A week in Scotland

SNP Deputy Leadership

Orbit Communications - Graeme Downie 03
Director, Graeme Downie @GraemeDownie

This week looked like the first one in Scottish politics for a while that wouldn’t be utterly dominated by Brexit and maybe, just maybe, we might get back to some good old fashioned political bun-fights and heads on a platter.

It wasn’t to be but it did start off promisingly. First, last weekend, the Deputy Leader of the SNP, the former MP Angus Robertson, resigned from his post. Although not entirely unexpected – many had thought he might have resigned from the position after losing his seat at the last General Election – it did seem to come out of nowhere.

This gives the SNP a moment of pause and a decision to make, with the runners and riders already putting out the feelers as to whether to run. Some see this as a chance to break with the past, replacing a policy-heavy and experienced MP from farming and fishing country in the North East of Scotland, with more a grass-roots, enthusiastic organiser from the central belt determined to fire up and organise the membership to push for a second independence referendum.

A character from the left of the party, such as Tommy Shepherd MP, would seem to tick many of the boxes in that regard but it will be interesting to see whether current leader of the SNP Group at Westminster, Ian Blackford MP, decides to stand, or even if a senior MSP, such as Transport Minister Humza Yousaf sees the position as a way to further their career.

Policing the police

On the policy front, there was additional drama this week as what seems to be the never-ending saga of wrongdoing by Police Scotland, and the body designed to provider oversight, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), with the resignation of Police Scotland’s Chief Constable, Phil Gormley. The Chief Constable has been on “Special Leave” since September over allegations of serious misconduct in a number of investigations.

The merger of different constabularies to create a single, unified, Police Scotland, has been an ongoing sore for the Scottish Government. From disagreements about payment of VAT by HMT, to bungled investigations, allegations of cover-ups and ministerial pressure, Police Scotland has never been far from the headlines.

The Justice Minister, Michael Matheson MSP, along with the new Chair of the SPA, former Labour Minister, Susan Deacon, will be hoping this is the beginning of the end of the saga but with policing never far from the headlines in any case, that might be a forlorn hope.

The Justice Minister had a further problem this week when the he met with the father of Shaun Woodburn, a 30-year-old man who was murdered on New Year’s Day 2017. Not only has there been strong criticism of the sentence handed down to his convicted killer but also complaints about the time it was taken for the body to be released to the family for burial.

Brexit

I did warn that we had only almost got through this week without mentioning Brexit. Sadly, it was not to be as on Thursday, MSPs were up in arms that permission to read Brexit documentation from the UK Government, would only be by arranging an appointment, limited to 45 mins and kept to only two possible days, with very short notice to arrange. Although the Scotland Office later clarified that the reading room would be open beyond this week, it was yet a further episode which leaves a bad taste in the mouth between the governments after previous disputes over the devolution of additional powers to Holyrood after Brexit.

A version of this blog fist appeared on Pubaffiars

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Public relations will play an important role in gender pay gap reporting

Sarah Robertson Orbit Communications 04
Sarah Robertson, Account Manager

From April 2018, the UK will become one of the first countries in the world to require voluntary, private, and public sector employers with 250 or more employees to publish statutory calculations every year showing how large the pay gap is between their male and female members of staff.

This is a significant step towards achieving workplace equality and offers organisations a unique opportunity to effect positive change on society. However, so far fewer than 750 employers have reported their gender pay gap data out of over 9,000 companies that will be required to publish this information by the 4th April deadline (30th March for public sector employers).

In 2017, the median gender pay gap for full time employees in the UK stood at 9.1%, down from 9.4% in 2016. If you take the mean calculation, the gender pay gap is 14.1%, a figure that increases to over 50% in the aviation industry.

Workplace inequality is not only unfair on employees; it poses a severe threat to an organisation’s reputation and to the long term value of the business. As trusted advisers, public relations specialists are uniquely placed to help organisations address and communicate even the most significant pay gap.

Handled well, gender pay gap reporting offers organisations the opportunity to shape their reputation for the better. By communicating clearly and honestly what the issue is, and importantly the steps being taken to address any gender pay gap, organisations have the opportunity to position themselves as progressive and fair employers while rectifying any historic wrongs.

Take easyJet for example. At the end of last year the company admitted their average UK-based female employee earns 51.7% less than their average UK-based male employee. The company addressed this issue head on, engaging with employees and the media to ensure it was understood that the issue had been identified, that it was an industry-wide problem, and more importantly what was being done to fix it.

