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Democracy Investment Fairness




UNISON's manifesto for Scotland's public services


The defining difference between public and private services is democracy. It is democracy that makes public services responsive to the needs of those who pay for and use them. UNISON believes that democracy is about more than elections and a Scottish Parliament, it is about ensuring that the public can meaningfully participate in the decision-making processes about the areas in which they live.

The importance of this approach was highlighted by Gordon Brown when he said: That through richer forms of engagement,we will deepen community support; that together we will energise local democracy; that we will make undemocratic institutions democratic….This is what our opponents worry about most.

Democracy requires government at all levels to ensure adequate opportunities for the general public to participate in and influence the policy making process. This should be more than being asked to comment on plans that have been made in private. It should mean involvement in developing desired outcomes and the methods to achieve them. To facilitate this, organisational structures need to be decentralised to the appropriate level for each function. The fragmentation caused by privatisation and the growth of unelected bodies hinders this process.

Democratising the quango state

Democratic structures create public bodies which are open and transparent in their dealings with the public. Government at all levels must explain and accept responsibility for its actions. However,weak mechanisms and the rise of the quango state have devalued many of our democratic structures.We currently have 144 quangos in Scotland spending nearly £10billion. UNISON believes that public bodies should as far as possible be directly elected. An important step forward would be direct elections to health boards and UNISONScotland strongly supports the Non- Executive Bill on this issue which is currently under consideration by the Scottish Parliament. For some quangos direct elections may not be practicable.Those organisations should become an amalgam of elected representatives, appointed laypersons and professionals with a statutory duty to engage with service users and the public. Others could be incorporated into existing democratic structures.


Establishing the Scottish Parliament is an excellent example of how devolving decision making has seen a different approach to public services. The Parliament's openness, innovative committee system, pre-legislative scrutiny and petitions are all models of public service reform that we should be proud of. Devolution is a process - not an event, and consideration should be given of other functions that could effectively be devolved. Subsidiarity also requires the Scottish Executive to resist the temptation to centralise services and recognise the importance of local government. Decision making at the appropriate level leads to more responsive services for users.

As Menzies Campbell MP said: the source of the problem is the same: public services run over the heads of the people they are supposed to serve, public bureaucracies dancing to the tune of targets set by central government, local government prevented from doing what's best for local people. On Menzies Campbell's campaign website.

Involving users and staff

All public bodies should have a statutory duty to meaningfully involve users as partners in the decision making process, not as customers.This involves a high degree of transparency and the provision of capacity for users to fully participate. We need to celebrate public services as benefiting the whole community.They are not just a safety net. In Scandinavian countries there is a broad consensus about public services as a public good for all and this ensures support for good services and greater social cohesion.

Genuine involvement is more than just consultation. It means involving users and staff in defining the problems as well as the future direction of their public services.The best public service organisations are developing a range of such mechanisms and there should be a forum to provide guidance and disseminate best practice.

As Alex Salmond MP states on the SNP website:
Public services must be run for the benefit of the communities and individuals they serve, not private concerns, and there should be transparency and accountability to those local communities in the delivery of these services.

Capacity to participate

UNISONScotland is supportive of an increased role for voluntary and community organisations, and staff representative bodies in working with elected representatives to influence planning and delivery of local services. This cannot be achieved without appropriate resources. These are not just financial, although clearly crucial, it also means politicians and public service workers developing listening skills, the skills to get people together to discuss issues, and to ensure that all voices are heard, not just the best educated, wealthiest or the loudest. All PSOs should be required to produce a corporate strategy on participation and involvement which demonstrates how users, community organisations, staff and their trade unions can be involved in the planning, design, monitoring and review of services.

Equality of access & social justice

Democracy is for everyone living in Scotland not just the wealthy, the articulate or the well connected. Donald Dewar said: Too many Scots are excluded, by virtue of unemployment, low skills levels, poverty, bad health, poor housing or other factors, from full participation in society.Those of us who benefit from the opportunities of life in modern Scotland have a duty to seek to extend similar opportunities to those who do not. Social exclusion is unacceptable in human terms; it is also wasteful, costly and carries risks in the long term for our social cohesion and well-being.This government is determined to take action to tackle exclusion, and to develop policies,which will promote a more inclusive, cohesive and ultimately sustainable society. in The Herald 3 Feb 1998

If Scotland aspires to be a nation built on principles of social justice then public services must allow people to participate, providing forums for people to meet both to discuss issues and also for day to day contact. They support the vulnerable in society but also those community services we all enjoy such as leisure services, shared public spaces and education. Public services have a key role, as both employer and provider of services, in ensuring that gender, race or religion should not determine life chances.

Freedom of Information Meaningful involvement requires equal access to information.The Freedom of Information Act has begun to change the culture of secrecy but we must build on this provision to remove so-called commercial confidentiality and ensure all appropriate organisations are covered by the legislation.







Eleanor HaggettBecause of the Tories' decision to relocate dry dock facilities from Rosyth dockyard to Devonport, Rosyth dockyard reduced its manpower and the area has seen a huge change in its economy.

The local community council, local Labour elected members and Fife Council fought for the new ferry link to Zeebrugge which is regenerating the area.

There is still a lot to do, however it does bring civic pride back to the local community.This has been achieved through local democratic involvement and the hard work of the local Labour administration.

Eleanor Haggett, UNISON member and income monitoring officer.















Sheila McGeochThe decline of heavy industry in Linthouse took the heart out of our community. The Linthouse Urban Village Project has transformed both the look of the area and the spirit and hopes of local people.

LUV is a success not just because of the money invested but because local people were in control from the start.

Sheila McGeoch UNISON worker and activist in Linthouse.





© UNISONScotland 2006
Published by UNISONScotland,
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel 0141 332 0006