John Supports Public Sector Workers

Below is a transcript of John’s speech from the Public Services Reform (Developing New Ways of Delivering Services) debate in the Scottish Parliament on 27/02/13.

John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (Ind): The purpose of public services might be self-evident but, in case it is not, I note that their purpose is to serve the public, to discharge the statutory obligations of the local authority, and not to generate profit. Any reform should follow those principles.

I have seen at first hand the development of shared services in the Highlands, where Highland Council and NHS Highland have been involved in the integration of adult health and social care services and children’s services. The benefits are clear. Willie Rennie mentioned delayed discharge, in which there has been a significant turnaround as a result of the development of shared services.

Some simple measures can help with that. Co-location is one of them. Golspie police station is a fine example—just about every badge is on the front door, and why not? We do not need to replicate support services. What people want are the services.
The cabinet secretary talked about the GIRFEC approach, which has certainly helped. More and more elements of the public sector are working together, although there is some way to go. We lose sight of the needs of citizens at our peril. An outcomes-based approach is a good way of addressing things.

Seeking economies of scale must not mean disregard for public sector workers’ terms and conditions. It is important that we have a level playing field, whereby training, quality of work and sustainability are valued. Of course, best value does not mean the cheapest tender or the highest bid. I would be grateful if the minister could confirm that in his summing up, not least for the benefit of the crofters of Raasay.

Many politicians in local government have welcomed job evaluation, equal pay and the living wage. Therefore, I consider it rank hypocrisy for the same politicians to outsource public sector work to people on the minimum wage and poor terms and conditions. We know that, when the profits in the care sector went, some care sector providers went, too. What did not go was the statutory obligation of local authorities, along with the NHS, to meet the assessed needs of the people concerned.

Benchmarking has been touched on. There are complications with benchmarking when it comes to some of the work that is undertaken by the private sector, particularly in rural areas.

There is a procurement bill coming. I hope that due regard will be paid to the work that is undertaken on behalf of the public, particularly in the context of things such as equality policies, health and safety policies, and apprenticeships, which others have mentioned.
When it comes to the delivery of public services, I am unequivocal. I like them to be delivered first and foremost by public servants and secondly by the voluntary sector or social enterprises. They come well ahead of the private sector, because of their link to democratic accountability.

We must learn from elsewhere—I am thinking, in particular, of the NHS in England. With the previous UK Government’s foundation hospitals and the big spread of privatisation that is taking place at the moment, issues are arising to do with democratic accountability and freedom of information. Access to health board minutes is limited as they are being described as commercially confidential.

I suggest that we have a similar issue in Scotland with the arm’s-length organisations. I am sorry that the recent Freedom of Information (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill did not go far enough. If ALEOs are about rates savings, where does the wider public sector financial perspective come in? How does that relate to the “benchmarking and performance measurement” that the motion refers to?

There has not been much discussion of funding. A number of people feel that the council tax should be reviewed. I favour a local income tax; I do not favour the corporation tax approach. There needs to be continuing discussion between local government and the Scottish Government. The concordat has given us the framework for that to happen.
I mention funding against the background of growing demands and demographic change, to
which a number of members have referred. If we want the same level of service from a reducing pot, that suggests that the revenue will have to come from somewhere.

Kevin Stewart (intervention): Does Mr Finnie agree that the change funds that have been put in place have often helped with the sharing of services, which reduces costs but maintains quality of service?

John Finnie: I think that they provide an opportunity for that. Today, I heard about the £10 million reducing reoffending fund. That offers an opportunity for the public sector to get things right—local authorities with housing, the UK Government with employment issues, and the health service with addiction issues. If I noted what Kevin Stewart said earlier correctly, the use of total resources and co-ordination are key to that.

Not all communities are the same, even if they have similar needs. As I understand it, the evidence that the committee received from three councils in my area highlighted the significant impact that cuts to public service can have on rural communities. That does not mean that there are not innovative ways of addressing that.

I ask that rurality and supersparsity constantly be taken account of. The Scottish Government and NHS Highland are doing important work with the community in West Ardnamurchan, looking at ways of delivering healthcare in remote and rural communities. Supersparsity is a challenging issue in the delivery of social care in north-west Sutherland, which cannot be done on the same per capita basis.

I commend shared services and the involvement of trade unions and staff associations in discussing them, because it is important that we take people with us along the way. I think that the public value public service and public servants, and we should reflect that in all decisions that we take on public service reform