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.
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 government.
Unison warmly welcomes the decision of the Scottish parliament local government committee to undertake an inquiry into local government finance.
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.