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.


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.


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.