In Perth today for the SNP conference. We held the UNISON/APSE fringe meeting last night on the subject of the future of public services. As always it generated a wide ranging debate amongst a good audience.
I took the meeting through the ideas generated by the IBR report. Common ground with most of the audience on the need for an alternative economic strategy and keeping Scottish Water in public ownership. Less consensus on the Council Tax freeze following the First Minister's announcement earlier in the day. UNISON believes that a continued freeze is not viable in the current financial climate. Even less on local government pay with the leader of the SNP group at CoSLA sharing the platform!
A number of SNP councils are considering outsourcing essential services. It was therefore helpful to have Andrew Spowart, APSE's Scottish Director on the platform to explain the work they have done on this issue. Many councillors have no experience of privatisation and are presented with inaccurate reports from management consultants claiming savings that rarely materialise in practice. I was able to refer to the recent report on Liverpool Direct, the flagship English council outsourcing, that shows that the council had been overcharged by £19m and that the council could save £23m annually by taking the work in-house.
Sadly most party conferences are largely stage managed events and the SNP conference itself is not as entertaining as it used to be. However, on the fringe and in the bars the debate and discussion is much more lively.