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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.

Results

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?

Programme

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


BOOKING

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 – ladams@ed.ac.uk

By post – Institute of Governance
University of Edinburgh
Chisholm House
High School Yards
Edinburgh
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.

Candidates

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.

Tesco Trails

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

A few weeks ago the “feel” of the university changed dramatically as the undergraduates and new postgraduates descended for the new semester. A sure sign Christmas is round the corner.

There are always plenty of students around in the summer – postgrads doing dissertations and projects and various summer schools and other classes (not the bagpipe school again – please). But the new semester with brand new first year students marks a changing of the seasons.

For some reason I was thinking of this when the Tesco interim results came out last week. The Tesco machine has spluttered in the UK in recent years – if still having a market share in food of over 30% can be called a splutter. Sales have been lacklustre (they are not alone in this), but market share has edged down.

And then it struck me. The first year students this year will have been born when Tesco was already the #1 food retailer in the UK. They will never have lived through anything else – and that is quite remarkable.

For so long in my lifetime, Sainsbury were the prince of grocers, but in the early 1990s the upstart Tesco barrow-boys knocked them off #1 via a stream of initiatives – clubcard, value lines, express and metro stores, supply chain revolution, internationalisation, Every Little Helps corporate branding – which 20 years on. continue to deliver.

One other plank of the this #1 takeover was of course the purchase of Willie Lows (if you are one of my students you will have to ask your parents who they were) from the jaws of a Sainsbury takeover. Outbidding Sainsbury seemed rash at the time. but it made Tesco truly national (UK) for the first time and catapaulted upwards their previously limited market share in Scotland. if Sainsbury had held their nerve and outbid Tesco, how much would have been different in Scotland today?

A few other things caught my eye in the Tesco interims:

65% of floorspace is now outside the UK
49% of stores are now outside the UK
34% of sales are outside the UK
28% of profit is outside the UK

Tesco is truly international and increasingly reliant on its internationalisation for growth.

And in the UK? Much noise about The Big Price Drop, which for me is a rebalancing of approach. One of the lessons of the Sainsbury fall from grace was the way in which they got so out of line in consumers’ eyes on price. Tesco are determined not to do the same thing. Operationally they remain powerful.

One other snippet – between February and August 2011, Tesco added 150 stores to their UK portfolio, of which 142 were smaller than 3000 sq ft. Yes, some were One-stop, but even so.

Given this rate and format of development and Tesco’s ubiquity, it’s no wonder my students can not imagine anyone else being at #1. And yet, we said this about Sainsbury, once upon a time. Complacency in retailing is very dangerous – something Tesco are well aware of.

"Keeping on track"

Richard Kerley - Holyrood Magazine

There is an old, old expression used in discussing public policy and public projects: ‘success has many parents; failure is an orphan.’ Bear that in mind as you read ever more about the Edinburgh trams story/ saga/debacle and observe various parties (both political and otherwise) scattering from the back wash of blame.

What can we do about it? What can we learn from it? For the moment I’ll pass on the first question (and leave that to the people who get paid for it) but I shall try and offer some observations on what we might learn, or at the very least, what we might ask that will help us learn.

The first thing we might learn is that many major infrastructure projects run over time and over budget; regardless of country, regardless of whether they are public or private sector projects. There’s quite a lot of history to this: the Suez Canal (private, late and 1900 per cent over budget); the Humber Bridge (public, late, 175 per cent over budget).

Margaret Thatcher consciously and deliberately insisted that the Channel Tunnel should be a private concession to ensure economic and efficient completion. The result: 80 per cent over budget, late, traffic projections only 30 per cent achieved, and a shareholder wipe-out.

International studies cover 200 + projects in more than 20 developed countries and suggest that ‘fixed rail ‘links are the worst culprits for cost and timetable overruns and failures to achieve passenger forecasts.

So ‘hey ho‘ to the proposed Borders rail line; ‘fixed links‘ are another major category of project time and cost overrun – so don’t assume the second Forth road bridge is done and dusted.

The second aspect that will be a fascinating element of the promised public inquiry, and the management case studies that will surely be used for years to come, is the multiplicity of organisations involved in this – all with particular and often different interests.

This is not just about Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, created to deal with the proposed congestion charge and now being quietly disposed of by the council.

I happen to think there is a good case for councils creating such organisations but somehow it went badly wrong here. Ever longer articulation links in decision making have to be well handled and thought about in advance rather than patched mid-way.

There are also all the other organisations involved, starting with and including the governments pre- and post 2007. The pre-2007 coalition rushed through some tram decisions just before the election, and the new minority government failed to properly assess the case for the Edinburgh trams or the Edinburgh airport rail link against each other.

Same city label, but big difference; one was planned to serve the city; one to serve dozens of towns and communities throughout Scotland. The end result of failing to consider both together is that the now planned tram line (as I write) will go from the airport to a city station . . . but the wrong station, and I suspect not many people will get on and off at intermediate stops.

There is also a myriad of technical questions to be asked and answers to be sought, some of which, I suspect, are way beyond the comfort range and knowledge of lay people, unless they invest a vast amount of time and energy; and they usually do this because they are protagonists.

Roll on the promised public inquiry – though I suspect it will be here before my tram will be.

Professor Richard Kerley, CSPP Board Member & Professor of Management, Queen Margaret University

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Raising Dough

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

A few months ago in an email exchange arising from one of my posts, I learned about a retail business start-up that might come to fruition. Well, this week (6th October) it happens.

Dunbar is to see the opening of what is claimed to be Scotland’s first community owned artisan bakery called “The Bakery”!

In 2008, the town’s last bakery closed. Since then over 300 mainly local residents have raised £38K to open a new high street bakery, and drawn in support from a range of other organisations.

Set up as an Industrial and Provident Society (a community co-operative), shareholders will not receive a dividend, but will instead be entitled to a 10% discount on all baked goods purchased at The Bakery.

Profits will be ploughed back into the business and the local community. This is not a volunteer operated business, but one that is professionally managed and run – something that has meant eligibility for some grants has been problematic.

The story since 2008 appears not to be plain sailing, and some of the pitfalls are noted on their website. But at a time of closures, doom and gloom, it’s nice to have a positive story to read about and mention.

I have no stake in The Bakery, but do know some of the people involved – and they have also been involved in some other retail-led regeneration stories. I do not know if The Bakery will work/succeed, but wish it all the best. A Scottish artisan bakery with a local and organic ethos, and the support of many local residents, deserves to succeed.

What I hope though, is that this will not be last such story we hear of this type. The recession causes problems but it also creates some opportunities. One of the lessons for Scotland may be that local start-up enterprises and businesses will have to take up the slack from the multiple withdrawal from locations.

This location and community involvement will not necessary be easy, but it will provide a sense of place and difference as well as vital local provision and jobs. Let’s hope there is enough support and skill out there to make such things happen.

More critically we also have to understand what barriers there are to this local entrepreneurial activity. It is over three years and many twists and turns since Dunbar’s original bakery closed due to retirement; why does it take so long and have so many obstacles in the way? Towns, villages and other places need facilities and development now, not in some distant future.

