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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, 4 December 2013

Extracting more from public procurement

£11bn of public spending in scotland could do so much more than the timid Procurement Reform Bill envisages.

I was giving evidence today in the Scottish Parliament to the Infrastructure Committee on the Procurement Reform Bill. UNISON is supporting '10 Asks' from a broad based coalition of civil society organisations who believe we can get much greater community benefit from public procurement.

My focus was on raising employment standards by making the Scottish Living Wage a requirement  in contracts, so that we can spread the benefits into the private sector. In addition, contracts should end the forced use of zero or nominal hour contracts and strengthen training requirements.

I used care procurement as my real world example because it's a national disgrace. Low wages have turned the sector into the new retail, with many staff leaving as soon as they can get another job. Continuity of care is being abandoned in a race to the bottom. The use of zero hour contracts is having a similar workplace impact to blacklisting. Staff are less likely to report safety issues or even care abuse, because they worry that they will not be offered work after raising inconvenient issues with their managers. Far too many staff are also sent out to deal with complex care needs after only a few days training at best. Our elderly friends and relatives deserve better than this.

The Scottish Government has taken positive action to support the Scottish Living Wage, but they are hiding behind a misleading EU Commission letter on procurement. I set out in some detail why it is legal to make the living wage a contract performance clause with reference to counsel opinion. It is simply absurd to worry about a challenge under the Posted Workers Directive for low paid jobs. I suspect the Scottish Government is more concerned about the cost than tackling this issue.

Other weaknesses in the Bill include only partial action on tax dodging. Firms who take the public pound should pay taxes like the rest of us. This means aggressive tax avoidance as well as tax evasion. 

If the Procurement Reform Bill is to be anything more than a largely irrelevant housekeeping exercise, these are some of the issues the Committee will need to address. 

You can view the full evidence session on BBC Scotland Democracy Live.

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