theatre & Book Trust, Edinburgh.

WELCOME SPEECH Lesley Sutherland, Chair, CSPP 1010 – 1020 SC THEATRE


Hosted by transport expert, Professor Iain Docherty, presenters face the ‘dragons’, debating the relative merits of extending the Edinburgh Tram, Building (or not) the new Forth Bridge or starting work on a High Speed Rail link to London and onto mainland Europe.

The Presenters  
- Extending the Tram System - Jim Harkins, Managing Director, Light Rail UK & Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Light Rail Group
- High Speed Rail Link - Jim Steer, Founder-Director, Greengauge 21 & Founder and Non Executive Director, Steer Davies Gleave
- Ban the new Forth Bridge - Lawrence Marshall, Chair, The Forthright Alliance

The Dragons

- Professor Jan Bebbington, Sustainable Development Commission's Vice-Chair (Scotland) & Member of external advisory group to First Group
- Mike Connolly, Head of Public Affairs, TIE Ltd
- Bill Jamieson, Executive Editor, The Scotsman
- Scott McIntosh, Senior Consultant in Light Rail, Mott MacDonald

Leading expert on retail, Leigh Sparks, is Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling. Leigh will quiz our town experts as they battle it out to illustrate innovative, effective and economical interventions to protect, grow and support our towns.  Visit our town exhibition in the SC Court area too.

Team 1 –Scott Davidson, Lead, Planning & Regeneration, Halcrow, Ian Davison Porter, Project Director, Business Improvement Districts Scotland, Mhairi Donaghy, Associate Director, EKOS.

Team 2 – Ian Lindley, Director, Planning & Economic Development, Scottish Borders Council representing The South of Scotland Alliance, Stuart Mackinnon, Public Affairs, FSB Scotland, Diane Wehrle, Marketing Director, Springboard.


Both the Holyrood and Westminster Governments have different ideas on how democracy can be renewed and how improved accountability and transparency is delivered. Our respected panellists will put three initiatives - health boards, elected mayors and police commissioners - under the microscope to establish if further democratisation is really the answer.


- Professor John Curtice, University of Strathclyde & Deputy Director, Centre for Research into Elections & Social Trends
- Professor Richard Kerley, Professor of Management and Vice Principal (Commercialisation and Internationalisation), Queen Margaret University


- Health Boards: Keith Geddes, Policy Director, Pagoda PR & formerly President of CoSLA and Leader of the City of Edinburgh Council
- Tom Halpin, Chief Executive, Sacro & formerly Deputy Chief Constable of Lothian & Borders Police and Head of CID Operations, Strathclyde Police
- Aidan Rave, Director, Interim Management and north of England, Pinnacle PSG and a former Deputy Mayor of Doncaster


Grant "Dimbleby" Thoms is joined by experts from business, environmental and advocacy organisations when Green Question Time comes to you live from the BIG Event Edinburgh. Questions also accepted via all the usual social networking sites. We suspect discussions will continue ‘off air’ when we throw these questions into the melting pot:
Does anyone really care about climate change?
How do we deliver our environmental commitments in an era of decreasing public expenditure?
How do we protect Scotland's natural resources in these difficult economic times? Who pays for greening the Scottish economy (selectivism vs universalism) and how do we fund our low carbon aspirations?
Can sustainable development really lead to economic recovery? What is your vision for a low carbon Scottish economy?
What should be the priorities in the energy and environment agenda for a new Scottish Parliament?
Green jobs: myth or reality? What is the value of our natural heritage to the Scottish economy?
Should the climate change agenda be immune to budgetary pressures?
Are Local Authorities doing enough to combat climate change?
Why is transport policy so disconnected from the climate change agenda?
How do we improve Scotland's poor sustainable transport infrastructure?......  