If you’re in Dunbar, go and have a look – comment here on what you find. Better still buy some bread and other goodies – and if you like it, spread the news. We need more distinct and diverse local retailers to add diversity and specialism, in Dunbar and across Scotland.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

CSPP on the Fringe at the SNP Conference

The Annual Conference of the SNP takes place on the 20-23 October in Inverness (Eden Court Theatre). And as ever, we'll be running a series of interesting fringe events.

Here's a sneak preview:

Saturday 22 October - 12.30pm - First Circle, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

The health of our nation and a tale of two countries - CSPP Debate with Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP


The Scottish and UK Governments are on distinct and different policy paths. Nowhere is this more evident than in health.

The creation of the NHS revolutionized public policy. The core principle that healthcare should be free and available to all remains as relevant now as it did in the 1940’s.

Yet, fundamental challenges lie ahead for the NHS in Scotland. How will it cope with intense demographic changes? The desire for democratization and a preventative approach? Increasing budgetary pressures and an ever expectant public? Promote deeper service integration?

Join us at the CSPP fringe meeting to debate the future of the NHS in Scotland.


Saturday 22 October - 5.30pm - First Circle, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness

Closing the gap between aspiration and reality - CSPP Transport Debate with Transport Minister Keith Brown MSP

After the resounding success of our Dragons Den on Transport, we welcome back Keith Brown MSP, Minister for Transport to the CSPP fringe.

In the face of large cuts to capital budgets, the Scottish Government remains committed to investing significantly in Scotland’s transport infrastructure to improve connectivity and integration.

However, will this programme actually deliver a sustainable transport system that is accessible, affordable and more efficient?

Join us at the CSPP fringe meeting to debate the future of transport policy in Scotland.

See you there.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Supporting Scotland's Cities

CSPP Policy Director Ross Martin is at Holyood’s “Supporting Scotland’s Cities” conference. Deputy First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health, Wellbeing and Cities Strategy, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, was the first keynote speaker.

Key Points
• Cities drive innovation and achieving sustainable economic growth depends on the performance of Scotland’s cities.
• Cities need to build stronger partnerships and work together (public, private and third sector) to make an even bigger impact.
• The Scot Govt will live up to its manifesto promise to: improve infrastructure and connectivity, give cities more freedom, enhance academia and develop city regions.
• Cities are central to the Scot Govt’s economic strategy and capital investment is of vital importance (context: 36% cut in Scotland’s block capital element).
• The delivery model for new capital projects will be NPD, along with Network Rail's funding mechanism.
• Cities need a strategy/action plan/route map to help them to support economic growth.

Six Cities Agenda
• The role of SCDI is to bring strategic leadership, not interfere or assume responsibilities of local government.
• Cities are not homogenous. This is not a one size fits all policy.
• Alignment has to take place between the Six Cities and relevant Scot Govt departments.

Q&A
• Q1. On the issue of distinctiveness, the Cab Sec emphasised the sectoral specialisms in each city, e.g. gaming in Dundee. But, cities must learn "not to trip over each other" and recognise relative strengths.
• Q2. On the issue of sustainable economic growth, the Cab Sec said we need the proceeds of growth for public spending, but we do need growth to be sustainable (nothing on efficiency or effectiveness).

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

My Levy is Your Tax

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

It might not have been in the manifesto, but it certainly made headlines. Wandering into the newsagent yesterday morning, John Swinney would have seen an almost uniform newspaper lead coverage on his new “Public Health Levy”.

Only, the words used were a little different – shop raid, smash and grab, price hikes, shopping bill tax, commitment breach. The only health issues involved were the collective raised blood pressures of the journalists, editors and the food retailers – oh, and the impotency of the opposition parties in the Parliament to do anything about it this time.

After suffering a bloody nose last year in the rushed, botched version one of the ‘Tesco tax’, John Swinney has come back for more. Only this time he’s brought his backbench majority friends to the (now one-sided) fight. Putting lipstick on the pig of the supermarket tax, we now have a ‘public health levy’ – and who could be against public health?

As ever, the detail will be revealing, not least for the legal wriggle room it offers and the operational reactions it will induce. But the idea of having food retailers (through a black hole, sorry hypothecated box) pay for health prevention activities seemed to go down really badly with the newspapers.

Their view was that the last people who will pay for this will be the retailers. The extra costs (£30m, £35M whatever per annum) will get passed on to suppliers and/or consumers. The idea of differential prices in England and Scotland as a direct consequence would seem peculiar however and even more costly for retailers; unless of course they really wanted to make a point – a retail equivalent of Stelios’ “fat bastards tax” on Luton airport perhaps. Maybe less “public health levy” and more “Swinney’s messages money grab”.

The issue is why tax the food retailers when the there is so much else that is possible or wrong? It is like taxing drug dealers whilst subsidising drug producers. There is much in this that is “illogical and discriminatory” to quote the Scottish Retail Consortium. That of course does not make the basic idea (prevention is cheaper than cure) wrong; but does open up the need for a full debate on what we should be doing and how.

Why tax large retail stores, when convenience and other small stores are so much more dependent on fags and booze for sales and in turn their local consumers are so much more dependent on these small stores for their supplies? Tax them, close them down and the supply in local areas is cut off. Why not tax bars, pubs, hotels, nightclubs, political, social and sporting clubs where alcohol and tobacco are every bit as significant and over-consumption is rife?

And if we really want to do something about health, then a “fat tax” on McDonalds and other fast food chains and local chippies ought to be on the agenda. Or maybe we could go the other way and have tax relief for spas and health clubs? What about those retailers who hit targets for anti-smoking promotion or product sales, or on healthy or low fat foods?

So why supermarkets and/or large retailers? Expediency perhaps, revenge for last year possibly? Or maybe it is because they believe the ‘chattering classes’ that supermarkets and superstores are evil and people hate them. But there’s the rub – even in the most vociferous of the places fighting new supermarket development, substantial numbers (often majorities) of local people are still in favour of such development.

And week in, week out, across Scotland people shop in, and feel well served by these stores. Supermarkets and superstores hit the consumer spot in far more cases than they miss. Forcing the daily and weekly shop to become more expensive or difficult is not really a vote winner with lots of people, despite what some of the rhetoric says.

Let’s have the debate on health and prevention and the environments we are all exposed to and the abuses they can create. But don’t pretend this is a “Public Health Levy” in a true thought out sense; it is an expedient money grab from businesses perceived to be able to afford it.

From the business perspective, all businesses need to be concerned about this tax, as logically it could be extended in many directions. The already known rapid rise in business taxes over the next few years in Scotland is going to produce real problems. Who knows what the trailed empty property (vacant shop) relief revisions will look like and do?