On top of this, only a few days ago easyJet’s new chief executive Johan Lundgren voluntarily took a £34,000 pay cut to match the salary of his female predecessor, Carolyn McCall. Crucially, by being open and transparent, easyJet has successfully turned their large gender pay gap into a positive story for the brand.

As the deadline looms, it is crucial organisations have in place a clear strategy for how any gender pay gap will be communicated to employees, stakeholders, and the public in order to deliver the right message that reflects the true position of the organisation. A single gender pay gap figure likely won’t tell the whole story, so it is important to provide context and to communicate the steps that are being taken to address the underlying causes of any gap.

If you haven’t already, prepare your communications strategy now. Gender pay gap reporting poses a reputational risk that organisations simply cannot afford to ignore.

2018 promises to be yet another rollercoaster year ahead

As 2018 gets into full swing, much like 2017 Scottish politics is likely to be shaped primarily by two big issues: the terms of Brexit and its consequences for IndyRef2.

Managing   Director,     Alex Orr

One advantage for us, the voters, is that there will be a year of relative peace on the doorstep, as for the first time since 2013 the year ‘may’ (emphasis on ‘may’) pass without a referendum or national election being staged.

On the key issue of whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2, given the electoral bloody nose the party received at the snap general election in 2017, the First Minister will undoubtedly keep the powder dry on her intentions until later in the year, when the nature of the Brexit transition deal becomes clearer. On this more later.

One other big political set-piece is due to take place in the opening months of 2018 is the publication of the SNP’s Growth Commission report into the finances of an independent Scotland. Designed to lay the groundwork for another vote, it will make a series of crucial recommendations about the currency the country might use and how it might grow its economy.

After a decade in power attention will focus on how the minority SNP administration is using its devolved powers, with a specific focus on health, education, and income tax changes. Outlined in the Draft Scottish Budget last month this highlighted modest tax rises for higher earners and cuts for low income Scots.

However, while SNP difficulties seem certain, it is unclear which party, if any, will be the beneficiary.

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson may have enjoyed electoral success, through making the pro-Union cause her own, but none of her achievements have been on domestic policy.

She should be able to use income tax rises to her advantage, but peak Tory may have been reached and Davidson’s party looks close to the upper limit of support amongst voters.

This time last year, the Scottish Labour Party seemed near to extinction, but in the snap general election it increased its MP presence and on paper its leader, Richard Leonard, has the most to gain from a year that could see Sturgeon and Davidson fight out a bloody score draw.

While IndyRef 2 seems a blur on the horizon, the implications of Brexit will keep the constitution in the foreground of political debate at Holyrood.

A stand-off looms between the Scottish and UK Governments on the transfer of powers after Brexit. During the year it is likely that the Scottish Government and the UK will finally do a deal on the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will repatriate thousands of EU laws back to Britain. The big question of 2018, of course, is whether Ms Sturgeon will decide to press ahead with IndyRef2 – and whether the UK will give its permission for another vote.

If it does happen, it is likely to be during the two-year Brexit transition period which begins in March 2019. The SNP’s mandate for another vote lasts until the next Scottish election in 2021.

Whatever happens, 2018 is likely to prove yet another rollercoaster year politically north of the border.

New Planning Bill introduced

Managing Director, @Alex_M_Orr

New legislation intended to simplify and improve the planning system has been set out by Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart.

The Scottish Government has said its aim is to provide an improved system of development planning, giving people a greater say in the future of their places and supporting delivery of planning development.

Mr Stewart described how the Planning (Scotland) Bill, will create a new structure for a more proactive and enabling system with clearer development plans, earlier engagement with communities, streamlined procedures and smarter resourcing.

The Bill builds on recommendations of an independent review carried out by a panel of experts last year. Provisions within it include Simplified Planning Zones and proposals to develop an Infrastructure Levy to help support the development of infrastructure to unlock land for development. The latter has raised concern in some quarters over the potential diversion of money from local planning applications to the Scottish Government

The Bill will also allow the Scottish Government to step in and take control of a planning department are outlined, with the provision for a Government “troubleshooter” to be sent in if local planners are deemed to be under-performing. The Conservatives have claimed that this would run a “coach and horses through any pretence of localism,”

The Bill will include a new right for residents to produce their own development plans and there will no doubt be continued debate around not only what is in the Bill, but what is not – including the absence of a third party right of appeal.

