Sunday, 31 January 2016

Thanks For All The Fish

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I was not surprised to read this interview in The Herald in which the outgoing chief executive of COSLA, Rory Mair, failed to say a single word about equal pay, one of the major issues facing Scottish local government during Rory's time in office. 

COSLA is the self-styled 'voice' of local government, but sadly the Convention rather lost its voice and had little to say about the council employers in Scotland failing to stand up for their lowest paid staff over the 1999 Single Status Agreement.

A landmark equal pay agreement which promised to sweep away years of pay discrimination and deliver a new deal for a largely female council workforce - carers, cleaners, catering staff, clerical workers and classrooms assistants.

Yet is failed to happen under Rory's watch and during that period COSLA's stock has, arguably, fallen to an all-time low which may be coincidence, though then again maybe not.

Outgoing chief of councils umbrella group Cosla Rory Mair warns pulling services away from local control will hit poorest hardest

Middle classes sheltered from ravages of local cuts as councils' chief warns of impact on poor of 'crude' government policies

By Gerry Braiden - The Herald

SCOTLAND'S middle classes remain sheltered from the worst effects of council cuts with the less well-off to suffer if more public services are delivered nationally, local government's most senior official has warned.

Rory Mair, the outgoing chief executive of councils' umbrella group Cosla, said people relying on social care had been hammered by the continuing financial pressures facing local authorities while the "fairly well off in this country might not have noticed".

In an extensive interview on the eve of his departure he attacked the Scottish Government's focus on teacher and police numbers and hospital waiting times, claiming there was a danger vital services like health and education were being defined by "very very crude input measures" instead of their value to society.

Sunshine of Socialism (11/11/15)

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I didn't hear Kezia Dugdale deliver her leader's speech to the Scottish Labour conference at the weekend, but I read what she had to say later (see link below) and the following two sections stood out for me like a sore thumb. 

"I want to thank our brothers and sisters in the union movement for standing by us, in good times and bad. Your values are our values. We are, and always will be, the party of working people, a proud party of trade unionists."

"In Scotland nearly 350,000 families rely on the money from tax credits. The average family will be more than £100 a month worse off as a result of these changes. 70% of the money saved by this tax rise on working people will come from the pockets of working mothers."

Now back in the year 2000 when the Scottish Government was Labour-led, Jack McConnell (then education minister) signed-off on a new pay deal for Scotland's teachers (the McCrone Agreement) at a cost of £800 million a year.

The McCrone Agreement was fully funded which meant that no specific productivity gains were demanded from the teaching workforce in return for a 23.5% increase in pay in a single year; the agreement having been struck by a triumvirate comprising the Scottish Government, Labour-led COSLA and the teaching trade unions.

A year earlier, the big three public sector trade unions (Unison, GMB and Unite) along with the council employers reached what was hailed at the time as a landmark agreement on equal pay - the 1999 Single Status Agreement which promised a 'new deal' for tens of thousands of low paid women's jobs: carers, cleaners, classroom assistants, clerical and catering workers.

But unlike the McCrone Agreement the 1999 Single Status Agreement was not fully funded and in the years that followed the council employers and the trade unions simply allowed the landmark deal to wither on the vine, even though in the 10 year period between 1997 to 2007 the budgets of councils in Scotland virtually doubled.

What happened, in effect, was that the interests of 70,000 teachers were given a much higher priority than those of over 100,000 of the lowest paid workers in Scottish local government, the great irony being that thew two groups are both council workers and employed by Scotland's 32 local councils.

The cost of implementing the 1999 Single Status Agreement, in full, was put at £450 million a year compared to the £800 million price tag attached to the teachers' McCrone Agreement and the added advantage of the Single Status Agreement was that it would have ended low pay in Scottish local government by raising the lowest hourly rate of pay towards £9.00 an hour - thereby eliminating the need for working family tax credits.

The cost to low paid council workers of not implementing 1999 Agreement amounted to thousands of pounds a year for full-time workers, i.e. much more than the £100 a month refereed to by Kecia Dugdale in the section of her speech about tax credits.   

The 'rainbow coalition' collectively responsible for this historic failure to tackle low pay were the Labour-led Scottish Government of the day, Labour-led COSLA, the big Labour-led councils (in Glasgow and Lanarkshire for example), and the Labour-supporting trade unions who failed to stand up for their lowest paid members when the chips were down.  

So if that's what's meant by the 'sunshine of socialism', my name's Jeremy Corbyn.


Empty Words (31/10/15)

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Jeremy Corbyn is up in Scotland for the Scottish Labour Party conference and yesterday delivered his first 'leader's speech' which I found dull and boring because it was full of vacuous words like these:

"To me, socialism is simple. It’s about everyone caring for everyone else.