- Cllr Grant Thoms (Host).
- Rob Edwards, Environmental Journalist.
- Colin Howden, Director, Transform Scotland.
- Norman Kerr, Director, Energy Action Scotland.
- Duncan McLaren, Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth

CLOSING SPEECH Ross Martin, Policy Director, CSPP 1410 – 1430 SC THEATRE

Running throughout the day...
Town centre regeneration models, initiatives and services. Featuring Business Improvement Districts Scotland, Town Centres & Local High Streets Learning Network, Town Centre Regeneration Fund projects, South of Scotland Alliance and Springboard, a leading provider of automated customer counting services, delivering solutions across the entire range of customer generating environments: high streets, shopping centres, retail parks, conference, leisure and entertainment venues, transport interchanges.

Forget Hyde Park – this is where it’s at! Fresh thinking on the kind of Scotland we want to live in. Have a go!

We have 10 highly motivated graduates for you to meet.  Our aim?  To help these talented young people to network with Scotland's movers and shakers.


Monday, 20 September 2010

Room at the Top for Strong Leadership

Article published by Ross Martin (Policy Director) in the Scotsman 8/9/2010.

“More than a quarter of Scotland's population live in them. Two in every three jobs are created by them. A third of research and development is carried out in and around them, and half of our gross value added is produced by them. They are the engines of our economy; they are Scotland's cities.

Our cities are the beating heart of the Scottish Government's drive towards sustainable economic growth and they will remain so regardless of the outcome of next year's election or the political composition of the incoming administration.

And yet who leads Scotland's cities? Do we have a single political personality to match the gung-ho dynamism of New York's former leader Rudolph Giuliani, the bold character of a Boris Johnson or the direct political purpose of a "Red Ken"? These city leaders make a real difference when they combine their own character with real political power. Sadly, our city councillors simply don't have that political power to impose themselves and their programmes in the same way that these leaders of real world cities do.

Setting aside political preference, no-one can argue against the fact that Giuliani made safe the streets of New York with his get-tough policy of Zero Tolerance to crime, or that he made New Yorkers feel safer with his dynamic leadership after 9/11.

Equally, it is impossible to argue against the fact that Johnson took on the Home Office and removed the UK's most senior police chief and so prepared the ground for the policy of directly elected police commissioners. And what of Ken Livingstone, the left-wing leader who introduced the UK's first example of demand management in a period of rapid growth, the congestion charge? This was made possible, without the central government interference that killed off his cheap fares on the Underground, because he was a directly elected mayor with a mandate.

Compare and contrast the success of "Red Ken" pushing through that change, of much greater magnitude and impact than that attempted in Edinburgh, with the democratic debacle that the capital's council oversaw. London's congestion charge has become an integral part of the transport system, helping pay for much need infrastructure upgrades.

What price that firm leadership and policy for Edinburgh to fund the trams or for Glasgow to pay for the much needed upgrade of the subway or for Aberdeen to pay for a by-pass?

Our city leaderships have had to resort to other ways of seeking support for such transport projects that will drive economic growth, for example Edinburgh's then leader being unable to even secure the support of his own colleagues and seeking refuge in a referendum doomed to failure before the ballot had even begun. Have our other cities fared any better?

In Aberdeen, this lack of political power has frustrated any real effort to tackle the structural budget deficit the city council inherited from day one. Created on 1 April, 1996, a cruel joke indeed, Aberdeen City Council required extraordinarily strong leadership denied it by the then, and still current political system of an unmanageably large number of councillors. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the one person who has made a difference has now been appointed by Edinburgh.

Chief executive Sue Bruce was enabled to introduce significant change in Aberdeen only after external intervention following the near financial collapse of the city council, using previously unavailable centralised power invested in her position with the tacit support of the elected leadership. She will make a big difference to Edinburgh, bringing a fresh approach and direction but I fear the democratic difficulties that bedevil our councils will still put the brakes on reform of public services in the capital.

In Dundee, the only politician the public is likely to recognise is one who doesn't even represent the city, once seen impersonating a cat on reality TV. Even though the City Chambers and Caird Hall resemble the Kremlin, the city council simply does not have the power that would make a real difference to the City of Discovery.