But for retailers, what would really concern me most is the certainty of falling real incomes for the next three years, due to pay freezes, pension costs increases, general inflation, probable spiking utility and other costs and all the other bad news out there,. Where are the sales going to come from in the next few years? And what new retailers are going to soak up these (and those still to come) empty premises?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

CSPP in the News

CSPP Board Member Richard Kerley was interviewed on GMS earlier today on the Scottish Government's spending plans. Professor Kerley said:

When asked if the Scottish Government had shifted the responsibility for delivering the council tax freeze onto councils, Professor Kerley said:

“There are a number of interesting developments within the documents the Scottish Government have produced. They have offered councils an incentive not to increase council tax and yet the amount of money offered for that policy remains at a level that was set 4/5 years ago. In real terms, this is a decreased amount of money, so yes he has shifted a lot of the burden onto councils”.

“One of the key areas that are going to be problematic in the next couple of years for both councils and the central Government is the issue of redundancies because it is the council that is the employer. “

On Local Government borrowing, Richard said:

“The borrowing is in effect for building and improving facilities. Now, there is a good case for doing that. Investing in capital projects, particularly those that can be achieved in smaller tranches and rapid succession, is a good way of sustaining activity and employment in a very hard hit construction sector.“

Click here to listen to the interview (7 days left to listen).

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Inevitable Plan B



Another day, another growth forecast downgrading UK economic growth.

The IMF are predicting UK GDP to grow just 1.1% in 2011, 0.4% reduction from its previous World Economic Outlook report in June. This is not the first time the IMF has cut their growth forecast for the UK economy. In April they predicted 1.7% and in January 2%.



If you take this with the OBR’s forecasting, it’s clear that no one really knows what’s going to happen. All we know is that we’re in for a bumpy ride. What we do know, however, is that the UK Government “remains committed to implementing the deficit reduction plan which has delivered stability”. Put simply, no Plan B for growth. Cue Ed Balls

“The IMF is saying very clearly that if slow growth continues in the UK the Government should change course and adopt steadier deficit plans… That’s why we need a real plan for jobs and growth, here in Britain and around the world, and we need it quickly.”

The more Labour press for a Plan B or the Scottish Govt call for a “Plan MacB”, the more the Coalition Govt dig in their heels. The reluctance is understandable from a political perspective in that they don’t want to be seen to be taking advice from the opposition.

But more fundamentally, their credibility as a Government is tied up with the deficit reduction strategy. Remember, this isn’t just an economic reaction to the UK’s mushrooming debt crisis but an ideological wish to create a smaller state.

If they admit they were wrong about this, the argument goes, what else were they wrong about? All of this creates uncertainty and indecision and breeds weakness. Or does it? I’m not convinced. Neither am I convinced that the Coalition is slavishly going to stick to a Plan A that is clearly not working.

Behind the scenes, the Treasury will be working on a Plan B (of course, they will have to call it something else). In fact, they might have it. I don’t have a source to validate this theory, but I do have history.

An excerpt from Bob Woodward’s “The War Within” (p85) illustrates my point. It’s August 2006 and slowly but surely it is dawning on the Principals that their current strategy in Iraq - “clean, hold and build” - is failing catastrophically.

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley is leading a review of the strategy, while simultaneously the Administration publicly reaffirms their belief that the current plan is working.

“No, I don’t believe that it’s failing” said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

“But, is there not some discussion about what happens if it doesn’t work, a Plan B?” asked the reporter.

“What you want to do is settle on a plan and then press as hard as you can to make it work. And that’s where everyone’s energies are at this point, and I think this plan is going to work” replied Rice.

The Coalition Govt has, or are working on, a Plan B. What they need to find is an exit strategy to sell it.

Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Manager

Catching up?

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

Just back from my latest travails. This time to Singapore where the IRS signed a new agreement for scholarships for our undergraduate retail degree. The Singapore Workforce Development Agency are sponsoring 90 scholarships over 3 years at an investment of S$3m.

I also took part in our University graduation ceremony which saw PhD, MBA and Retail marketing undergraduates graduate, and spent time teaching on our Diploma in Retailing programme (we offer Diploma. Undergraduate and MBA in Retailing degrees in Singapore).

So what happened when I was away? A couple of things registered via messages or emails:

* The August retail sales figures for Scotland confirmed the fears some (including me) have been expressing for a while now; the recession is nowhere near over. The figures were amongst the worst ever recorded (again) by the Scottish Retail Consortium series.

*The waste mountain generated supposedly by the confusion amongst sell by, use by, best before and other dates is all the fault of the retailers. I don’t quite understand this – there is confusion for sure, but is it really all the retailers’ fault? Consumers need education and clarity and a willingness to see, smell or taste if food is going off.

So that’s me caught up then. But, a figure from Singapore keeps intruding – recorded retail sales growth of c10% per annum is seen as normal and acceptable. And this from a country that is far from cheap these days.

So how do we catch up with that?

Well investment in education and the workforce might be a part of it (though I would say that wouldn’t I!). But it is about attitude and approach as well. Two instances:

*Foreign students are increasingly welcomed in Singapore, but only if they commit to stay and work in the country (thus ‘pay back’) for a couple of years after they graduate. And the UK government’s parallel policy – foreigners to go home days after they graduate.

*When the credit crunch hit a few years ago, Singapore expanded the numbers going into University and Polytechnics to seize the opportunity to add skills to the workforce (and to ‘mop-up’ youth unemployment). And the UK? Citing the looming deficit we decided to cut numbers and to raise costs and fees for students.

Let’s guess the economic and social impacts of these two approaches? Some way to go to catch up perhaps.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Return of a Mac can be a boost for schools

Published in the Scotsman, 14/9/11

Ok, perhaps many a Mc does a Mac make after all. Or at least one would be inclined to believe so given the schoolboy error of Scottish Labour's aspirant leader Ken Macintosh, misspelling Professor Gerry McCormac's name on their party press release while responding to his report into the future of teaching in Scotland's schools.

Another Mc, the fabulous character of Grange Hill's Mrs McCluskey, wouldn't have been impressed. Easy to mix up all these Macs and Mcs, given that the professor and his team were reviewing the impact of the McCrone report, originally commissioned by Jack McConnell under the direction of Henry McLeish.

In attacking key aspects of the review, the Labour Party rightly focuses on teacher numbers, but should be sent to the back of the class for their terrible line that "Teachers should be left to teach, not dish out school dinners or repair computers".

The review does not even come close to suggesting a change to teachers' conditions that would have them engaged in any activity other than teaching, or supporting pupil learning with other tasks. So, what about the meat of the McCormac review? Why was it necessary, and what does it actually say? Some time ago now everyone involved in teaching agreed that pay had fallen way behind many other professions, of equal or lesser worth to society. After more than a decade of ultimately fruitless negotiation, the Scottish Government established the McCrone review to sort out the squabbling.

Now, leave aside the fact that the prequel to McCrone, timeously entitled the "Millennium Review", had actually secured the support of the teaching union's negotiating committee before being junked without a ballot of the memberships.

Also ignore the fact that this earlier review included a range of reforms to the profession designed to "recruit, reward and retain" quality teachers, e.g. the inclusion of a sabbatical year for key members in the staff room and the integration of extra-curricular support such as coaching school sports teams into the standard public sector school teacher's contract.

