UNISON is Scotland's largest trade union representing
over 145,000 members working in the public sector. Our members are
employed in local government, the health service, care services,
water authorities, and in the voluntary sector. We welcome the opportunity
to respond to the Scottish Executive's consultation document on
UNISON is sceptical of the whole concept of Community
Budgeting. As our response goes on to explain, we have concerns
that Community Budgeting simply confuses local government and community
objectives, and diverts resources away from front-line services.
We are committed to the social inclusion agenda, and to reforming
public services and revitalising local democracy. Yet we believe
that Community Budgeting does nothing to forward these goals. Rather
than being distracted by Community Budgeting, we believe the Executive
should be focussing on strengthening local government, improving
publicly delivered public services, and re-engaging local communities
with responsive local government.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the consultation document issued by the Scottish Executive on
Community Budgeting. It should be viewed in context with our responses
to previous local government consultations.
UNISON Scotland very much welcomes the Scottish
Executive's commitment to "improving public services and
ensuring that services offer people and communities what they
want and need". As the largest public sector union in Scotland,
UNISON shares these Executive ambitions. Our members are at the
front line of delivering public services, and as users of these
services, are well placed to comment on how we can improve services
and make them more flexible and responsive to the needs of the
We welcome initiatives to encourage local authorities
to facilitate the community planning process by engaging community
and voluntary sectors. Other key players should also be encouraged
to become involved in Community Planning, including trade unions.
In the interests of accountability and transparency, local authorities
should take the lead role in Community Planning.
However, UNISON is not convinced that Community
Budgeting is the answer to improving public services in Scotland.
We believe that a whole raft of issues need to be addressed which
are directly linked to improving local services, and to re-engaging
local communities. Community Budgeting merely blurs the picture,
and will not address the root of the problems surrounding local
services and community engagement.
Accountability and Transparency
UNISON is sceptical of the moves towards Community
Budgeting. We are not clear whether this is just a paper exercise,
to monitor how and where money is being spent, or if this involves
re-allocating funds in a different manner. Both of these scenarios
raise problems of the accountability and transparency of the Community
If Community Budgeting just means a "taking
stock" exercise looking at where resources are being allocated,
we fear that this provides yet more opportunities for the re-announcing
of finances for projects, confusion over where the cash is coming
from, and double counting of money. We believe that the government
will not be as accountable for resources in Community Budgeting
as there is a lack of structure and responsibility in the whole
If Community Budgeting means there will be a re-allocation
of money, we have real concerns that this will be diverting resources
away from local government to fund projects, which may be worthwhile,
but not as essential as front-line services. The vague and disparate
manner in which Community Budgeting is being formulated means
that there is a lack of accountability in the whole process, which
is most alarming, and contradicts the Executive's commitment to
openness and transparency.
Democracy and Decision-Making
Local Government is an elected body - councillors
are responsible to local communities through the ballot box. In
Community Budgeting voluntary groups or community partnerships
are not accountable to anyone. People go out to elect local councillors
to take decisions for them, and it is doubtful if the general
public is interested in getting involved in partnerships or community
bodies to take these sorts of decisions themselves. Councillors
and their officials are elected or employed to look at the wider
picture, to consider and evaluate all of the competing demands
on their communities. UNISON is concerned that in Community Budgeting
no-one is in over-all control, and partnerships are open to the
whims or narrow interests of individuals or minority groups, with
no democratic checks or balances in place.
In addition it should be noted how local government
differs from other government bodies, such as non-departmental
public bodies, health boards, and Scottish Enterprise, in how
it is directly elected and accountable to that electorate, where
as NDPBs are operated by appointees who are accountable to the
Executive. Local government is accessible and accountable because
of this, operating closely to the principles of subsidiarity.
The Role of Local Government
UNISON believes that by focussing on Community Budgeting
the Executive is not addressing the real issues behind community
engagement, social inclusion and responsive local services. Rather
we should be addressing the role of local government in the 21st
Century, to appropriately consider community engagement and involvement
in service delivery.