And what of Glasgow? OK, we can accept that Steven Purcell was seen as a mayor and treated as one but the sometimes shabby internal political compromises had to engineer to appease the unworkably large number of councillors has left a sorry legacy that threatens to dilute the democratic power of his successor, not strengthen it.

The conclusion from these examples is obvious: our cities deserve stronger leadership, as they strive to find positive routes out of economic crisis. They need to have the political power that enables world cities to tackle crises without the need to go cap in hand to national government. Not that our national politicians, either MSPs or MPs have a great record of supporting their cities, other than a few notable exceptions - such as Margo MacDonald's success in securing a capital city supplement for Edinburgh.

It is impossible to point to a single occasion when our MSPs or MPs have set aside tribal party division and worked together for the city's greater good. Why can't they grasp the opportunity that the tight political arithmetic of the Scottish Parliament presents them by organising to form strong, powerful and influential city caucuses that can make the case for projects in their own cities? Secure the budget, make the improvements and then argue about who was responsible, rather than arguing about what benefits can be achieved as the cities stand still.

For example, in Edinburgh wouldn't it just be capital to see all of the city's MSPs working together on an agreed investment plan to improve transport infrastructure, rather than simply contributing to the many, disparate voices that dominate that debate? Each of the other core cities would also benefit from such collective action, and would be strengthened immeasurably by the election of a mayor to act as both lead voice and focus, regardless of party interest.

Led by an elected mayor, Edinburgh could also tackle the difficulties described by Bill Jamieson in his analysis of an over-reliance on the financial services sector, which itself is a neat mirror image of Scotland's over-reliance on the public sector. Both of these problems require the same action - diversification, to move from reliance to resilience. However, the political system our cities suffer does not encourage nor enable the type of diversity of thought or action that a directly elected mayor, working with committed national politicians, can bring.

As each of the city councils seeks to make its contribution to the drive back towards sustainable growth while implementing real cuts in public service costs, they must all shrink their workforce, by an average of 1,000 people. A powerful and imaginative mayor could provide the drive and determination to not only ensure swift action but more importantly, to use that change as an opportunity to turn around Scotland's embarrassingly low birth and growth rate for small and medium-sized enterprises, while at the same time reducing our over-reliance on the public sector, with a workforce planning programme that could spin out small companies and social enterprises from the councils in a manner similar to that done by our universities.

The time for Scotland's cities to join the rest of the world and elect mayors has arrived, along with the opportunity for our MSPs and MPs to take a leaf from the UK coalition government's book, set aside their party differences and fuel these engines of our economy”.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Independent Budget Review

Of course, it is very unlikely that you missed the publication of the IBR but if you did the following will bring you up to speed.

The panel provided a number of recommendations that include:

Recommendations include:

- subjecting all services to scrutiny and comparative prioritisation, without an overridingpresumption of protection for any of the major services;
• discontinuing the current council tax freeze, which does not appear sustainable in the projected economic environment;
• ensuring that future annual efficiency targets across the public sector are no less than 2 per cent per annum;
• further reducing the number of public bodies;
• applying a two-year pay freeze, from 2011-12, as the first essential step to constrain growth in the public sector pay bill;
• immediately implementing a recruitment freeze across the public sector, with exceptions only granted for essential staff posts;
• managing a fall in public sector employment of between approximately 5.7 per cent and 10 per cent by 2014-15, as far as possible through natural wastage;
• reviewing the NHS Distinction Awards scheme, as part of the Fair Pay Review;
• engaging with the Independent Public Services Pension Commission to review public
sector pensions, recognising that changes to current public sector pension arrangements are essential and almost certainly unavoidable;
• undertaking immediate work to review whether all free or subsidised universal services should be retained in their current form, including reviewing eligibility criteria for concessionary travel and free NHS eye examinations, reviewing future arrangements for free personal and nursing care and considering the suspension of the final stage in the planned reduction in prescription charges;
• whether to maintain the current funding arrangements for higher education in Scotland or to implement a scheme similar to that in England, such as tuition fees, or other arrangements such as graduate contributions, taking into account the outcome of the Browne Review;
• revising and building on the role of the Scottish Futures Trust;
• exploring options for changing the status of Scottish Water, possibly to that of a public interest company, which could permit the release of significant capital to the Scottish Government for other projects; and
• developing a longer term strategic view of the future shape and nature of public services.

