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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.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Council Tax and Outcomes

A strong and credible intervention in the election debate this morning from CoSLA on the Council Tax freeze. In particular pointing out that £70m simply doesn't cover the cost.

I would add that more attention needs to be given to the impact of council charging, the method most councils are using to plug the gap in addition to cutting services. I have spoken to a number of candidates in the election who report increasing public concern over the consequences of charging. One example just this morning is fly tipping  when the council charges for special uplifts, creating an eyesore and safety concerns.  
The bigger point in the CoSLA statement this morning is the need to focus preventative spending on better outcomes. This is a point that has come out many times in the evidence to the Christie Commission. Despite rising levels of public spending over the last decade, improved outcomes have not been experienced by all the people of Scotland. We have made little progress on mitigating inequalities in wealth and income, health, safety, learning and employment outcomes; in many cases, things have actually got worse.

A few statistics from the Improvement Service covering the past ten years illustrates the point clearly:

• The gap in healthy life expectancy between the 20% most deprived areas and the 20% least deprived areas in Scotland increased from 8 years to 13.5 years across the period.
• Not only do the most deprived members of our community have shorter lives, but the percentage of their life lived with ill health has increased from 12% to 15%.
 • The gap between the bottom 20% and the average in learning outcomes has not narrowed.
• The percentage of children leaving school directly into unemployment has risen to 22% for the bottom 20% of the young population of Scotland.
• Youth unemployment has risen from 13% to 20% in the last 3 years and over 70% of that group are long term unemployed.

We know from the research of the Equality Trust (The Spirit Level) and others that more equal societies do better on nearly every measure. It also makes sense in public spending terms because it is the most disadvantaged households that will place the largest burdens on public finances throughout their life time.

It is easy to blame the politicians for not addressing this. However, they have to get elected and the public at large do not as yet fully understand this point. I suspect any political party writing an outcome based manifesto would have a big credibility gap. None the less they have a role with the media and civic society to make the case that this is the only way forward for Scotland.

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