The Scottish Government’s 20 proposals for revamping the planning system include:

  1. Aligning community planning and spatial planning. This can be achieved by introducing a requirement for development plans to take account of wider community planning and can be supported through future guidance.
  2. Regional partnership working. We believe that strategic development plans should be removed from the system so that strategic planners can support more proactive regional partnership working.
  3. Improving national spatial planning and policy. The National Planning Framework (NPF) can be developed further to better reflect regional priorities. In addition, national planning policies can be used to make local development planning simpler and more consistent.
  4. Stronger local development plans. We believe the plan period should be extended to 10 years, and that ‘main issues reports’ and supplementary guidance should be removed to make plans more accessible for people. A new ‘gatecheck’ would help to improve plan examinations by dealing with significant issues at an earlier stage.
  5. Making plans that deliver. We can strengthen the commitment that comes from allocating development land in the plan, and improve the use of delivery programmes to help ensure that planned development happens on the ground.
  6. Giving people an opportunity to plan their own place. Communities should be given a new right to come together and prepare local place plans. We believe these plans should form part of the statutory local development plan.
  7. Getting more people involved in planning. A wider range of people should be encouraged and inspired to get involved in planning. In particular, we would like to introduce measures that enable children and young people to have a stronger voice in decisions about the future of their places.
  8. Improving public trust. Pre-application consultation can be improved, and there should be greater community involvement where proposals are not supported in the development plan. We also propose to discourage repeat applications and improving planning enforcement.
  9. Keeping decisions local – rights of appeal. We believe that more review decisions should be made by local authorities rather than centrally. We also want to ensure that the system is sufficiently flexible to reflect the distinctive challenges and opportunities in different parts of Scotland.
  10. Being clear about how much housing land is required. Planning should take a more strategic view of the land required for housing development. Clearer national and regional aspirations for new homes are proposed to support this.
  11. Closing the gap between planning consent and delivery of homes. We want planning authorities to take more steps to actively help deliver development. Land reform could help to achieve this.
  12. Releasing more ‘development ready’ land. Plans should take a more strategic and flexible approach to identifying land for housing. Consents could be put in place for zoned housing land through greater use of Simplified Planning Zones.
  13. Embedding an infrastructure first approach. There is a need for better co-ordination of infrastructure planning at a national and regional level. This will require a stronger commitment to delivering development from all infrastructure providers.
  14. A more transparent approach to funding infrastructure. We believe that introducing powers for a new local levy to raise additional finance for infrastructure would be fairer and more effective. Improvements can also be made to Section 75 obligations.
  15. Innovative infrastructure planning. Infrastructure planning needs to look ahead so that it can deliver low carbon solutions, new digital technologies and the facilities that communities need.
  16. Developing skills to deliver outcomes. We will work with the profession to improve and broaden skills.
  17. Investing in a better service. There is a need to increase planning fees to ensure the planning service is better resourced.
  18. A new approach to improving performance. We will continue work to strengthen the way in which performance is monitored, reported and improved.
  19. Making better use of resources – efficient decision making. We will remove the need for planning consent from a wider range of developments. Targeted changes to development management will help to ensure decisions are made more quickly and more transparently.
  20. Innovation, designing for the future and the digital transformation of the planning service. There are many opportunities to make planning work better through the use of information technology. The planning service should continue to pioneer the digital transformation of public services.

The Bill marks the start of the formal legislative process.  It will now be debated by the Scottish Parliament before being subject to detailed scrutiny at Committee, with the expectation that it will receive Royal Assent in the 2018-2019 Parliamentary year.

New Labour leader is king of the jungle

Managing Director, @Alex_M_Orr

Well the votes are in and the winner announced…no, it’s not the final result of ITV’s ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me out of Here!’, of which more later, but the result of the Scottish Labour leadership contest.

After one of the most bitter leadership elections seen in Scotland, left-winger Richard Leonard comfortably defeated the moderate candidate, Anas Sarwar. It is a win that is seen as extending Jeremy Corbyn’s influence on the party north of the border.

As expected, Leonard won the vast majority of trade union votes, while he won by a far narrower margin when it came to Labour members. When all votes were tallied up, Leonard was out in front by a clear margin, polling 12,469 (57.6 per cent) compared with Sarwar’s 9,516.