What do you think of the IBR?

Monday, 12 April 2010

The End of "New Politics" (Again)

Admittedly the last post was rather downbeat. To explain, I had just realised that there was no point in casting my vote. My democratic spirit was at an all time low as I planned an escape route from Lanarkshire while revelling in my pre-election apathy.

However, today is different. For one, its stopped raining. And for another, Gordon Brown delivered his speech on new politics. I'm sure there's a causal relationship between the two.

“It is time to see an end to the old politics” began Brown, not realising that by definition this means that Labour must lose the election given that they've been in power since 1997.

The Brown narrative was clear enough: connect the economy, climate change and social policy with democratic renewal. We will not “master [these] big challenges... unless the legitimacy of our democracy is fully restored”.

It's a tenuous link – remember the British take on revolt is gesticulating unprompted on Question Time – but let's stick with it.

A vote for Labour will guarantee the “most comprehensive programme of constitutional reform in this country for a century”. Reform includes:

- Ban MPs from working for lobbying companies.
- Introduce a US-style recall system to allow voters to remove their MPs if they are guilty of financial misconduct and parliament fails to act.
- The electorate will be given a new right to petition the House of Commons to trigger debates on “issues of significant public concern”.
- “Charting a course to a written constitution”.
- Give the Parliament a “free vote” on reducing the voting age to 16.
- Introducing fixed term Parliaments.
- Referendum on changing the electoral system and reforming the House of Lords.
- The abolition of the term “new politics” under the 2006 Terrorism Act.

Undoubtedly Labour has a decent track record on constitutional reform having delivered devolution and beginning reform of the House of Lords. Nevertheless, these recent attempts to renew our democracy represent opportunism more than ideals - a progressive fag paper between Labour and the Tories, and perhaps an attempt to sway some Lib Dem voters too.

Why should the British electorate trust Labour to deliver on constitutional reform when thus far they have failed to do so? After three terms haven't they missed countless opportunities to create a “new politics”?

Either Labour strategists are banking on voter amnesia or they fancy their chances in a toe-to-toe brawl on democratic renewal with the Conservatives. And why wouldn't they? For all the localising mantra of Cameron and Co – as Brown pointed out – they have successfully blocked attempts by the UK Government to reform our democratic structures.

Perhaps the most important, if unspoken, point of Brown's speech is to more closely align Labour with the Lib Dems in the potential event of a hung parliament. Certainly, this wouldn't be the first ideological nod and a wink in this campaign. Already we have saw Vince Cable and the Chancellor agree on many issues in the “Ask the Chancellors” debate, signing as they were off the same philosophical hymn sheet.

Oh and I was joking about abolishing the term new politics, unfortunately.

Barry McCulloch
Policy Manager

Thursday, 8 April 2010

The Election of a "Safe Parliament"

The show-piece of our demoralised democracy has been announced. That's right, 6 May will witness the UK General Election and as ever it will be outshone by TV soaps, with many of us prioritising a social life over watching a blow-by-blow account on the Beeb (BBC).

Of course, for many rationality isn't part of the decision-making process – we are already bitten by the political bug – and we will follow the ensuing political theatre with relish, popcorn, TV dinners and sardonic wit.

The first few days of the campaign haven't disappointed: photo op's with “constituents” who looked far too happy to see a politician on their doorstep; countless kissed babies; chapped handshakes; and industrial visits with porcelain white hard hats.

