UNISONScotland www
This is our archive website that is no longer being updated.
For the new website please go to
Click here
Home News About us Join Us Contacts Help Resources Learning Links UNISON UK





Revitalise Principles and Briefings
Manifesto Index
Welcome and Index
Revitalise Scotland's public services
Principles for Renewal
Financing Public Services
Staffing Protocol
Public Service Networks
Lifelong Learning
Social Inclusion
21st Century Government
Joint Future
Local Government
Police Services
Higher and Further Education
Community & Voluntary Sector

Link back to Campaigns Pages




Principles Index . Briefings Home . Revitalise Our Services Index

PrinciplesPrinciples to Revitalise Scotland's Public Services

Democratic Accountability


In April 2003 UNISON Scotland launched its manifesto for Scotland's public services, Revitalise our Public Services. The centrepiece of that manifesto was our principles for public service renewal. In this series of briefings we expand on these principles setting out our positive agenda for the revitalisation of Scotland's essential public services.

What is Democratic Accountability?

Democratic accountability requires pubic bodies to be open and transparent in their dealings with the public and for government at all levels to explain and accept responsibility for its actions. Democratic accountability also entails government ensuring adequate opportunities exist for people to participate in and influence the policy making process. To facilitate this involvement organisational structures need to be decentralised to appropriate levels for each function. Without the fragmentation caused by privatisation and the growth of unelected bodies.

Democratic Accountability — The difference between private and public services

The defining difference between public and private services is democratic accountability. However, weak mechanisms and the rise of the Quango State have devalued many of our democratic structures. They need to be revitalised through new mechanisms including:

  • Elected bodies based on the active involvement of all elected members.
  • Scrutiny of policy by elected members supported by powers to investigate and review including calling for evidence from outside the public service organisation (PSO).
  • Encourage participation through a statutory duty to involve users, staff and the community in decision making.
  • Democratisation of the quango state together with a statutory requirement for all public bodies to regularly report and account for policy decisions.
  • Freedom of information, effective communication and transparency of all contracts and partnerships.
  • A commitment to equality of representation making PSO's representative of the communities they serve. Challenging racism and discrimination.
  • Capacity to enable users, staff and the community to fully participate.

Democratic Accountability and Public Service Renewal

For the reasons outlined below UNISON Scotland regards the Executive's agenda to be limited in terms of establishing democratic accountability as a core principle of public service reform:

  • Local Government Democracy

Whilst proportional representation can contribute towards more accountable and representative local authorities other Executive measures are inconsistent with increasing accountability. The ring fencing of budget allocations and the removal of functions to quangos are the main examples. This will be exacerbated by proposals for new quangos in criminal justice and transport.


One of UNISON's main concerns with PFI projects is their inherent lack of transparency and accountability. Long-term service contracts with private sector consortia are often veiled in a cloak of commercial and financial secrecy. Stakeholders are excluded from key stages of the planning process and have no say in the use of a facility which is owned by a private company.

  • NHSiS

UNISON Scotland believes in the creation of representative Health Boards to run the NHSiS at local level. We fully support a directly elected element on NHS and also a greater level of staff and user representation on the Boards.

  • Quangos

UNISON believes that public bodies should comprise an amalgam of elected representatives, appointed laypersons and professionals. We believe that the current system of appointments to the Boards of NDPBs does not reflect a sufficient range of interests and expertise, and falls far short of what should be expected in terms of equal opportunities.

  • Regulators

Regulators promote competition to the detriment of other factors, they fail to consider the impact of their decisions on employment matters and other important social and environmental concerns. Reform of the present regulatory system is long overdue and we believe that a system of regulation be adopted that is designed primarily to resolve problems that are not adequately addressed by the market place.

  • Participation and involvement

All PSOs should be required to produce a corporate strategy on participation and involvement which demonstrates how user's, community organisation's, staff and their trade unions can be involved in the planning, design, monitoring and review of services. UNISON Scotland 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.

Increasing the democratic accountability of public services could play an important role in revitalising public interest in the democratic process. However, It is more than simply voting every four years. It has to be structured through collective and individual involvement at all levels. Providing a real opportunity to influence, not simply participate in the decision making process.


Michael Byers -

Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572






UNISONScotland 2003
Published by UNISONScotland,
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel 0141 332 0006