The eventual McCrone deal was a classic political fix. McConnell had been handed the poisoned chalice of avoiding looming disruption in Scotland's schools by first minister McLeish. They rushed to sign a deal that gave everything and got nothing in return.

At a cost of around one and a half tram sets, that's £1.3 billion in ordinary money, teachers gained their rightful pay reward, but everyone else involved suffered as a result.

First to go were the after-school clubs, emptying bored teenagers on to the streets. Then parents' evenings were cut back as these often time-hungry sessions didn't quite fit into the box provided in "non-teaching time". Then followed Saturday morning sports coaching and many other aspects of what was previously seen as a normal working week, in the 40 that constitute a school year.

This was all part of a depressing attitudinal shift from one with high professional standards towards a clock-watching mentality more akin to manual workers on poverty pay. Far from introducing flexibility, the 35-hour week, a core element of the McCrone settlement, has conditioned teachers, and especially their unions, into a way of working that doesn't come close to be described as professional, never mind fit for the 21st century, the title on the McCrone tin.

Even more damning, standards in Scotland's schools did not improve. As the McCormac Review starkly puts it, teachers' pay and conditions need to "strengthen the quality of teaching and leadership" in Scotland's schools, because they have not been. In other words, we paid an awful lot of cash for little, if any, improvement in the classroom experience for a generation of pupils. This deficit needs to be addressed.

The McCormac review rightly recommends a more flexible approach, enabling teachers to lead their own profession, to develop, monitor and continuously improve standards. It calls for a "reinvigorated professionalism" with "all teachers embracing professional obligations which go beyond that which can or should be embodied in a contract". In other words, let teachers teach, and organise themselves in a manner which "is in the best interests of young people".

Patently, this is not the case right now. The school year, based upon the agrarian calendar is not fit for last century, never mind this one. Of course, the report doesn't deal with this wider issue, as it was not in its remit to do so. However, if we are indeed to move towards a system and structure which is in the best interests of young people, and by extension their parents, then surely a move to four equal terms of ten weeks each is inevitable?

As well as allowing for much easier planning of the curriculum, and all other aspects of delivering a quality learning programme, such a move would also open up our schools to a wide range of external influences, the kind of which McCormac rightly promotes. The current restrictive practice of allowing only GTC registered teachers in front of a class "risks denying access to potentially valuable experiences for children and young people".

The current practice is a dereliction of duty.

A simplified school calendar, brought into line with the way in which many of us organise our working lives, around the four financial quarters of the year, would make it so much easier for other professions to engage with the education of our children. Professions and trades have so much to offer both in terms of the learning experience and as role models for our young people; artists and architects, engineers and electricians, journalists and joiners, planners and plumbers… all have a part to play.

The use of other professions would have another benefit, a potential reduction in class contact time. On the importance of this issue I wholeheartedly agree with the teaching unions. Teachers cannot be expected to perform at their very best across a crowded teaching timetable and this is one way in which to take some of the pressure off. Of course, another is to reshape the school week.

In this age of asymmetrical federalism, whichever version (devo-max or indie-lite) we vote for, the asymmetric week is surely worth a mention. Why? Because it works.

Moving to one half-day, by slightly increasing the length of the other four teaching days, is something which we know improves both teaching quality and school standards. When we introduced this in West Lothian in the 1990s it allowed an enrichment of the education programme with a wide range of other activities, such as sports, arts, crafts, music and outdoor education on that half day, supporting an overall improvement in all measurable educational outcomes.

Another aspect which McCormac promotes in seeking to bring teaching into the real world, recognising the budgetary pressure which we all face, is to put a stop to the dubious political initiative of smaller class sizes. The report recognises that there is scant evidence to demonstrate any benefit from marginal reductions in class sizes and that these nationally driven targets set by the SNP, before they knew they would win an outright majority in the parliament, "should not be pursued at the expense of overall teacher quality".

Above all, however, and this is a theme that runs through the McCormac review, local circumstances must be allowed to shape the way in which Scotland's schools are organised and run. Not all schools are the same - and neither they should be. Some decisions are appropriate for local authority level, others for schools themselves, but teaching as a profession must take control and drive up standards for all.

• Ross Martin is the policy director of CSPP and a former CoSLA Education Convener who was involved in the pre-McCrone negotiations.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Just Magestic

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail

Drafting legislation must be a thankless task. All those lawyers, double meanings, wriggle room, my version of certainty against your version … and that’s before the MSPs get their hands on it. What a job … cross fingers and hope it all hangs together, I suppose.

The Scottish Government’s campaign against alcohol abuse in Scotland is well known. More is to come, despite previous shenanigans around the proposals for minimum pricing per alcohol unit. Unfinished business doesn’t come into it. And that’s even before the latest legislation comes into force.

Life is too short to detail the Alcohol Scotland Act 2010 which comes into force on October 1, 2011, or the wriggle room that will be exposed in the coming months. If you are desperate then see a lawyer … but be prepared, you might need a drink afterwards. And if you are a retailer and have not thought through the implications for your business yet, then get a defence lawyer … time is not on your side, unless you fancy time “inside”.

The intention is clearly laudable; responsible behaviour around alcohol. It is hard to argue against the sentiments behind some of the suggestions and remedies. Given the data on alcohol and Scotland we need to do something … but that’s where consensus breaks down. Nonetheless the Act brings in restrictions on multipack sales and quantity discounts amongst other things, so as to discourage (too) cheap pricing and binge buying.

This all sounds fine, but let’s consider a moment. If we are really interested we can consider the official guidance to the Act. The law says that multipacks need to be priced in multiples of the single unit price. So if a retailer doesn’t sell single items, or if the multipacks are of a different size product (44oml versus 500ml say), then what is the base price?

Even more interesting may be the banning of quantity discounts, to cut price discounting and so-called “incentives” for bulk buying (Let’s ignore the issue of whether loyalty card points are incentives or “irresponsible promotions” – the official guidance says this may be an issue for the Courts).

Having just received their recent leaflet, this is where Majestic comes in.

Majestic have responded to the change in the law by pricing single bottles of wine in Scotland at the equivalent of the two bottle price in England. So a headline figure on a bottle of wine on the 30th September in Scotland is £7.99 (but is £5.99 if you purchase two, and remember that the Majestic minimum buy is a mixed half case). On on the 1st October this will become £5.99 on the bottle in Majestic in Scotland.

Magic isn’t it … headline wine prices down. Just what the legislators wanted – I think not.

And that’s the problem with legislation. Drafting something is the easy part; drafting something to cover all eventualities and not to look stupid is much harder. So that’s where the lawyers come in (again).

I know this is really an oddity created by the marketing and promotional approach used by Majestic, but it does illustrate that the Scotland/England divide will raise issues. And that’s not even going into the guidance which says online sales based in England but delivered to Scotland are not covered by the Act – thereby providing an incentive (irresponsible promotion anyone) to English internet sales and against Scottish based shop jobs, and driving a rather large articulated vehicle through a small part of the sustainable Scotland programme. Finding a sensible way forward on promotion and marketing of alcohol in Scotland may not be not as straightforward as some seem to think it is.