In reality it has all been a bit of an anti-climax as everyone already knew that the 6 May would be the chosen date and thus had been on an election footing. The first day was like any other as the SNP still maintained, with a straight face, that there “challenging” target was 20 seats against a chorus of “more nats, less cuts”. Indeed, even the Tories were at it with David “taxi” McLetchie claiming that the “Cameron effect” in Scotland would amount to 11 seats.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems were bathing in the electoral spotlight and avoiding whenever possible to go into details of what their terms and conditions would be to become a coalition partner in a minority government. And lastly, Labour continued its negative strategy splendidly. “If you don't vote for us, the Tories will get in”. A rather redundant soundbite in Scotland it has to be said.

Yet the real story of the first few days came from the desks of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS); not the campaign trail. According to the ERS “25 million safe seat voters will not see a contest” with 383 MPs “elected for life”. Indeed, in large parts of the country the winner could be announced today. In Scotland, for example, only 23 constituencies are swing seats with more than 60% of seats safe. ERS Chief Exec Ken Ritchie said:

These winners will take their seats in Britain’s Safe Parliament. Voters will never be able to boot these MPs out under our present system. They form a class of MPs that are, quite simply, elected for life... 2010 offers a tale of two elections – and two electorates. One that matters, and one that doesn’t. And for over 25 Million of us, who just happen to live in safe seats, this contest is already over”.

British Democracy in action: you gotta love it.

Barry McCulloch
Policy Manager

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Fair Access and the Importance of Opportunity: A Case for Quality Internships

The General Election looms on the horizon. The party machinery is being oiled; sound bites are being tested; party coffers raided. Important issues like job creation and climate change - to name but a few - should be at the heart of this election campaign, but of course they won’t. Which makes issues like the one we bring up today all the more pressing.

Nobody can doubt that fairness is a key characteristic of a developed democratic society. In the Scottish context, fairness is high on the governmental agenda. The Panel of Fair Access to the Professions, a body set up to make recommendations on how fairness of access to professional skills should be promoted, does not stray from this norm either.

The Final Report of the Panel of Fair Access to the Professions identifies a problem in the UK’s present, and a danger in the UK’s future. Firstly, that ‘opportunity… is unevenly distributed’, with very few things being done about this, and secondly, that people who are not properly skilled could end up ‘stranded economically and divorced… socially’. It stresses, therefore, the importance of providing more learning opportunities to young people, and supporting them properly in today’s changing professional environment.

The report, drafted by a panel of high-profile specialists from a wide range of professions, asserts that the UK Government needs to make sure that the young people of today are given equal opportunities to social mobility. Special attention is given, among other factors (e.g. education) to internships, a sector that has many solutions to offer, and many problems to surpass.

Why internships?

Internships are recognised as ‘an essential part of the career ladder in many professions’ and an ‘important access point for entry to a career’. Professions are considered ‘central to the UK’s future’; a future where economic advantage will lie ‘increasingly in knowledge-based services’. The connection is easy to make. Internships, a proven ‘access point to professions’ and a decisive factor in graduates’ career decision-making process can help reverse the trend of professions becoming ‘more… socially exclusive over time’.
There is potential, but it is not being exploited.

There are significant inequalities in relevant opportunities for individuals, brought about by a number of factors (socio-economic, geographic, etc.) Internships are often unpaid, which means that taking them up may be costly; and the cost, which may vary, deters people who cannot afford to work for free in order to get the experience. As a result, ‘professions draw their interns from a limited pool of talent’. People are missing out on opportunities for professional development, organizations are missing talented individuals, and the consequences for social mobility are negative.

The quality of internships varies as well. Some are ‘very poorly run’, with interns used as a ‘low-cost way to cover positions’ and others are ‘run to a very high standard’. In short, a number of the already limited amount of people being trained receives training unlikely to lead to a ‘highly developmental internship experience’.

The proposed solution by the Milburn Commission consists of three main proposals: (1) a fairer, more transparent system for internships, (2) a national Kitemark that will recognise best practice, and the (3) removal of financial barriers to internships. By presenting case studies to prove the feasibility of said proposals, the Panel emphasizes strongly on the cooperation that will need to be forged among concerned actors (Government, professions, unions etc.) so that higher-quality training will be made available to more people.

