Monday, 21 February 2011

Idea 14: A BID for every town in Scotland

A Business Improvement District for every town in Scotland.

As we struggle our way along the bumpy road from recession towards economic stability and hopefully onwards to growth, it is essential that we ensure our town centres have the tools for success. A Business Improvement District (BID) enables businesses to work together, to pool resources and raise revenue, delivering a true local partnership between the public and private sectors, with the primary aim of delivering local solutions to local issues and concerns and improving local economic growth.

A BID brings focus and energy from the private sector which when combined with public sector support can make a real improvement and difference to Scotland's town centres.

All towns of whatever size have different issues and problems that are of concern to local businesses and these problems often impact on the local community and the wider regeneration aspirations of the public sector.

The creation of a Business Improvement District will encourage greater use of our town centres. From physical improvements to marketing campaigns, from food festivals to community safety, BIDs make a real difference to the vibrancy of our town centres, recognising the vital role they have to play in the economic and social fabric of our communities.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Idea 13: "Portrait of the artist as a valued resource"

Published in the Scotsman, 18/2/11

All artists who are supported by the public purse should repay that investment with energetic and enthusiastic interest.

"In the run-up to the election, Ross Martin will look at options for the new Scottish Government. Here he outlines how to get better value from arts grants and improve education at the same time.

ALL artists who are supported by the public purse should repay that investment, with energetic and enthusiastic interest. Art is heavily subsidised by the public pound. We should view that sizeable financial contribution as something upon which the public can see a real return. Just as we expect publicly funded enterprise to contribute to economic growth, so too should we expect a community, as well as a cultural return on our investment in all forms of art.

In addition to recognising the inherent individual and societal value in art - art for art's sake - so should we develop ways in which we can build in a better deal for state investment. For example, we should demand that all artists who benefit from financial support from the public purse should put an equivalent value back into our public services.

That is the principle. What of the detail? As we debate the role of public services, their funding and their reform; where does art fit within that developing picture? What contribution can and should art play? Can we ensure, for example, that all painters, sculptors, actors, dancers, musicians, writers and all others involved in the arts community who benefit from public financial support, return the favour?

If so, what form might that take?

As a starter, let's go back to school. Imagine a world where our leading players in the Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe take to the school stage as an integral part of their time in the capital. How exhilarating, inspiring and yes, educational, would that opportunity prove for the primary pupils across the city, and perhaps beyond, especially in areas such as my home housing estate, Wester Hailes?

Picture if you will the scenes in Scottish secondary schools if the stars of the silver screen who annually grace the Edinburgh Film Festival, were to spend time coaching our kids on the finer points of method acting. Play out in your mind the very notion of our leading musicians strumming their stuff in school halls the length and breadth of the land as part of an orchestrated campaign to support music tuition, which is increasingly a target for budget cuts.

I have witnessed myself the benefit of listening to, and learning from, great artists such as the entertaining and engaging writer Alan Spence.

I have even basked in the reflective glow of a school mate, Tommy Smith, jazz saxophonist, as he practised his way on those first crucial steps towards critical acclaim and commercial success. This is mental nutrition of the very best kind.

I have attended many a Fringe performance and the occasional Festival concert enjoying the undoubted benefits to my own personal cultural development, but I can't help thinking that in all of these cases, wherever public money is used, there must be a better way to reach a wider audience base. As we approach the 5 May Holyrood election, we should remind ourselves that the audience in question also plays a role in a political performance - that of the electorate.

It is surely possible to conceive of a system of public funding for all of these, for sculptors and other artistic specialists too, where they give back to the public some of the very thing that the public pound has enabled and encouraged them to develop - their talent.

All of these artists must pass on their incredible, sometimes traditional, skills to school students eager to learn and develop a way in which to differentiate themselves in an increasingly competitive labour market. It must also be possible for them to think a little differently and devise ways in which their public funding can be valued by those in whose name the cheques are signed - the public.

It is easy to envisage a way in which that publicly celebrated talent can celebrate the public that nurtured it. It is of course possible to put in place simple mechanisms by which actors, singers and dancers who rely on public funding to pursue their chosen career paths use a small part of their publicly funded time entertaining the elderly. It would be fantastic if we could structure a programme of entertainment for those who most deserve to be looked after and entertained, our senior citizens, around the general programme of arts entertainment which is simply not accessible to them.