Slainte.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Police & Fire Reform Plans Annouced



Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced the Government's plans to create single police and fire services against a backdrop of growing opposition from Local Government, COSLA and the Scottish Police Federation. Crucially, however, there was widespread support for the plans within the chamber with only the Lib Dems criticising the move. Mr MacAskill said:

"The status quo was not sustainable - we cannot afford to keep doing things eight times over. To do nothing would [lead] to massive reductions in police numbers and an attack on terms and conditions."

"A regional model would have been cumbersome, bureaucratic and would not have delivered the same benefits as a single service. The worst of both worlds. That left the single service option as the best way forward for the services."


The creation of single police and fire services is the Government's first serious foray into structural reform in public services. During its first term, the Government's PSR plans were consigned to rationalising public bodies and establishing a new concordat between central and local government. According to the Government, these plans will:

- Deliver estimated savings of £130 million a year and £1.7 billion over 15 years.
- Reduce duplication and overheads across eight police and eight fire & rescue services.
- Establish a strong, formal relationship between each service and each of Scotland's 32 local authorities, creating designated local officers for each council area who will work with the Council and other partners to meet local priorities and needs
- Ensure clear separation between Ministers and the operational responsibilities of services.

You can watch coverage of these plans on Newsnight Scotland which includes an interview with CSPP board member Richard Kerley (4minutes in).

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Honesty in a leadership contest? Surely not

I never thought the Tory leadership content would be the event to knock me out of my recess induced political coma, but it has. Even more unexpected is the source of this surprise - Murdo Fraser - and the hard hitting and strong speechhe delivered to launch his leadership bid.




“Change is no longer an option, but a necessity. Now is the time to face the truth [that] the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is failing...and it will never succeed in its current form”.

“If I am elected as Leader of the Party, I will build a new and stronger party for Scotland”.


Fraser’s speech was a brutally honest evaluation of the Tories performance in the last 15 years which saw them reduced, despite a well-run campaign from Annabel Goldie, to just over 12% of the regional vote in the recent SP elections and losing key people like Derek Brownlee.

Whenever politicians talk about honesty my suspicions are usually aroused. It’s usually vacuous window dressing, but this time it was different. Why? The reason is simple: as the establishment figure Fraser was the overwhelming favourite for the vacant post. He had everything to lose, so it follows that he would run a safe campaign.

Yet by questioning the fundamental existence of the party and how it operates, he implicitly criticises his own performance in a failing enterprise. Numerous questions come to the fore: why didn’t he air his feelings sooner? Why now?

Curiously, he has acted in a way that is anathema to a rational political actor pursuing his self-interest. He has set out his stall, his vision, which may well see him (if he doesn’t win) kicked out of the party. The only conclusion we can draw from this is, shock horror, he actually means what he’s saying.

Disappointingly, both the Herald and the Scotsman decided to lead with negative front page stories with the latter saying "division deepens over plan for Tory divorce”. In contrast, the opinion pages were awash with praise.

But here’s the thing: it could well be that his plans for a new centre-right party resonate more strongly with people outside the party than those within it, which is problematic considering the former can’t vote.

Following Fraser’s speech, I and a colleague remarked on how stale and sterile Scottish political debate had become; in effect, it is wedded to a left of centre ideology. The prospect of a new centre right party, then, should be welcomed because it would generate alternative policy discourse and provide a rejoinder to the social democratic soup. Every democracy needs healthy opposition and Scotland is no different.

Murdo Fraser is taking a huge gamble in more ways than one. Not only is he putting his political career on the line, but he is gambling on a supposition that there is an appetite for a new centre right political party amongst the Scottish electorate.

He may be right. He may be wrong. In fact, he may never find out. But one things for sure: his speech will stimulate debate in a leadership content we all thought would be dull and uneventful.

Good luck to all the candidates. You can follow them via twitter - @murdofraser2011 , @Carlaw2011 and RuthForLeader

Barry

P.s. apologies for the lack of links - blogger is playing up.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Free the fife one

Leigh Sparks - Stirling Retail (original blog has a number of images to complement the story)

A few posts back I made some comments about farm shops and shops on a farm. The response directly to me was fascinating. Which is how I came to spend a day last week in Fife – and no, contrary to some of my colleagues views of the Kingdom, I was not kidnapped or held against my will.

Instead I spent a fruitful day looking at varieties of farm shops in the vicinity of Cupar (itself a market town of some interest). Starting and finishing at the excellent Fisher & Donaldson bakery/coffee shop in Cupar, we spent time in four different farm shops and had great conversations and discussions about farm shops, authenticity, localness and its meaning and business generally.

So what did I learn or conclude?

There are first-class businesses out there run by passionate people with love of what they do, the produce they grow and the place they are in. They deserve to succeed. Perhaps this is not new, but seeing these, sometimes hidden, gems reinforces the point.

Farm shops span a huge variety from the authentic, this farm only, approach, through to the shop on a farm with mainly bought in product, whether local, national or even international. We should not decry any of these, as they all have some degree of local in them, most certainly local employment and they appeal to different groups of consumers and visitors.

These farm shops need to tell their stories; about the place, the produce, the rhythms of life on the farm/land and the excellence of what they do. Not all do this well enough or consistently enough yet. And we need to link these shops up to engage those who want to seek out this variety and difference. This also requires the (council) authorities to help promote these great resources on their doorstep, and not to hinder them.

People use (and love) the farm shop for various reasons, but mainly because they are meeting places for food, coffee and in some cases localness. They provide learning experiences and a sense of exploration of our natural larder. They are far more than simply a place to buy stuff (as good as that may be).

Some of the produce was exceptional – in quality, price and in environmental terms. Good seasonal, local produce, grown or produced on the farm, with no food miles and often at a price cheaper or comparable with large stores. What is not to like? We need to get closer to seasonality and authenticity of product.

We have to cherish and promote our produce and our heritage of great Scottish food. Farm shops are one element of this (we will return to farmers markets at some time). Get out and try them soon – hopefully you will be pleased and inspired by what they are trying to achieve.

Thanks to all for the time, discussion, coffee and fruit!

For the record I visited:

Fisher & Donaldson, Ceres Road, Cupar, KY15 5JT

Muddy Boots, Balmalcolm Farm, Balmalcolm, KY 15 7TJ

Cairnie Fruit Farm, Cairnie, Cupar, KY15 4QD

Pittormie Fruit Farm, Dairsie, KY15 4SW

Balgove Larder, Strathtyrum, St Andrews, KY16 9SF

Friday, 2 September 2011

Tram network just needs a driver

Published in the Scotsman, 2/9/11

A directly elected leader in Edinburgh would have ensured that the capital's tram project was completed long ago.

ON MY return to Edinburgh from visiting a few other great European cities this summer, I struggled with my suitcase, once more, up the steep slope fromWaverley station to Waverley Bridge. Emerging from the gloom, blinking into the sunlight and looking straight ahead over the tops of the multi-coloured tourist buses, there it was, against a brilliantly steel-blue sky, that magnificent edifice, Edinburgh Castle perched atop its broodingly black volcanic plug. "I'm home."