"This is a kinder, more caring politics … we don’t compete, we co-operate.

"But it is a politics fired by our passion for fighting injustice, in our belief that an injury to one is an injury to all … the concept of solidarity."

Now I don't remember Jeremy, or the kind of people who share his politics, having anything of significance to say during the fight for equalpauy that has been raging in Scotland over the past 10 years.

In fact, some of the worst offenders have been the big Labour councils who presided over pay arrangements that discriminated against female dominated jobs: carers, classroom assistants, cleaners, clerical and catering workers.

Not only that, of course, because the Labour-supporting trade unions were often in cahoots with the employers and in some cases actively discouraged their members from pursuing claims for equal pay.

Socialist, my arse.   

Save Money, Shut COSLA (28/01/12)

I've just had a brainwave on the subject of 'pain free' cuts.

Why doesn't Scottish local government do the hard pressed council tax payer a favour - and save money by shutting down COSLA in its present form at least.

The self-styled voice of Scotland's 32 local councils - is a total irrelevance these days.

What with a five year council tax freeze - what is COSLA's purpose and role - because no one seems to be taking its leadership seriously. 

No pay bargaining taking place for quite some time - and that's likely to be the case for the foreseeable future.

So what does everyone at COSLA do with their time - other than talk a great fight about  COSLA's role in a mythical partnership with the Scottish Government?

I imagine lots of people go to lots of meetings - but do these meetings produce anything besides vast quantities of hot air.

What it all costs is shrouded in mystery - but the big question is - 'How can it possibly be good value for public money?'

Even COSLA's partner body - the Improvement Service (IS) - has failed to make much of an impact.

Because the IS has been unable to persude COSLA's member councils - to do anything really meaningful on the shared services agenda.

The wizard idea is that councils would pool resources on bakroom services - like payroll and IT - in order to make better use of scarce resources.

But the big project based on Glasgow and several neighbouring councils in west and central Scotland - went down like the proverbial lead balloon.

COSLA is nothing like the voice it was in the days of the Scottish Constitutional Convention - when COSLA carried undouted influence - when major figures like Charlie Gray spoke - with real authority and were greatly admired.

But no longer because times have changed - yet COSLA has not moved with the times - these days it's like the local government equivalent of - the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club.

Here's a piece I wrote recently - explaining why things have got into such a mess.

Deck of Cards (September 23rd 2011)

According to The Herald yesterday the much vaunted plan by councils in the west of Scotland - to 'share services' and make better use of public money - is now officially a dead duck.

Glasgow is the latest council to pull out of the so-called - 'Clyde Valley Review'.

Which promised a new era of co-operation amongst councils - by eliminating duplication and pooling backroom office functions - such as payroll and information technology.

But after months and years of talking - the whole project has collapsed - like a house of cards.

The death knell was finally sounded yesterday - when Glasgow City Council announced that it too was pulling out.

COSLA and its partner body - the Improvement Agency - must be wondering why they have spent so much time and energy pushing an agenda - that nobody seems to support.

More evidence to show that COSLA - simply isn't punching its weight these days.

Councils and Cold Feet (20th September 2011)

Newspaper reports at the weekend suggest that the much vaunted plans for 'sharing' council services - is on its last legs.

Glasgow is the latest council to voice concerns over the 'shared services strategy' - which is designed eliminate duplication and waste - by pooling back-office functions such as payroll and information technology.

Sounds simple enough - but it seems that as soon as councils get anywhere near having to make a decision about how to proceed - they get cold feet.

Which makes the councils involved look ridiculous of course - along with COSLA and the Improvement Service who have both been championing this cause for years.

Unsuccessfully it appears - which makes you wonder why Scottish local government seems unable to work together - in the wider public interest.

Here's something I wrote on the subject earlier this month - prophetically as it turns out.

As far as I can see the individuals councils that make up Scottish local government - are just ignoring COSLA - and seem to be thumbing their noses at the Improvement Sevice.

If this pantomime continues for much longer - the Scottish Government will have to get involved.

Improving Council Services (September 1st 2011)

Here's the 'team' from Scotland's Improvement Service (IS) - an unelected public body set up by COSLA and the Scottish government some years ago.

See post dated 25 August 2011 - 'Interesting Bomb Pattern'

Now the IS aims to help local councils in Scotland improve their services - by adopting best practice and becoming more efficient - and by sharing services in some cases.

In which case I suggest that some of the 39-strong IS team - ought to be hot-footing it down to West Dunbartonshire Council - where shared services seem to be about as popular as the mention of tram cars on Leith Walk.

