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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Commission on Public Services

The Scottish Government has announced the membership and remit of its Commission on Public Services chaired by former STUC General Secretary, Campbell Christie.

The remit is broad whilst recognising the ethos of public services in Scotland, or as the FM has described it, "The Commission will therefore examine various options for reform whilst retaining the social democratic ethos of our public service delivery in Scotland".

Some of the vision points will be challenging, such as "are democratically accountable to the people of Scotland at both national and local levels". Local democratic accountability doesn't exist for most public services outwith councils and the two health boards that have the pilot direct election schemes. Having said that, this is hardly consistent with the draft budget proposals for local government that effectively reintroduce ring fencing and undermine local democracy.

The membership is a fairly predictable balance of interests. The one rather obvious gap, so far, is anyone who actually delivers public services. The Chair wisely avoided getting drawn into the election and therefore the Commission will report in June.

The Commission approach will no doubt be criticised by some. On the day Lord Young resigned we are duly warned of the shortcomings of the alternative approach. A pompous, opinionated individual, who made proposals on matters of life and death in health and safety law, without a scrap of evidence to support his findings. Give me a Commission with proper evidence procedures any day!

It is a perfectly reasonable idea to ask a Commission to take a detailed look at Scotland's fairly complex public service organisation. My scepticism comes from long experience of public service reorganisation. They almost always cause organisational paralysis for a couple of years up to the change and then a further two years while the structures are established. They rarely achieve the promised service gains or financial savings.

In the current financial crisis politicians talking about reorganisation is a tempting distraction technique from the impact of cuts in services. I was giving a presentation earlier this year to a visiting group of French business and union leaders. They expressed surprise at our Anglo-Saxon desire to constantly reorganise. After all, their key structures have hardly changed since Napoleon. I fear they may have the right approach.

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