As I turn to gather in a full 360ยบ view of this wonderful place, I am struck by the many contrasts that contribute to the complexity of this, and indeed, many other great cities. Contrasts between old and new, between tired and energetic, between functional and aesthetically pleasing, Edinburgh has them all. These physical, visual differences represent and indeed demonstrate the diversity that makes cities the great, active places that continue to attract people to live, work and play in them.

In Edinburgh the picture is constantly changing. Some elements, such as the Castle, are a constant feature. Others, for example, the grand old lady of Waverley station, are given an occasional facelift, rebalancing the internal contrast between featureless functionality and the need of any place to be attractive, comfortable and relaxing.

As the jewel in the crown of Network Rail's Edinburgh Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP), Waverley's refurbishment will reset this classic beauty in her proper context. The station's modernisation will remove what had become an unflattering contrast between journey and destination. The arrival and entrance to Edinburgh, following the installation of the long awaited escalator to effortlessly lift commuters, leisure travellers and tourists alike up to Princes Street, will be transformed. EGIP will result in the electrification and modernisation of much of central Scotland's rail network, bringing faster, more energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly rail travel, between three of our six cities.

Improving the links between our capital city, our largest city and the original choice of many for the Scottish Parliament building, Stirling, this complex project is being undertaken with minimal political fuss, and even less public attention. In contrast, compare this to Edinburgh's trams.

How is it that Network Rail can be set to deliver this £1 billion project, along more than 200 miles of track, involving major refurbishment of both Haymarket and Waverley stations (and the Gogar interchange with the trams) on time and on budget? Equally, how can Transport Scotland deliver the M74 extension, with its own set of complexities and myriad engineering challenges, crossing a number of administrative, never mind physical boundaries, in a similarly efficient manner?

Then ask the same question of Edinburgh's trams. Exactly. What has gone wrong? Why? Who is responsible for this debacle? How can it be put right? Is there anything that could have been done differently? What lessons can be learned for the future? Is there an issue about democratic accountability, about power and responsibility? What is our capital city lacking?

Let's examine the evidence. There exists a political majority within the council chambers in support of the tram project. Labour commissioned it, the Tories supported it, the Lib Dems inherited it and the SNP are stuck with it. However, at every junction when a decision was required, when our elected representatives were called upon to demonstrate the vision, clarity of purpose and leadership that delivered previous improvements to infrastructure, such as Waverley station, they were found collectively wanting.

The Lib Dems led the localised campaign against the Southern line out to the new hospital, and effectively turned the trams into a singular replacement for the No 22 bus. The Tories sought last Friday to kill off the project entirely and with it Edinburgh's reputation. Labour's spoiling amendment to truncate the route at Haymarket not only caught their opponents on the hop, but took themselves by surprise, in the event.

The SNP, for their part, have rightly been forced to perform a hasty retreat and help to save the project, and our capital city, from international ignominy. All in all, this has been a pretty sorry spectacle, dominated and damned by democratically elected members, each seeking to squeeze maximum party political advantage from a project that the population effectively rejected when it said a resounding "no" to the introduction of a congestion charge, its principal funding source.

There are no winners in this. There is no political glory. There is only, presently, despair, anger and frustration. At least it would appear that the realisation is dawning on our councillors that they have managed, through the fog of political war, to steer the trams down a very expensive dead-end. For many, this could be their own political terminus, time when their grannies kick them off the electoral bus. May 2012 approaches.

So what's to be done? How can our capital turn around this looming disaster and save the nation from yet another embarrassing episode, like the Holyrood building project? Well, it has already started.

The citizens are revolting. Not quite riots on the streets, or setting up the gallows in the Grassmarket, but across the blogosphere a sound akin to the screeching of a tram wheel on metal track is approaching. The populace, whatever viewpoint it had before last Thursday's vote, is united in its vocal condemnation, determined that a better solution is found.

Now a few basics. The trams must travel along Princes Street and link to Edinburgh's main rail and bus stations. It simply cannot be other than this. Wall-to-wall double-deck buses detract terribly from the world-renowned attractiveness of Princes Street, choking it to economic death and environmental destruction. Most buses don't need to travel its length, and could easily turn around at either end; think of the 31, the 26 or even the 22 itself. Trams will transform this thoroughfare, at last affording an opportunity for us all to take maximum advantage of its truly spectacular natural assets.

A well-designed interchange at Haymarket could also shift commuters from packed rush-hour trains with limited capacity, onto regular running, hassle-free, mass transit, modern trams. This particular modal switch, with integrated, all-through ticketing, on the level where the tram line sweeps down to the station platforms, would transform the travel experience.

This movement of people across a platform onto frequent, fast and environmentally efficient trams would exponentially add to their peak-period revenue flow, whilst benefiting the ScotRail franchise, by increasing its effectiveness with the removal of its biggest blockage. The same could happen at Waverley now that we are seeing the modernisation of that station, with a little bit of integration and imagination.

Another obvious benefit from this type of integrated thinking would be the removal of many of the remaining diesel trains from the rails below beautiful Princes Street Gardens, leaving space aplenty for the intercity fleet. A double benefit then, clearing Princes Street of double-deck diesels and clearing the gardens of diesel trains. Edinburgh could breathe more easily. Where has this joined-up thinking been? Other European cities manage to integrate their different modes of transport. What's different from Edinburgh?

A mayor. In the great European cities I visited this summer, from Barcelona to Venice, from Dubrovnik to London, an elected mayor, call them provosts in Scotland if you please, drives the development and regeneration of their cities.

They lead them in times of trouble and they set out their stall to deliver growth. If Edinburgh had a directly-elected provost, with executive power akin to counterparts all over the world, we would have had a tram network in place long ago, linking the entire travel to work area that provides the fuel for this engine of our economy. Come on, let's get on board!

--
Ross is CSPP Policy Director

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Richard Kerley GMS interview on shared services

CSPP Board Member Richard Kerley was interviewed today on Good Morning Scotland (2:32:20 in). Responding to news that Councillors from West Dunbartonshire will vote to reject plans to set up a joint agency for back office functions, Professor Kerley said:

“It is curious that West Dunbartonshire Council, who actually led some of the scoping work, have appeared to pull back at the last moment. Yet, they are not the first to do so with South Lanarkshire already withdrawing from the process.”

“The fundamental factor underlying this is there are so many councils involved in complex and difficult discussions. Perhaps, it works better when fewer councils are involved in these deliberations.”

“Shared services have become one of the mantras of local government efficiencies and is a route strongly encouraged by the Scottish Government."

"However, it is not the only way forward and the projected savings of implementing the Clyde Valley plan are modest compared to overall council spend.”

Further information

1. The business case for shared services in Clyde Valley as well as the Arbuthnott Review can be accessed here

2. At our recent Big Event we had an excellent session on PSR that covered issues like shared services. Watch it now.





Monday, 29 August 2011

Cyclists are friends not foes. Yeah, right

Plot spoiler: I cycle and have never had a good experience taking my bike on public transport.