We believe that one major reason why communities
appear dis-engaged from each other and the local government processes
is because local government is not currently strong or effective
enough to engage them. Local government has to be made relevant
to people and local communities. UNISON is clear that by reforming
local government, strengthening the system of financing local
government, and investing in public services, we will go some
way to re-engaging communities with local government.
[UNISON has commented on these issues in our response
to the Parliament's Local Government Committee Inquiry into Local
Government Finance, in our response to Local Government Committee
on the Budget for 2003-03, and in our responses to the Executive's
consultations on Local Government. The recently published Local
Government Bill goes some way to strengthening local government,
and UNISON will submit responses to this consultation in due course.]
Strengthening Local Government Finances
An adequately resourced local government system
could better connect with local communities and respond more directly
to local needs. We fear that the whole Community Budgeting agenda
is merely warm words with little substance. Providing proper funding
for the voluntary sector, and ensuring that local government and
health and care services are well resourced is a much better,
more democratic, and open way of achieving the same goals of engaging
communities and providing responsive services for communities.
The Role of PFI
UNISON has consistently opposed the use of PFI and
private sector involvement in the delivery of public services.
We believe PFI and PPPs remove accountability and transparency
from local government services, PFI projects are not able to respond
to local communities, they are shrouded in secrecy, and the profit-making
element contradicts with the partnership and renewal agenda of
Community Budgeting. Privatisation undermines the fabric and ethos
of our public services. Local services should be democratically
controlled delivered by properly trained and rewarded public service
teams. It seems ironic on the one hand that the Executive is supporting
community involvement and participation through Community Budgeting,
but on the other, they are promoting PFIs which take away democracy
and public scrutiny from the delivery of local services.
Power of Well Being
The proposals to introduce the Power of Well Being
to local authorities is most welcome. However, this power will
only be of use if local authorities are able to exercise it fully
and appropriately. Equally, it will only make a difference if
local authorities have the resources so as they are able to make
a difference. This Power of Well Being should supersede any need
for Community Budgeting, as local authorities are in effect being
empowered to act in the interests of their communities.
UNISON supports the aims of Community Budgeting
to develop a greater local understanding of and engagement with
the delivery of services. However, we believe that this goal could
be best achieved by strengthening democracy and adopting many
of the recommendations of the Kerley Report. In particular a reform
of the voting system would be a massive step towards re-connecting
local communities with their elected representatives. UNISON supports
the Kerley Commission's recommendations for a system of Proportional
Representation where councillors retain a link between a geographical
constituency. Reform of the voting system could reinvigorate local
government, improve the representation of women, young people
and minority ethnic people within local government, thus making
local government more representative of local communities.
Community & Voluntary Services
We welcome the clear recognition of the role of
the Community and Voluntary Sector in delivering public services,
by the publication of this consultation document. However, there
are still many issues surrounding the "third sector"
that remain unanswered for us.
First, we are concerned that the age-old problems
of resourcing and accountability are not being tackled. Funding
for community and voluntary groups has always been at risk and
there seems to be no proposals to counter this. It is clear that
the Community and Voluntary Sector is an important deliverer of
public services. This should be recognised by the Executive, by
local authorities and other funders with a more long term funding
structure. This will require funding bodies themselves to have
their resources adequately maintained.
Second, the Community and Voluntary Sector should
also be involved in the discussion on service needs and priorities.
To that end they should be major players in partnership discussions
and planning. However, for UNISON, the proposals on Community
Budgeting do not quite go far enough, as we firmly believe that
the Community and Voluntary Sector should also be accountable
to the local communities they serve.
Commission on Social Need and Public Finances
UNISON's Scottish Council last year supported the
establishment of a Short Life Commission on Social Need and Public
Finances. We believe that this body could more appropriately debate
how we make local government more responsive, and how local government
addresses the range of pressures and demands to meet local needs.
We envisage that such a Commission would harness the resources of
Trade Unions, academics, the voluntary sector and campaigning organisations,
along with representatives of local government.