I made a presentation to a visiting delegation from the French National Institute of Labour today. They are a tripartite body not dissimilar to our own Scottish Council Development and Industry.
They have an annual study programme that involves around 40 leaders from trade unions, business and the media looking at topical issues over some 20 days including two overseas visits. It must give a real opportunity to take a longer look at issues that you can rarely find time to study in our normal busy schedule. I left them feeling very envious!
They asked for a wide ranging presentation on the Scottish public service model including approaches to industrial relations together with an analysis of current challenges facing Scotland. It is always a pleasure to be able to present your country in a positive manner although it is important that we are honest about the challenges.
The French are often surprised at how different Scotland is from the rest of the UK, even more so post-devolution. They have a fairly stable public service model arguably more centralised than those of other European countries with federal systems. Given the problems we face in local government, their two tier system continues to look very attractive and most importantly has survived many different governments. Compare that to the UK where some people seem to believe that reorganisation is the solution to every challenge.
I described a range of industrial relations models, including a case study of our NHS Scotland partnership approach. Whilst this model has its challenges, it has delivered a stable industrial relations framework for more than a decade. The delegation asked a range of questions about how it works in practice. Like most Brits my impression of industrial relations in France is framed by scenes of direct action on the street. So I am not sure how they will take to partnership!