Because West Dunbartonshire Council has pulled out of a 'shared services' project amongst councils in the Clyde Valley - and now the whole programme appears to be on a 'shoogly peg'.

So maybe with all these specialist people on its staff - the Improvement Service can help get things back on track.

I certainly hope so.

Information about all the Improvement Service staff, including biographies and contact details.

1 Colin Mair, Chief Executive

2 Mark McAteer, Governance & Performance Management - Director

3 Bob Christie, Governance & Performance Management - Outcomes Programme Manager

4 Sarah Gadsden, Governance & Performance Management - PSIF Director

5 Andrew McGuire, Governance & Performance Management - Programme Manager

6 Jane O'Donnell, Governance & Performance Management - PSIF Project Manager

7 Andrew Noble, Government & Performance Management - Project Manager

8 Tallulah Lines, Governance & Performance Management - Project Officer

9 Alison Clyne, Governance & Performance Management - PSIF Project Officer

10 Konrad Zdeb, Governance & Performance Management - Graduate Support Assistant

11 Paul Dowie, Shared Services - Director

12 Bruce Harley, Shared Services - Change Champion

13 Simon Haston, Shared Services - Change Champion

14 Gerda Bartsch, Shared Services - Change Champion

15 Alexandra Ostroumoff-Croucher, Shared Services - Pensions Pathfinder Project Manager

16 Jim Kinney, Customer First - Programme Director

17 Tom McHugh, Customer First - Programme Manager

18 Martin Brown, Customer First - Head of Customer Relationship Management

19 Sally Buchanan, Customer First - Project Manager

20 Iain McKay, Customer First - Gazetteer Business Development Manager

21 Cameron Walker, Customer First - National Infrastructure Programme Manager

22 Robert Clubb, Customer First - National Infrastructure Programme Manager

23 Fiona Dick, Customer First - Communications and Projects Support Officer

24 Joanna Anderson, Customer First - Project Assistant

25 Karen Williamson, Customer First - Graduate Support Assistant

26 Kate O'Hagan, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Head

27 Lesley Broadley, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Senior Project Manager

28 Dot McLaughlin, Organisational Development &Capacity Building - Senior Project Manager

29 Jamie Carver, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Project Assistant

30 Emma Hay, Planning Development - Programme Manager

31 Ross Pattenden, Organisational Development & Capacity Building - Project Assistant

32 Mike McLean, Knowledge Management - Head

33 Martin MacKinnon, Knowledge Management - Web Development Manager

34 Louise Jenkins, Knowledge Management - Web Content Editor

35 David Friel, Knowledge Management - Reporter

36 Jamie Kirk, Knowledge Management - Graduate Support Assistant

37 Loraine Higgins, Corporate & Business Support - Business Manager

38 Alison Ritchie, Corporate & Business Support - PA & Business Support Assistant

39 Kirsty Markie, Business Support - Graduate Support Assistant

COSLA Isn't Working (25 August 2011)

Ashtrays and Motorbikes (02/14)

The rebellion amongst local councils in Scotland appears to be gathering steam as yet another, this time Labour-run Renfrewshire, threatens to quit COSLA - according to this report on the BBC web site.

Now you can take your pick as to how you see COSLA: as the self-styled voice of Scottish local government or as a useless talking shop.

I happen to favour the latter because I thought that COSLA was about as much use as an 'ashtray on a motorbike' - when it came to doing the right thing over equal pay.

And I have to say that I disagree with the comments of my old colleague from Unison, Dave Watson, who suggests that the problems about implementing with the 1999 Single Status (Equal Pay) Agreement were all to do with local pay determination.

Now this is not quite correct because the 1999 Agreement was a national agreement - not a local one - and although it allowed for councils to decide certain issues at local level this had to be done within a nationally agreed framework.

Yet when the councils employers failed to do what they promised to do (many of the biggest and most influential ones being Labour-run at the time, of course) - the Labour supporting trade unions had virtually nothing to say.

No national strikes, demonstrations or high profile public campaigns to persuade the council employers (individually and collectively) to do the right thing - with the support of the Labour-led coalition government at Holyrood, of course.

So, if you ask me, COSLA is a busted flush - and that's why Scottish councils are voting with their feet.  
Renfrewshire Council may quit Cosla

By Jamie McIvor

Cosla helps local councils makes collective decisions on public service policies

Another major council has said it is planning to leave Cosla, the body that represents Scottish local authorities.

Labour-run Renfrewshire Council is the third to warn it may quit.

It believes Cosla is not doing enough to stand up for councils against government policies.

Another two councils in the west of Scotland are expected to decide whether they should also quit in the next few weeks.

Aberdeen Council has already decided to leave the body next year. Separately, Dumfries and Galloway may also leave the organisation.