The aim of the Report is ‘change’, and the Panel is very clear in stating that this change ‘has got to be made’. The proposal is out there, and it is up to actors to turn it into action.

How relevant is an (essentially) English Report to Scotland?

According to recent research conducted in Scotland, social mobility has suffered, as ‘the margin for improvements for children is more limited’ and ‘opportunities for upward movement have been declining’. Combined with the effects of the economic crisis in the job market and the increasing unemployment of graduates, the need to implement measures in Scotland, such as the ones proposed by the Report, becomes only more pressing.

The realization of this situation, and the intention of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy to partake and contribute to this nationwide initiative, is the primary reason behind its desire to create an internship programme that will hopefully be fully funded (by the Scottish Government), and accessible to all*. In cooperation with the Scottish Government, as intended and proposed by the Panel, the CSPP offers to formulate and manage a programme that will bring graduates in contact with participating organizations. By promoting internships and offering a graduate wage, the CSPP will create new opportunities for a wide range of organizations and graduates alike. The former will be able to tap into a wider pool of talent that can suit their needs better, and the latter will be given the opportunity to get that crucial first step in the job market, without being deterred by the cost. In order to ensure that the programme is closely aligned with the Scottish Government’s strategic policy objectives, a contact point will hopefully be established.

The benefits of such a program are obvious. Scottish graduates could greatly improve their employability, Scottish businesses could benefit highly from the work of talented professional people, and the Government could enhance its own efforts to improve and strengthen its economic recovery. New opportunities could be created for everyone.

Change is possible, but it ‘has got to be made’. Identifying a problem only makes the imperativeness of solving it even greater; such is the case of fair access to professions. Since we have established that we need to work together as organizations, it is only natural that we should examine how such cooperation could take place, and try to make it reality as soon as possible.

There are many steps that need to be taken towards the goal of a better future where everyone will be able to participate and contribute. Extensive cooperation and fairer access to professional development may not be the only answers to the problem, but they are indispensable parts of its solution. Indeed we, alongside numerous other organisations, are already working together to put relevant and paid internships to Scotland’s struggling graduates.

For further information contact Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Manager.

*This programme has already began, without Scottish Government funding.

Nikolaos Bizas,
Research Associate

Friday, 8 January 2010

A modern Greek tragedy

In 2008, Greek political and banking circles were pleasantly surprised to find the country ‘somehow shielded’ from the crisis ‘experienced all over the world’. Many believed that the structure of the Greek economy (which did not rely heavily on exports) and the modus operandi of Greek banks provided them with relative safety against a crisis that claimed scores of jobs in other countries. Financial ratings companies warned of increased national debt and economic slowdown, but kept the faith nevertheless.

In late 2009, the picture in Greece was a completely different one. Optimism gave way to anxiety, as international credit rating agencies cut Greece’s credit rating, downgrading Greek government bonds and the country’s perceived ability to borrow and pay back debt. The ruling Socialist government announced a much bigger budget deficit than the one originally expected, and shares in Greek banks were reported to have suffered significant losses.

Many countries have faced financial crisis in recent years; what makes the Greek case a special one is the fact that it is a member of the Euro zone. Its membership is the reason that Greece cannot devalue its currency, and therefore employ a traditional method of boosting competitiveness in times of crisis. As the Euro zone comprises of many members, not all of them as competitive as Germany or France, it is interesting to see how Greece plans, and hopefully manages to deals with its problems.

So far, the Greek government’s plan can be summed up in four words: raise taxes, cut spending.

In reference to the first part of this simple scheme, the Greek ministry of finance recently published a meticulous report of all taxes in Greece, in which it is specifically stated that throughout 2010 there will be significant changes in the way that work and capital will be taxed, and that tax exemptions will be reconsidered. Members of the ministry have also announced a number of measures that will soon take place, as promised in the report. Taxes will be raised for cigarettes and alcohol; the age of retirement will become the same for men and women; and increases in salaries over €2,000 will be frozen (according to the government aim of a more just distribution of income). According to the revised Stability Program 2010-2013, the government plans to clamp down on individuals who fail to declare their full income, or pay their proper due to the state. Over a million (roughly a tenth of total Greek population) entrepreneurs are to be checked for tax evasion during this ‘tax-safari’, as the Greek press has described it. Like their counterparts in the UK, Greek bankers are also to be taxed heavily.