Additionally, it is now quite common practice for famous actors, artists, singers and dancers to "do their duty" entertaining front line troops. Well, what about the veterans back home, and the families, without whose support these brave men and women would have foundered? It must be possible, in all good conscience, to put together a programme for the families of our brave and dedicated service personnel, as a matter of course, at least each year we remain at war.

In Scotland, we do none of this. We spend millions of pounds supporting "art", in all its forms, without a single thought of how to make that spend sustainable. We must devise a mechanism by which we ensure that art is indeed a public good. We must be able to put in place funding systems that deliver public benefit for every public pound invested. Otherwise public funding for art will exit stage left.

The purists will, no doubt, label me a Philistine.

Who cares? Not me, and certainly not, I would suggest, those members of our communities who either can't get access to the arts, or perhaps more importantly, those who simply do not see the benefit of engaging with our artists. In other words, the people who would most benefit from an active arts policy of public engagement.

Far from being a threat to public funding of the arts, this proposal could be an integral part of their survival. By locking an artist's participation into not only the delivery, but also the design of public services, our artistic community can truly weave themselves into the fabric of Scottish society. In so doing, our actors will be playing out a sustainable funding mechanism that benefits them in the longer term, protecting them from the spending cuts that currently threaten their existence.

We operate in what people call "silos", each contained in our own world. We put needless barriers in between different sectors. Public or private. Voluntary organisation or social enterprise, we love to categorise and keep control by maintaining degrees of separation that do not need to exist. The arts are for all. In the current economic climate it is essential that we ensure that the public are not only the audience but that they play their part alongside the professionals.

It was all too easy to run separate organisations, separate structures, with separate funding streams when the cash kept flowing from both the public purse and private sector sponsorship. Those days are over and we must now work creatively to nurture and develop all forms of art if we are to avoid a descent into an abyss.

Let me finish by slightly mixing my metaphors but, I hope, to effect. The stage is set. There is pretty much a blank political canvass on which to paint. This is a huge opportunity to sing a song of support for our arts community. We can't sit back awaiting a policy idea to applaud. It is time to put in place a self-sustaining funding model that celebrates all that is good about the arts in Scotland. It's in our genetic make-up".

• Ross Martin is policy director of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Idea 12 - Votes at 16 (by the SYP)

Lower the voting age to 16.

"At the heart of the Scottish Youth Parliament’s work is our belief that young people should be involved in making every decision that affects them. We feel that that one of the best ways of getting involved in making decisions is through the ballot box. Through our work we’ve seen many capable, confident and well-informed 16 and 17 year olds who have a real interest in politics, but are unable to play their full part as citizens by exercising their democratic rights on election day.

“For us, it’s an issue of fairness. In Scotland 16 and 17 year-olds can sign up for the armed forces while not having the right to have their say at the ballot box on defence policy. They can leave school, get a job and be taxed without being represented at Westminster or Holyrood. The SYP firmly believes it’s a real injustice that under 18s are considered mature and responsible enough to get married or drive a car, but not mature and responsible enough to choose who they want to represent their communities.

“Most importantly, our belief is based on the views of young people. We regularly consult thousands of young people across Scotland on issues that are important to them, and consistently the message comes back loud and clear – young people want the right to vote at 16 and they believe that it’s an essential part of encouraging young people’s participation as active citizens.”

The Scottish Youth Parliament

Adopt an intern and help graduates take first step

Published in the Scotsman, 15/2/11

Now is not a good time to be a graduate. The economic crisis has left more than a million 16-24 year-olds unemployed in the UK, with graduate unemployment up by 44 per cent in 12 months.

One answer to this economic and social challenge is an increase in the volume and variety of intern opportunities for our graduates. It is vital that graduates are given the chance to gain suitable work experience and the opportunity to develop the kind of workplace skills that employers need. Sadly, an accessible internship culture does not exist in Scotland.

The importance of paid, well-structured and accessible internships cannot be understated if we are going to achieve social mobility, promote economic growth and avoid a lost generation of youth.

That is why my organisation set up a new programme – Adopt an Intern, with financial support from the Scottish Government. This innovative programme is intended to help Scotland's graduates into paid internships using the centre's network of cross-sector member organisations.

After the first year of operation, the initiative is bringing energetic new talent into organisations, big and small, as well as providing young people with the opportunity to take their first step on the career path.

Feedback from the public, private and voluntary sector employers has been tremendous as they benefit from access to a talent pool of individuals with graduate-level education, adding real value to their business.

We aim to embed a vibrant intern culture across Scotland, creating a route to graduate employment. All organisations – small, medium and large, public and private, voluntary and charity – can play a positive part in securing the first opportunity for graduates who would otherwise be denied the chance to demonstrate their potential. These graduates are self-starters bursting with new ideas; they're keen to make their mark.