Formula changed

At the heart of the dispute is the formula used to distribute government money between Scotland's 32 councils.

Typically about 80p of every pound each council spends comes from a Scottish government grant.

A long-standing and complicated formula divides up the cash. It takes account of factors such as the relative prosperity of an area, the demographics of the population and how urban or rural the population is.

But some Labour councils think they are getting a bad deal and want the formula changed.

Changing the funding formula would mean there would be winners and losers and many other councils are happy with it as it stands.

Leaving Cosla will not mean a change in the formula - that would ultimately be up to the Scottish government.

But some Labour councillors are known to feel frustrated that they cannot gain an agreement at Cosla to try to get the formula changed and feel that membership of the umbrella body is not currently value for money.

One source said there was frustration that Cosla was not able to take a stand against Scottish government policies which they believed were harming local government, even although Labour-controlled councils provided Cosla with the majority of its cash.

Because Cosla seeks to represent the views of all 32 Scottish councils, it is rarely possible for it to gain agreements to take a stand on any controversial party political issue.

Collective interests

Councils are required to give a full financial year's notice of their intention to quit Cosla.

Three other Labour councils in central Scotland - including Glasgow - are likely to decide what to do in the next few weeks while some others are known to be watching events closely.

Cosla currently represents the collective interests of all councils and also negotiates Scotland-wide pay deals with unions.

Dave Watson, Scottish organiser for pay and campaigns with trade union Unison, said that while the union had had disagreements with Cosla over the years, he would not encourage or support its break up.

Mr Watson said: "Local government needs a strong collective voice in the face of government centralisation and cuts.

"Breakaways simply weaken the message and encourages divide and rule. We would therefore encourage the parties to sort out their disagreements as the procedures allow.

"The employers' side of the national bargaining machinery is administered by Cosla, but it could be done in a different way. Again we are not encouraging this.

"The experience of single status implementation and equal pay highlights very clearly the problems with local pay determination.

"No sensible council would want to repeat those mistakes and the financial consequences in the current environment."

The Scottish government said membership of Cosla was up to individual councils but defended the system used to distribute cash.

A Cosla spokesman said: "The reality is that Cosla is the only local government association in the United Kingdom with a 100% membership.

"This will continue to be the case for the rest of this financial year and all of next financial year and during this time the organisation will be doing its absolute utmost to ensure that we resolve the issues that have been raised with us and as well as representing our full 32-council membership."

COSLA (8 February 2014)

Two out of Scotland's thirty two local councils (Aberdeen and Dumfries & Galloway) have pulled out of COSLA - the umbrella body and self-styled voice of Scottish local government.

Now this trickle my not turn into a full scale flood, but then again maybe people are finally waking up to what I said about COSLA some time ago. 

If you ask me, the Convention (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) has been weak and useless for many years and has been irrelevant on most of the big issues of the day - Equal Pay is an example that springs quickly to mind.  

So, I'm not in the least surprised that councils like Aberdeen and Dumfries &Galloway are beginning to vote with their feet.

Aberdeen City Council to break away from COSLA
Aberdeen City Council are the first in Scotland to vote to break away from Cosla. Picture: Complimentary


ABERDEEN City Council has become the first city authority in Scotland to vote to breakaway from the umbrella organisation the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

The Labour-led coalition administration voted to split from the Convention late last night at a meeting of the full council where concerns were again raised about the financial settlement the authority receives from the Scottish Government.

The members of the council’s rainbow coalition of Labour, Independent and Tory councillors were joined by the Liberal Democrats in voting for the breakaway move.

Councillor Barney Crockett, the leader of the council, said: “Aberdeen certainly does feel that it is too often Scotland’s forgotten city and in the financial settlement we are regularly at the bottom of the league.”

He explained: “We are under huge pressure from local businesses who feel that we need the infrastructure to support the mushrooming business environment in the city. Last year we got 79 per cent of the Scottish average and, given the kind of pressure that comes on a city, it was completely unacceptable to us.”

Mr Crockett claimed that concerns about the council’s continued membership of COSLA had also been raised because of proposed changes in COSLA’s operations which would “even further diminish our voice there.”

He continued: “We have to give a year’s notice if we do intend leaving so we are putting in our year’s notice. We will see how the changes go in COSLA as to whether we effect the departure. But certainly we feel we need a stronger voice than we seem to be getting at the moment in COSLA.”

He claimed that Aberdeen was also the victim of an “enormous asset stripping operation” by the Scottish Government with the closure of Craiginches Prison and the planned closures of both the fire and police service control centres in the city.

Last month Dumfries and Galloway Council gave notice that it intends to terminate its £110,000-a-year membership of the Convention.