The cuts announced are equally as massive. Plans have been announced for a hiring freeze in the public sector for 2010, and limited hiring of permanent civil servants from 2011 onwards, effectively shrinking one of Greece’s traditionally largest employers. Short term-employment contracts are to be reduced by one third and social security expenditures are to suffer yet undisclosed cuts. Ministries’ operating costs and Greece’s traditionally strong defence budget will also be affected by the spending cuts.

In the event that revenues and expenditures miss the desired target, the Government is considering a backup plan, that will include further increase in value-added tax (VAT) and property taxes, the abolition of preferential treatment of certain professions, and the increase of fuel levies, while cutting state ministries’ budgets at the same time.

Early on in December, the Greek government additionally sold €2.9 billion of floating-rate notes to banks, in an attempt to cut what is considered the ‘European Union’s largest budget deficit’. Loans to cover various expenditures have also been announced, and Greece plans to issue about 40 percent of its 2010 debt early on in the year. Greek banks are to be the biggest purchaser of Greek sovereign debt.

Outsider views on the crisis, and the procedure taken to tackle it, vary. Certain economists have questioned the savings announced, and others have not made up their mind yet about whether the EU should help Greece or not. German economic analysts have stressed that despite the economic hardship and unrest (which coincided with riots against an infamous case of police brutality), Greece is going to make it, thus alleviating fears about the Euro zone’s future. The IMF sound quite reassuring too.

To be frank, Greece has no option but to make it. The European Central Bank has been very explicit about reducing budget deficits fast, and, besides, much more is at stake than disappointing the ECB. What Greece is risking, as Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou has repeatedly said, is losing its credibility vis-à-vis investors and partners. "Our credibility deficit is more important than the deficit in our public finances," told Papaconstantinou to parliament, and he is right; for credibility can push investments and cooperation, and help get Greece out of the deficit pit it’s found itself in. After all, no country can develop and prosper on its own. Even the greatest of superpowers need partners.

Analysts, officials and organizations all seem to agree on Greece’s economic recuperation; it may take long, it may be tough, but eventually it will come. What has not been examined, however, is the impact of this massive reform plan on the Greek society, and its large public sector. Greece is a country with a traditionally high number of civil servants, which have so far struggled to provide satisfactory services to the Greek public. Contrarily to the private sector, which is loosely regulated and monitored and where workers’ rights have been increasingly violated over the last years, the public sector in Greece is considered a stable and trustworthy employer, where the rights of workers are safeguarded and where unions are rife.

With the coming measures, however, the public sector undergoes drastic changes. Existing personnel will have to manage with less funding, and eventually less workforce, and retirement age is equalised upwards for men and women. Given the fact that, as it is, the Greek public sector is already not considered to meet its duties towards the Greek public effectively, a reduction in money and manpower could mean further deterioration of provided services, unless it is accompanied by measures that will improve efficiency- expotentially.

A smaller number of public sector jobs means that private sector jobs will have to be created in order to avoid having large numbers of unemployed people putting pressure on an already exhausted welfare system. Given Greece’s current ‘credibility deficit’, and the lack of money to create new public sector jobs, it remains doubtful how this could occur.

The government’s attempts to reduce deficit are bound to have wider repercussions than imagined- or announced. The question is, essentially, if Greek policy-makers have considered these repercussions appropriately. Finding money to pay off a debt is one thing, but adjusting a whole workforce and a job market to wholly new conditions is something completely different.

In ancient Greek tragedies, a person or thing called deus ex machina would appear at just the right time to provide an unexpected helping hand, a solution nobody had thought of. It seems to be absent from modern tragedies though, and the hero of this particular tragedy, Greece, has no one to count on but itself.

Nikolaos Bizas,
Research Associate