Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Government programme and a chinese meal

While the Scottish Government's programme for 2017-18 has some very welcome elements, it also feels a bit like a chinese meal. Satisfying as it goes down, but leaves you wanting more later.

The most satisfying early morsel was the lifting of the 1% pay cap. This doesn't mean job done by any means, as there is no indication of what the new pay policy will be. The line on affordability indicates that this will be driven by the budget process. That in turn depends on the Autumn Statement and the Scottish Government's use of its tax powers. That is to be covered in a later discussion paper.

It's funding which is needed to make this a truly satisfying meal. The pay increase has to be significant if we are to stand any chance of plugging the growing number of staffing vacancies, particularly in health and social care. The pressures on the NHS won't be resolved by a Safe Staffing Bill, welcome though it is. 

The same goes for closing the attainment gap in our schools. Despite the current consultation, the programme gives a clear indication that the government wants to plough ahead with reforms that just about everyone who responded to the initial consultation criticised. Dumping more administration on schools and centralising powers isn't going to deliver better schools. There is funding for early years expansion, but not enough to deliver a quality service. So the government is adopting the English voucher scheme, which is already in trouble.

The climate change measures are very welcome. Targets on ending fossil fuel vehicles, developing deposit schemes, low carbon infrastructure and active travel are all very tasty mouthfuls. To make a proper meal they will need to be seen through. I'll be more appreciative when they scrap plans to abolish the Air Departure Tax and rule out fracking. The same is true of the Warm Homes Bill, the Just Transition Commission and the Scottish National Investment Bank. All good processes that could deliver real change. 

I do get a bit irritated when politicians talk about 'U-Turns', even if I did smile when a minister on the BBC described them as 'policy developments'! One of the strengths of this programme is that they have adopted proposals from other parties, in fact no less than ten from the Scottish Labour manifesto. Government's that listen and respond positively should be praised, not condemned.

Politically, this programme is about showing the government is focused on the day job. I think it does that, with matters constitutional, even Brexit, relegated to the back pages. It also pitches a positive vision of the sort of Scotland most progressives would support. Particularly on social policy, with measures like pardons for same sex activity that should never have been illegal in the first place.

Real change in Scotland also needs some tough decisions. There are still 30,000 millionaires in Scotland, but even they won't generate enough income to tackle the really big challenges, most of which are rooted in our grossly unequal society. There are plenty of measures in this programme that will make an incremental difference. But many will still feel hungry after they have been consumed.

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