Joy Lewis, CSPP Intern Programme Manager

Friday, 11 February 2011

Idea 11 - STV for the Scottish Parliament.

STV for the Scottish Parliament.

Since the adoption of the Single Transferable Vote in 2007, Scotland has been ruled by four different electoral systems. Some work better than others. Yet it is undeniable – regardless of whether or not you support or reject it – that the use of STV for Scottish Local Government elections has had a transformative impact.

Not surprisingly, we think it has been a resounding success. Despite the scaremongering from opponents, STV has on the whole produced stable and more consensual decisions and ensured on-going competition in the local political marketplace.

It would be hyperbolic to suggest that the creation of coalition councils has ushered in a new era of “new politics”, but it has ultimately benefited our local democracy. Why?

1. Multi-member wards “remove political ownership” of electoral areas.
2. Council coalitions and multi-member wards increase the number of “political synapses” within councils and across council boundaries.
3. Council coalitions make for “more mature and considered” politics.
4. Tight competition in the political market improves service provision.

It is our belief that the next stage in the democratic evolution of Scotland should be the replacement of the Additional Member System (AMS) with STV for the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2015.

Those campaigning hard for the vote for a change campaign are rightfully supporting the campaign for AV in future Westminster elections; but let’s face it it’s difficult to get excited by a flawed system like AV.

The same cannot be said for the adoption of STV in Holyrood elections. It would end the “half-way house” and the two tiered system that doesn’t work.

Click here to read our RDII report that covered this issue.

CSPP in the News - Local Government

CSPP Board Member Richard Kerley was interviewed on Newsnight Scotland last night.

To watch the piece click here and fast forward to 17:43.

Idea 10: Create Limited Liability Partnerships between Local Authorities and providers of capital looking for long term investment

Create Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs) between Local Authorities and providers of capital looking for long term investment(Pension Funds, Sovereign Wealth Funds) to build and manage new social housing.

The council provide land, planning permission, tenants, maintenance and a rent collection mechanism; the provider of capital puts up the cash.

The two parties agree to share the rental revenues according to the LLP agreement.

Tenants are housed in clean, healthy, energy efficient homes; the council is freed from debt obligation; and the funders have a long-term, low risk return on their capital - not to mention the benefits for a struggling construction industry.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Is it time to change the school year?

When we launched our "100 ideas for 100 days" venture last month we didn't think that the inaugural idea would create such a fuss.

And yet after our Policy Director mentioned it on Newsnight Scotland (17:23 in) we have been inundated with emails from angry teachers. I'll skip the sometimes unsavoury language/tone and simply offer a series of links for you to make up your own mind:

1. GMS piece, 9/2 - 3min:24sec in and 1hr:19 sec in.

2. Coverage in today's Scotsman.

3. Debate piece in today's Scotsman.

4. Further coverage in today's Daily Express.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

CSPP in the News

The last few days have seen a lot activity at the Centre (we finished the manifesto and held our AGM) which has been met with increased media exposure.

Policy Director Ross Martin featured in an education piece on the BBC's politics show which you can watch here - 38 mins in.

Ross was also interviewed on the large retail levy on Newsweek (47 mins in).

Lastly, both Richard Kerley (CSPP board member) and Ross appeared on Newsnight Scotland - (15:39 and 17:23 respectively).

Monday, 7 February 2011

Idea 9: Allow Scottish Water to produce, bottle and sell its own water to restaurants and all public sector buildings

Allow Scottish Water to produce, bottle and sell its own water to restaurants and all public sector buildings.

Bottled water is, apparently, the item with the largest single mark-up on the supermarket shelves. Scotland is awash with water. Scottish Water doesn’t sell it in bottles but requires huge public sector subsidy to function. The public sector is responsible for over 50% of GDP in Scotland and uses lots of bottled water.


Thursday, 3 February 2011

Idea 8: Elected mayors for the Core Four

Pilot Elected mayors for the Core Four cities in Scotland.

Why is Scotland the only country not to recognise the value of directly elected City Mayors? Ok, some may wish to call them Provosts but let's at least agree on the need for a strong, clear purposeful voice for our cities, as happens all over the world.

Would the Edinburgh congestion charge shambles have happened under a Mayor like Red Ken? Would Aberdeen be having the troubles it now faces with a Guiliani? Who would you choose as Mayor of Glasgow with the rich mix that great city has of politicians, business leaders and other personalities?

