Happy New Year! Although I am probably going to describe a year ahead that looks far from happy. I am back at work after a decent break and thinking about the year ahead as I trundle home on a train from London.
Of course there are a number of positive things I will wish for in 2012. Fulham winning the Premier League and FA Cup; Lancashire retaining the County Championship; keeping to my post- Xmas diet; lowering my golf handicap and reading more of the growing pile of books on the ‘to read’ shelf or stacking up on the Kindle.
However, reality intervenes and I need to focus on the more likely challenges in the year ahead.
On the bargaining front it looks like another difficult year. Pay will need to return to the top of the agenda as the pay freeze continues to undermine standards of living. Public service reform will also be a big issue this year with health and social care integration, police and fire reorganisation some of the early challenges. Public bodies will try and meet ever diminishing budgets by constantly reorganising in the search for often illusory efficiency savings. We also need to sort out how we approach procurement in Scotland. 2011 wasn’t a good year for well thought out procurement and although we had a lot of success in stopping some of the worst ones; there are better ways of tackling these issues.
Pensions will remain high on the bargaining agenda. I was in London today to discuss the proposed framework for further negotiations on the schemes in England and Wales. It was helpful to get an accurate description of recent events from the General Secretary after some of the nonsense that has been published. Our elected representatives on the service group executives have sanctioned further negotiations as the way ahead. We will pursue our own negotiations on the Scottish pension schemes.
The ConDem coalition will seek to attack workers rights under the guise of reducing business burdens. Unfair dismissal rights lost for the first two years, starting in April. This is to be followed by attacks on TUPE and collective redundancy consultation. The weakest employment rights in Western Europe are far from a burden on anyone. But worse of all is the assault on health and safety. Too many workers die or are injured every day at work. Recent figures show that less than 3% of complaints to the HSE result in prosecutions in Scotland and even FAIs are not happening when they should. So much for the safety culture.
Politically we will have local government elections for every council seat. This is the first time for a while that we have had stand alone council elections in Scotland and that should give a welcome focus on local government issues. I have been finalising a draft UNISON Scotland manifesto for the elections that highlights a range of issues of concern to members. The PR system doesn’t always deliver radical change at ward level, but we will have to wait and see. Increasing centralisation and punitive budgets will make this a difficult year for councils whoever wins the elections.
It won’t be much better for health boards despite the slightly higher funding levels. Real costs will exceed the notional inflation allowance and demand will rise through demographic change in particular.
At the national level we have new party leaders who will want to make their mark in 2012. Johann Lamont in particular has a difficult job knitting together all the elements of the Scottish Labour Party into a cohesive unit. Blairites will no doubt continue to plot away, undermining Ed Miliband at UK level and we will need to work hard to ensure none of that nonsense strays north of the border.
The legislative programme in the Scottish Parliament is not huge, but there will be some interesting issues. The Scotland Bill should grind out to a conclusion and it appears that Westminster might force the pace on the independence referendum. On the one hand any involvement of Cameron in Scotland plays badly. On the other, three more years of blaming Westminster for every ill in Scotland is going to get very monotonous. We will try and steer the debate away from the constitutional detail onto what sort of Scotland we want early in the New Year and I have just finished a discussion paper on that very issue.
We will want to refresh our Public Works campaign this year to continue to make the case against the ideological attack on public services. There is a better way and we need to find new ways of getting the message across.
Sadly, not a lot of good things to look forward to. In fact it looks like a long list of the euphemistically phrased ‘challenges’. One positive is the way we faced up to the challenges last year. Lots of good people working together to fight for what we believe in. More of that in 2012 and we won’t go far wrong. Oh and Fulham might win the double!