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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.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Scots say no to privatisation


A bit of good news this week from Ipsos MORI for those of us holding the thin red line against the privatisation lobby in Scotland. As their Scotland Director puts it:

"Put simply, Scots view public services as hugely important, are increasingly satisfied with their delivery and are wedded to the current model of these services being delivered by public bodies."

He draws attention to the Scottish Household Survey that shows 88% of adults in Scotland are satisfied with local health services, up from 81% in 2007. Levels of satisfaction with local schools rose by 6-points over the same period, from 79% in 2007 to 85% in 2011.

There has been a lot of debate about different attitudes in Scotland to England. Professor John Curtice arguing that the differences are not that great. I covered similar territory in my chapter in 'Scotland's Road to Socialism', while concluding that the data justified a more optimistic view. I would also argue that this is reinforced by actual voting patterns.

There are also different attitudes as to how public services should be delivered and funded. For example, while support for raising taxes to pay for services has declined across the UK, it is still more popular in Scotland (40%) than England (30%).

But the key difference between Scotland and England is over who is best placed to deliver public services. On a series of performance criteria Scots are clear that public authorities are best placed to provide public services. MORI again said:

"When asked which sector would be best at providing public services that best understand what service users need, over half of Scots (54%) believe public authorities do the best job while just 11% believe that the private sector would do a better job, compared to figures of 30% for public authorities and 16% in favour of the private sector among adults in England and Wales. Similarly, 58% of Scots believe that public bodies would provide the most professional and reliable public services, compared to 19% who would favour the private sector in that regard. This contrasts with figures of 30% for public bodies and 29% for the private sector among adults in England and Wales. Even when asked to consider which sector would provide the best quality service for the money, a measure where one might expect public bodies to do less well, 50% of Scots believe the public sector would provide the best public services, compared to 17% in favour of the private sector. Again, this contrasts significantly with England and Wales, where 27% believe the private sector would perform best on this measure, while 25% preferred public bodies."

This is also not a one off view. BBC election polls regularly put the delivery of public services high on the list of voters concerns. Outright privatisation or even the use of private finance gets a big thumbs down. The Scottish Government has one of the the biggest private finance programmes in Europe, but it is very careful to give it the title Non-Profit Distributing. It's nothing of the sort of course, but the political message is clear. Even the proponents of privatising Scottish Water dress up their plans as 'mutualisation' or 'Public Interest Companies'.

So campaigns like UNISON Scotland's 'Public Works' can take some comfort from the survey data. Particularly when you consider the massive resources available to the opposition. However, the Neo-Liberal monster never sleeps and we must never become complacent. In particular, it mustn't be seen as simply a campaign for the status quo. We can be radical in our solutions for improving public services without the need for privatisation.

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