“Bikes will be carried on buses for the first time in Scottish cities under a pioneering experiment by the country's biggest operator.”

That was the intriguing opening of a recent article in the Scotland on Sunday. But really, it peaked too soon - it went downhill immediately.

Launched by FirstGroup, the trial service will allow cyclists to take their bikes on a bus to fill the space ordinarily occupied by buggies and wheelchairs.

This, my friends, is “integrated transport” in action; a world where cyclists are a “friend not a foe” (Mark Savelli, Regional managing director for First - and yes, he really did say that). Even Cycling Scotland pedalled in to praise the pilot:

“It's fantastic. Public transport is a great way to get around…. so using a bike to join up either end of the journey really helps to make using sustainable transport hassle-free. It works so well on the train”.

Such observations and ideas are entirely removed from reality. Only someone who has never cycled, let alone tried commuting/holidaying with a bike on public transport, could utter such nonsense. Travelling on a train/bus is never “hassle free” nor does it “work well”. Here’s why.

1. Availability on the train is poor. It varies from two spaces on a bad day to eight on a good day. In my experience, average availability is much closer to two than eight. Only last month I tried to book two bikes up to Aviemore and couldn’t.

2. Presently, you can take your bike on a train if you book it on beforehand. Fair enough. Yet, many simply chance it and block the vestibule area for other passengers. Staff usually reprimand the cyclist but don’t chuck them off the train - they should.

3. Often the storage facility for bikes is located next to: a) toilets, b) buggy areas or c) wheelchair areas. It’s as if the person deliberately designed it to make it difficult for cyclists. Many times I have brought my bike on only to find a buggy placed in the cycle area. The mother then has to move all her stuff while holding her kid(s). She gets worked up, her kid cries and I’m the guy who caused it.

4. Likewise, it is not uncommon to be met with a wheelchair user who is parked in the cycling area. It is embarrassing for me and humiliating for the other passenger to be asked to move, particularly when there is a lack of suitable areas to park. More often than not, the wheelchair user will be faced with a 2-3 hour journey staring at a bike they will never be able to use.

5. Have you ever tried storing your bike in under-floor luggage compartments? There’s not enough room for luggage let alone bikes. Plus, it's a sure fire way of damaging an expensive piece of equipment.

To suggest that this is hassle free or a model that should be emulated is beyond dumb. It is representative of a detached decision-making process that does not care about the journey experience or about creating a sustainable, integrated transport system.

In my democratic haze, and anger at how difficult it is to holiday in Scotland on public transport with a bike, I contacted my local MSP. She promptly contacted FirstGroup and relayed my concerns. The reply revealed one thing: mixed usage or facilitating greater cycling is not their core business.

During my time temp’ing in the Scottish Govt a colleague, who was a keen cyclist, recounted his experience of working in transport. “They just don’t get it” he said. And you know what? He’s still right.

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Barry McCulloch, CSPP Policy Manager


Waitrose – mining a rich seam of service?

Posted on Stirling Retail blog

I moved to Stirling around the time of the miner’s strike against the Thatcher government. On one of the main roundabouts into Stirling’s town centre stood the Stirling Miner’s Welfare Club. A couple of years ago it was pulled down and it has now been announced that it is to be replaced by … a Waitrose.

Waitrose? Stirling? These southerners seem to be getting everywhere. Much of course to the delight of the Stirling Council and sections of Stirling’s population. After all, this could be (it is in competition with Helensburgh) the first Waitrose in Scotland outside Glasgow’s and Edinburgh’s more leafier bits.

There is something quite symbolic about the change from a miner’s welfare to a Waitrose, but this is no time or place to get too nostalgic. Times change and Waitrose is fast assembling a Scottish face, as part of its rapid expansion and growth in the UK.

In a recent column in the Scotsman, Bill Jamieson pondered the expansion of Waitrose and decided it was built on our desire, especially in recession, to “treat” ourselves; Waitrose was flourishing not despite the recession, but because of it. There may be something in the general “treat” point, but for me Waitrose’s success is due to more than a guilty occasional pleasure in these dark times.

Waitrose is the food success story of the recent few years, having reinvented itself and moved away from its southern origins and bias. It has found new energy and direction, done deals with Boots and motorway service stations for concession space (and others overseas), looked for new types of locations, begun to open small high street stores and been generally innovative in its marketing (have a look on YouTube and other social media), its products (Heston’s Christmas Orange Pudding anyone?) and its store layout and design. Its Essential Waitrose “value” lines have been a raging success and helped their price comparisons with main stream food retailers.

But in one way it has not changed. As part of the John Lewis Partnership, Waitrose has customer service in its DNA. So it gives customers what they seek, but with added quality service. Its staff (sorry, partners) get a say and a share in the business performance; information on trading is routinely available.

Might all this also help account for its success? And might there be lessons here for other retailers? When you are in a Waitrose or a John Lewis, does this staff service ethos make the store a better place, and does this rub off on what and how much people buy, and what they think about the products, place and price? For many, the answer is yes; though rapid expansion runs its own risks in this regard.

So, will Waitrose work their magic in Stirling? Can’t wait to find out.

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Leigh Sparks, Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Leigh Sparks: Would the last person … please not arrive by car

Posted on the Stirling Retail blog (see blog roll)

Lots of media coverage yesterday for various data about the state of the Scottish high street and Scottish consumers. The headline seems to be that 1 in 9 of all Scottish shops are now vacant, though backed up with other recent figures about the lack of footfall in towns, the least disposable income for many years, slow consumer spending and a whole host of doom and gloom.

Buried in one report was a statement that the recession ended last January – but I somehow think that probably did not apply to Scotland, where many of the hard decisions about public sector workers, pay and service reductions have yet to come through the system.

Part of the coverage was about some of the novel ways in which high streets and local authorities could try to do something about their own situations. There have been some minor “cosmetic” works which have made places look better and maybe made possible businesses think about what could be an opportunity – opening up vacant stores for local schools or colleges, mocking up shop fronts to make it look like a store was there, and so on.

There are then the more substantive elements, in many cases funded by the Town Centre Regeneration Fund, such as the innovative Retail Rocks scheme in Torry, Aberdeen (and in which I declare the IRS at Stirling had some hand at the outset).

But on the flip side, there are then the negative things that are happening to our high streets and town centres. One of the most common of these seems to be the raising or the introduction of car parking charges for high streets and town centres. I am regularly sent cuttings about plans to increase the “take” from car parking, from centres across Scotland. The latest has been a steady stream of emails about Alloa, where there is a worry that the local authority wants to end the free local car parks and the local BID is fighting the proposals.

Whilst there are lots of things to debate about car use and costs generally, and I understand the problems cash-strapped local authorities are facing, it does seem a difficult time to be adding to the dis-incentives for people to visit local high streets and towns. Anything that makes it harder or actually/perceived to be more expensive will act as a barrier and have the effect of reducing the attractiveness of a place.

