The Public Services Reform Bill is working its way through the Scottish Parliament at present. The rather grand title of the Bill masks its more mundane task of merging a number of quangos as well as giving ministers powers to take further action to simplify the structure of public bodies in Scotland.
In the Scottish Parliament a Bill after introduction is allocated to a lead committee, in this case the Finance Committee. At Stage 1 the principles are debated and evidence taken, written and oral, from interested parties and a report presented to Parliament that votes on the principles. If the Bill passes that stage it goes back to the lead committee for detailed amendment.
Yesterday the committee debated an amendment initiated by UNISON Scotland on the pay bargaining structure for quangos. At present we have a hugely complex and bureaucratic process involving a large number of public bodies and civil service departments. This process was criticised by the Finance Committee in a recent inquiry they conducted. Our amendment would have created one negotiating body, a move entirely consistent with the aim of the bill to simplify the public sector landscape.
Regrettably, the SNP and Tory MSPs voted against the amendment so we will go on with this costly and wasteful process. Some politicians talk a good game on reform, but go missing when faced with practical solutions. Thanks to David Whitton MSP and his Labour colleagues Malcolm Chisholm and Tom McCabe for their support.
The Bill is also a good example of how not to do legislation. The Bill as introduced is the one that the public get an opportunity to present evidence on. However, in this case the Government has introduced many pages of amendments at the 2nd stage when there is no opportunity for external scrutiny. This is just sloppy drafting or a deliberate ploy to avoid scrutiny. Either way, it is a bad day for our parliamentary democracy.