Other than gorgeous George can you name a single leading politician discovered in Dundee? Our Cities are the engines of the Scottish economy, they deserve and need strong, high-profile, powerful leadership that can get things done on pressing issues like budgetary constraints, shared services and climate change.

And of course, the mayoral model we use can learn from the mistakes from down south where the balance of power between the executive and the legislature is severely skewed in favour of the former.

Idea 7: New planning policy to encourage residential back into town centres

New planning policy to encourage residential back into town centres.

Throughout the 80’s, and into the 90’s, pedestrianisation of town centres was all the rage, and although these schemes often created much more pleasant environments in which to transact day-time business (economic, social or other) many of our high streets became dead zones in the evening, with no activity and no signs of life.

This was partly as a result and partly a cause of residential properties being converted to other uses, especially those above shops and offices.

We need to put the life back into our evening economies in our town centres and get people back where they belong – at the heart of their communities.

Idea 6: All local newspapers to have a 'public service obligation' in return for continued public sector advertising spend

All local newspapers to have a 'public service obligation' in return for continued public sector advertising spend

As local authorities and other public sector organisations begin the painful process of budget cut-backs, one of the areas of spend which will again come under the spotlight is advertising - for jobs, councillor surgeries, planning applications, etc – in local newspapers.

If a deal could be struck whereby the local newspaper was to provide an agreed amount of coverage of council activity (obviously maintaining complete editorial control) – say reportage of council committee meetings, work with young people or international links – then it should be possible for them to secure, albeit a reduced rate, a steady, reliable flow of advertising revenue from the authority.

"SNP risks losing the 'business vote'": Alastair Ross

Published in Public Affairs News, 31/1/2011. Click here to view.

"David Cameron has begun 2011 as pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs, but in Edinburgh Alex Salmond appears to be taking a different tack.

The SNP won power in 2007 not least by convincing a previously sceptical business community through a confidence-building campaign around boardroom tables. The party was even prepared to park the independence issue to debunk the risk factor from an SNP Government that advocated lower taxation, entrepreneurship and supporting businesses at all levels. Some of Scotland’s leading business people even put their names to SNP newspaper adverts.

Four years on, it looks rather different. The financial crisis encouraged opponents to challenge Salmond’s close links to the Scottish banks. Then came a showdown with drinks giant Diageo, which announced its withdrawal from Kilmarnock. The SNP demanded a change of heart that was never likely.

Tackling Scotland’s battle with ‘the booze’ was to have been a defining act of this administration, but a minimum unit price for alcohol set SNP ministers at loggerheads with the whisky industry.

Now the respected finance secretary, John Swinney is levying an extra £30m on large shops in business rates – a straightforward hit on those businesses the SNP thinks can best afford it. There’s a tangible concern that it may become more expensive to run a business in Scotland than other parts of the UK.

This from a social democratic party whose success was in part based on championing lower corporation tax, less red tape and sustainable economic growth (ahead, even, of the raison d’ĂȘtre of independence).

Small business still enjoys a rates relief scheme, and SME owners and employees may be more inclined to vote than those in large corporations. The SNP might think the Scottish business vote has nowhere else to go, but in public affairs terms it still seems quite a gamble in an election year.

Alastair Ross is a CSPP Board Member and director (public policy) at McGrigors LLP

"Tesco Tax not past its sell-by date yet"

Published in the Scotsman, 2/2/2011. Click here to view.

As the Scottish Budget deadline approaches, the proposal for the so-called "Tesco Tax" should remain in the parliament's shopping basket. Alongside a range of other taxes, the economically nutritious value of this levy on retailers grossing more than £3 million-£4m annually should be more carefully considered. It is not past its sell-by date yet, but it needs quick action to ensure that it doesn't rot on the political vine.

OK, the original attempts at selling this new product line made it appear like a colourless, tasteless offering from a Soviet Russian store. Not exactly the glitzy marketing effort that would sell its virtues to the sales-savvy big retail sector.

However, as Gok Wan is currently demonstrating to great effect with his new series, a little bit of skilful handiwork can quickly turn a sow's ear into a silk purse.

It is surely possible for the large retailers levy to be reviewed, rebranded and reboxed. Yes, it should be returned to the shelves of the Holyrood policy store, but this time with a few additional features to tackle the criticisms that it attracted in its bargain basement state.