Footfall and spending are in tough enough places already. Whilst car parking costs are not on the scale of petrol costs, they are seen differently, and centres that impose or obviously raise them at this time, may be a trigger to re-evaluate behaviours, and not in a positive sense for that town or high street.

It is a recurrent theme, but high streets depend on people visiting them and they make their decisions on the ways in which high streets and their competition satisfy or not their requirements. What makes this high street the place to go, and how can we improve the experience, whether in the short term or the medium term, should be questions at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Leigh Sparks is a Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling and Chair of the Scottish Towns Partnership.



Friday, 12 August 2011

Ross Martin on Newsnight Scotland

Last night our Chief Exec, Ross Martin, was interviewed on Newsnight Scotland, which you can watch below.



What do you think of our new logo?


In a few months we'll have an all singing and all dancing website, which we are very excited about.

Let us know what you think of it.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Breathe easy

Take a deep breath; well, not too deep if you’re out and about on the 82 miles of Scottish roads that exceed European pollution limits for nitrogen dioxide.

The Scotsman revealed today that the Scottish Government plan to ask for a ten year extension so it can meet the targets set in Glasgow city centre, Edinburgh city centre and NE and central Scotland. Environmentalists, among many others, have heavily criticised this delay. Dr Dan Barlow, head of policy at WWF Scotland, said:

“Scotland has had plenty of time to take preventative action, so it is completely unacceptable that not only are we set to breach air quality targets….This situation is a direct result of Scotland's failure to produce a sensible strategy that adequately addresses air pollution and climate emissions from road traffic."

Clearly, it doesn’t need to be this way. Solutions exist that would ensure everyone, irrespective of where they live, has a (legally protected) clean air supply.

1. Halt the construction of major infrastructure projects like the Forth Road Bridge.
2. Introduce congestion charging in Glasgow & Edinburgh.
3. Central Government should annually name, shame and fine the worst offenders (e.g. councils).
4. Encourage, financially if need be, the introduction of more low emission public transport vehicles.
4. Roll out cycle hire schemes in every major city.
5. Aggressively push for more car clubs.

These are just some of the ideas that could be implemented to generate both environmental and economic benefits. What we need now is political leadership at local and national levels to ensure our air is clean.

Barry McCulloch
CSPP Policy Manager

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Key Elements of Police Reform

Following a recent debate on Newsnight Scotland between those arguing for centralism vs localism, we have outlined the following elements that we believe should feature in the re-organisation of the Scottish Police Service, regardless of whether a 1, 2, 3 or 4 force structure is chosen.

1. Amalgamate where efficiencies of scale are possible and can be proven.

2. Encourage/enforce/incentivise a greater use of shared services between forces.

3. Ensure maximum devolution of operational decision making down to the Divisional level.

4. Realign, where necessary, Divisional boundaries with individual local authority areas or groups of areas where other public services, e.g. education and social work, are being shared across council boundaries.

5. Determine the appropriate level of local command for each divisional area, e.g. Asst. Chief Constable for each City, Chief Superintendant for the likes of Falkirk or West Lothian, or Inspector or Superintendant for each of the Islands areas.

6. Redefine the relationship between local commanders and their local authority partners, in the absence of Joint Boards, whilst recognising the critical importance of operational independence, and ensure the service fully tied into the Community Planning Partnerships wherever the boundaries of those sit.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Chuck Dalldorf: The political battle over the US national debt limit



"On this side of the Atlantic, we are stuck in the grip of a self-created political and possibly economic crisis. With only days to go before the United States defaults on loans and forces a large economic disaster, which may have global implications.

This political battle is a schizophrenic series of events in the context of a terrible, anemic economy with high unemployment, wrapped up in the beginnings of a huge political campaign for the 2012 elections. President Barack Obama is running for re-election in the fall of 2012. He is not alone and all 435 members of the US House of Representatives and one third of US Senators face re-election with the President in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution authorizes Congress to manage federal spending and borrowing. Congress controls what the U.S. Treasury can borrow through the establishment of the debt limit, which currently is $14.29 trillion. As the US has struggled through the global economic recession and the operations of two wars, expenditures of the federal budget have not matched tax revenue leaving the U.S. national government no alternative but to borrow money.

Historically, Congress has used the issue of extending or modifying the debt ceiling as another tool to grandstand on federal budget related issues, or programs supported or opposed by the political party opposite. In the current battle over the extension of the debt ceiling, the President is a Democrat, the Senate is controlled by the Democratic Party and the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republican Party.

Generally speaking, Democrats want the debt ceiling extended to help fund needed programs as well as paying for debt the US has related to the economic downturn and fighting two, long and on-going wars. Republicans believe in smaller government and want to see government spending reined in. (Though it is interesting Republican’s want federal spending reduced outside war funding, which has been the single largest expenditure driving the US economy into debt long before the massive global economic recession. But I digress…)

As the US economy began plunging in 2008, both US Presidents Bush and Obama expended huge amounts of federal money to shore things up. The results of those emergency efforts were mixed, but mostly Americans feel there was little choice in those efforts.

One of the largest expenditures, outside the wars, was the effort the Obama administration pursued in creating a federal stimulus effort to try to even out and slowly grow the economy. I think the stimulus worked some, but did not place enough federal money in the right places and to the right people.

The economic struggle at hand is a very real one. We are desperately fighting a double dip recession and we have clearly not created enough jobs. A jobless recovery cannot create growth and confidence.

America’s political culture has changed and it has changed for the worse. We seem to no longer believe some issues are more important to resolve for all Americans then seeing those issues as ways to make political points. This is now true in national, state and local governments throughout the country.

The political crisis of the extension of the national debt limit has become a self-inflicted slow motion train wreck for the economy and continued alienation of Americans from political participation and faith in the leadership of our nation. Each party sees a jam opportunity but everyone is flirting with a possible massive economic meltdown that would affect the US and global economies.

We are in a race to the bottom right now and there will be enough blame to go around. The Tea Party leaning Republicans seem to be re-enacting a failed a battle strategy from the Vietnam War where they seem to be saying they are ready to “destroy the village in order to save it.” Traditional Republicans, including House Speaker John Boehner, look to find ways to win points for GOP house members and to cause damage to the President.

President Obama and Democrats in the Senate and House have not used enough opportunities to focus on the creation of jobs. Democrats are also playing political theater to demonstrate how Republicans are hurting core constituents in the budget process and the impacts to them in proposals to cut costs to gain acceptance to solve the debt ceiling crisis.

Daily polling from a number of sources show there is continuing damage to both parties as well as the President. We continue to foster a political culture of conflict over solutions. We no longer seem able to find a shared national interest where both parties can work together to create jobs and allow families to recover from this damaging, ongoing recession. Without this focus and joint commitment to resolve what ails Americans, both major parties continue to alienate voters and make party politics irrelevant".
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This week's guest blog was from our good friend Chuck Dalldorf, Public and Political Affairs Consultant and Part-time Lecturer at Sacramento State.

Back in 2009 Chuck authored a blog for the CSPP entitled West of the West Wing. You should check it out.

(Image courtesy of the BBC)