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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, 26 November 2014

Legislative programme. The good, the bad and the process

The Scottish Government's legislative programme is the predictable mixed bag. Some positive bits, some prospects of action and some significant disappointments.

The eye catcher was land reform. Not as radical as the review group recommended, but the proposals were helped by the bleating from the landowners - who can be guaranteed to make even modest plans sound radical. The business rate anomaly is a genuinely positive step forward.

An independent commission to find a new way forward on local government finance is at least a welcome recognition that we need to find a political consensus on this difficult issue, something that UNISON has called for. Given that the Burt Commission has already done the heavy lifting on this issue, I hope the timescale can be shortened. The Poll Tax debts bill is a nice bit of political froth, given that more people will 'disappear' from the register due to the single person discount than any council chasing poll tax defaulters.

Commitments on NHS funding are all well and good, but continuing the regressive Council Tax freeze means that councils will continue to take the brunt of cuts. The small business bonus remains a waste of resource, with no evidence that it's done anything for jobs or investment. A few pennies for delayed discharge, especially when councils are expected to match the funding, will do nothing for the national disgrace that is our social care system. Some very modest support for carers is of course welcome, but the big issues are simply ducked.

Devolution of powers to the islands looks promising. It would be even better if this was extended to all local government, rather than the centralising tendency! Community Justice to local government is welcome, although we need to watch carefully for ministerial powers of direction, to ensure that this is proper local accountability, not just administration.

More cash for the Scottish Living Wage accreditation scheme is welcome along with more ambitious targets. The big gap is on procurement and the statutory guidance is promised "in the next year". There is no excuse for the delay in getting on with this now - next year sounds like very long grass. The Fair Work Convention and Scottish Business Pledge is a welcome statement of intent that a better approach to industrial relations is possible in Scotland. A practical implementation test would be the inclusion of union representatives on public bodies, as recommended by the Mather Commission.

Strengthening childcare, improving literacy and access to Higher Education are all important elements of a meaningful social justice agenda. So is access to further education, something missing from the statement. Modern apprentices are not always all they should be. Abolishing tuition fees is the right policy, but it hasn't done much for widening access. So setting targets and a commission is at least a process step forward.

Finally, we had the tired rhetoric of the 1000 extra police officer target. Police officers sitting behind desks, substituting for police civilians who do a better job at a fraction of the cost is absurd. Then to moan about VAT, when they had an opportunity to structure the new force in such a way to avoid this additional cost, is rank hypocrisy.

In summary, as is often the case with this government, today's statement was stronger on process than substance. However, there are aspects of the process that at least point in the right direction and offer up the prospects of better policy on some key issues.

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