First and foremost, all taxes must have a purpose. If a tax on big retail is indeed to be levied then even their representative body, the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC), recognises the value, and crucially the fairness, if this money is to be recycled into our town centres. This is the same point made by the vast majority of retailers, the small independents, and articulated by their representative body, the Federation of Small Businesses.

Giving evidence to the parliament's local government committee, alongside its colleagues in the SRC, the FSB was at pains to ensure that our parliamentarians understood that here is a chance to build upon the Town Centre Regeneration Fund, and develop a sustainable funding model for supporting the beating hearts of our communities.

This desire to help town centres already has unanimous support across the parties in parliament, so it is very frustrating watching them descend into a political price war over an issue which should actually unite them in earnest endeavour. If there is broad agreement that savage spending cuts, as currently being visited upon the English public sector, are to be avoided in Scotland, then one way in which to tackle the budget deficit is to raise more taxes.

However, we haven't got a history of targeted taxation and hypothecation is a big word for our wee parliament.

Surely, though, the Calman legislation, for all its unnecessary complexities and overtly politicised purpose, will bring with it at least a basic idea of what taxes are for, what level they should be set at, who decides how they are spent and, crucially, who should pay them.

Without this fiscal discipline, tax proposals like the large retailers levy will always be in danger of being viewed in the abstract - as general revenue-raising schemes, not funding targeted economic or social interventions, backed by policy principle. This lack of a direct link between taxation and the social or economic benefit that it is designed to bring about has been a consistent weakness of Holyrood. It is time that the Scottish Parliament took responsibility for raising its revenue to fund its own social programmes and for creating the capital to finance economic investment projects.

Another way to democratise public expenditure is to localise. The large retailers levy could, for example, be devolved to the local level, but ring-fenced for town centre regeneration. This form of hypothecation is likely to become ever more popular as the various spending departments of the local state fight over a slice of the decreasing national expenditure pie.

Furthermore, if the levy was also to fall on other sectors operating in the high street, such as the banks, carbon-heavy office blocks or even industrial premises that should be encouraged to relocate from congested town centre streets, then it would be seen in a different light entirely. It could even develop a green core.

If our MSPs are serious about employment and the ability of workers to shape their own operating conditions, then an exemption for social enterprises, co-operatives and other mutuals would be in order.

By tailoring the tax to suit these other policy aims, as well as simply generating revenue, the parliament could clearly demonstrate a social as well as an economic purpose for this new tax.

And what of the parties, what ideas might they individually bring to the inevitable post-election shopping trip for new ways to balance the budget? Could they actually move towards the style of new politics which our parliament was meant to usher in? Is it likely that they will develop, through cogent discussion and debate in an atmosphere of intellectual rigour, against an evidence base supplied by academics and practitioners, a basket of policies that could create a more positive context for the isolated Tesco Tax?

If the political focus is to switch from being dazzled by the brilliant, full-on marketing blitz of big retail attacking this tax, what other products might we see moving along towards the Holyrood policy till? In these times of economic constraint,
are we for example, likely to see a move towards more vintage policies? Like their clothing counterparts, these policies could be right back into fashion.

For example, a workplace parking levy, city congestion charges, inter-city motorway tolls, not to mention bridge tolls. These demand management measures for our transport network were all pushed in the 1980s and 90s, but although they were more fashionable elsewhere, they didn't prove popular here in Scotland. However, in these times of economic restraint, when the only other option is to slash services, will our MSPs have the imagination, skill and ability to persuade the public that demand management measures of this nature have their place in a fair and civilised society?

To put the Tesco Tax into perspective, it is worth noting that the projected £30m to be raised is a tiny 0.001 per cent of the Scottish block grant from Westminster, which currently stands at an eye-wateringly unsustainable £30 billion per annum. The political benefit, if taken on its own, is akin to the loyalty card points gained from a single visit to the ubiquitous supermarket. In other words, a very small gain for an awful lot of political pain. So why take it on in the first place?

We can hope our politicians want to do the right thing, and that they come to a considered conclusion after open, honest debate, rather than them viewing this proposal as a precursor to the introduction of yet more stealth taxes. Make no mistake, tax rises, new taxes and more charges there will be, so let us at least have it out in the open and not see tax rises sneaked in after the ballot papers have been counted.

If the parties are indeed serious about raising revenue to invest in infrastructure and service improvement, especially in our town centres, maybe they could learn from the supermarkets themselves.

In the run-up to this election, the parties could be promoting more policies that may cost them a little politically in the short term, as loss leaders if you like, knowing that the majority will happily endorse them come election time. Every little helps!

Ross Martin is policy director of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy