SCOTTISH PARLIAMENT LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMMITTEE
Trade Union Day - UNISONScotland Submission
UNISON is Scotland's largest union with 100,000 members employed
directly by Scottish local government. In addition many thousands
of our members are employed in the voluntary sector and are reliant
on local government funding.
1. The Future Role of Local Government in the New Scotland
UNISON Scotland believes the Scottish Parliament has an opportunity
to strengthen and enhance Scottish local government.
UNISON believes that the great majority of local services should
be under local democratic control and that public accountability
should be restored after 20 years of policies of centralisation.
Local democracy has been eroded with a range of services taken away
from it including further education colleges; Scotland's water authorities;
the Scottish Environment Protection Agency; the Scottish Children's
Reporters Administration etc. We welcome the recommendation of the
McIntosh Commission that transfer to local government should always
be an option in any review of other organisations that deliver public
services. We invite the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive
to begin such a review.
2. Local Government Finance
UNISON is concerned that Scottish local government is still underfunded.
Although a small number of selected areas are receiving additional
earmarked funding huge swathes of local government are suffering
real terms cuts in funding. This position would be significantly
alleviated if the Scottish Executive discontinued its policy of
non-funding pay awards - a policy introduced by the former Conservative
UNISON warmly welcomes the decision of the Scottish Parliament Local
Government Committee to undertake an inquiry into local government
· Scottish local government currently raises only 14% of
its total expenditure. If we are serious about the task of restoring
local democracy and rebuilding local services, UNISON believes that
local government in Scotland should be responsible for raising at
least 50% of its own revenue. Local businesses should be brought
closer to the discussions on, and resourcing of, local services.
To address these aims our Parliament should return the business
rate to local authority control.
· Councils should be answerable for their spending plans
to their local electorate. The case for abolishing capping is overwhelming
and would provide councils with a much needed degree of flexibility
in deciding local spending plans.
· We also believe that local authorities should be given
much greater flexibility to raise finance and would urge the Committee
to consider granting such freedom.
3. Best Value
UNISON is concerned about the possibility of Best Value being driven
by local agendas of cuts, externalisation and privatisation. The
establishment of Best Value practices in local government should
be underpinned by a commitment to quality services. Employees and
their unions are key stakeholders in developing best value. Trade
unions must be involved at every stage in the process. Best value
and job security should go hand in hand. A service which is under-performing
should have proper opportunity to put things right before the threat
of tendering comes into play.
4. PFI / PPP
Whilst there is a real crisis of investment in the provision of
local services, the situation is not helped by a continuing reliance
on the Private Finance Initiative / Public Private Partnerships
(PFI/PPP). PFI creates the illusion that the private sector is investing
in public services, whereas, in reality, the public sector is still
having to pay for them. And pay for them at a higher cost than would
be the case under traditional forms of borrowing. The government
is compounding its problems by continuing to use the PSBR as the
means of defining public spending. There is a growing consensus
that the general government financial deficit (GGFD) would provide
a better measurement of government borrowing than the PSBR. By moving
to the GGFD as soon as possible, we could achieve a more rational
approach to public sector investment and alleviate the need for
PFI/PPP. We call upon the Scottish Parliament to halt to PFI/PPP
and to commit itself to working for an early decision in favour
of the GGFD.
5. McIntosh & Standing for Public Office
UNISON welcomes the substantial progress made by the Scottish Executive
towards addressing the issues raised by the McIntosh Commission.
We note the July 1999 announcement by the Communities Minister Wendy
Alexander MSP, the appointment of the Kerley and MacNish Committees
and the recent announcement relating to the power of community initiative
and community planning.
UNISON notes that one of the outstanding areas to be dealt with
is the issue of political restrictions on local government staff.
We welcome the recommendation of the McIntosh Commission that local
government staff should be able to stand and serve as elected councillors,
so long as appropriate measures are put in place to avoid conflict
of interest. We also welcome the endorsement of this principle by
the Scottish Parliament Local Government Committee. We would urge
the Committee to act on this as soon as possible.
UNISON is aware that this issue is dealt with by the Scottish
Parliament Social Inclusion, Housing and Voluntary Sector Committee
but we want to take this opportunity of putting on record our concern
at Housing being separated from the work of local government. We
strongly believe that housing should remain under the auspices of
local government and have serious concerns about the Scottish Executive's
policy of mass stock transfer from local government.
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