The heralding of Leonard’s win was more than a little overshadowed however by the announcement from former Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale, that she will temporarily leave Holyrood and join Ant and Dec in the ‘celebrity’ jungle. One of the first acts of Mr Leonard’s leadership will be to decide whether she should be suspended from the party or not.

As for Anas Sarwar, he handled defeat with exceptional dignity, pledging to work with and for Richard Leonard without caveat.  His campaign was however wounded right at the start by a controversy over his family’s wealth and choice of private education for his offspring.

In his victory speech, Leonard said he would lead Scottish Labour as a movement for real change, a movement for democracy and, yes, a movement for socialism. He has promised to win back lost voters with his radical policy agenda.

Leonard becomes leader at a particularly difficult time for the party. The former trade union organiser has become the ninth Scottish Labour leader since devolution and has major challenges ahead if he is to lead his party on the long road to victory, also noting that he only secured the support of a handful of his fellow MSPs.

Divisions between the left and moderate wings of the party have been cruelly exposed during a nine week campaign and the party has been beset by a variety of allegations of sexual harassment. To address this Leonard has promised a zero tolerance approach to “sexism, misogyny and sexual harassment”.

He has also pledged to follow an avowedly left wing agenda. This includes wanting to extend public ownership, to increase workers’ control, to increase public spending, to raise taxes on the rich, including via a wealth tax, to pursue a Socialist industrial policy with a focus on manufacturing and to end inequality.

The Labour victor now faces the twin challenges of supplying detail – for example, on tax – to accompany his rhetoric; and then promoting said policies to a sceptical electorate, weary of political promises.

If he is to win Leonard needs to set out a bold and radical agenda, delivering a strong and wide appeal to voters. Time will tell whether this newly crowned king of the jungle will continue to roar, or the roar will simply end up as a whimper.

Fleet Managers and Scotland’s Low Carbon Future

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Stephen Herriot, Head of Operations, @PfHScotland

With the recent commitment by the Scottish Government to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, fleet managers across Scotland, not least in the social housing sector, are being challenged to plan ahead so they can play their role in supporting the transition to a low carbon future.

The ambitious announcement would see the Scottish Government achieve the target eight years ahead of its UK counterpart. But critics have been quick to raise concerns that it won’t be possible to put in place the necessary charging infrastructure in such a short space of time.

Nicola Sturgeon and her Government remain confident they can meet the 2032 deadline and expand the country’s charging networks by creating “electric highways”. The first real test of this will be plans to make the A9, the country’s longest road, the first fully electric-enabled transport route in Scotland.

Over the last few years, government has been pushing various incentives, such as the Low Carbon Transport Loan, to encourage individuals and businesses to switch to Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV), with varying degrees of success. In this context, the real issue facing Scotland is less about infrastructure and more about whether we can accomplish a mass switchover of around 3 million vehicles currently on Scottish roads in just 18 years.

If there is any hope of reaching this goal, the Scottish Government will be looking to those responsible for managing larger vehicle fleets to take the lead as a means of making quick and easy wins. Given the specific environmental responsibilities they face, public sector organisations in areas such as housing are likely to be high on the Government’s list of early adopters when it comes to modernising their fleets.

Alongside action to tackle climate change, plans are also in place to implement Low Emission Zones across Scotland’s four largest cities. This will empower local authorities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee to set environmental limits on key transport routes in order to improve air quality. At this stage, it is unclear exactly what shape these changes will take or how quickly they may come into effect. However, given the negative impact of poor air quality on public health, there is widespread speculation that the plans look set to be “fast tracked”. This creates a further impetus for fleet managers to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later and to switch to ultra low emission vehicles to prevent  future fleet management costs from spiralling out of control.

At the same time, the cost of electric vehicles continues to come down as manufacturers gear up for mass production. Industry analysis suggests that the point where the overall costs of running an electric vehicle dip below those of running a conventional petrol or diesel car is fast approaching – and likely to arrive well before the Scottish Government’s 2032 timetable for going electric.

Given policy moves now underway at a local and national level, planning ahead has never been more important for fleet managers in the Scottish social housing sector. Acting now to modernise vehicle fleets will enable the housing sector to demonstrate its green credentials. But investing now to modernise vehicle fleets should also reduce the long term cost of running those fleets – and avoid a last minute rush to switch to electric vehicles that could end up costing the sector a lot more.

Stephen Herriot is Head of Operations at PfH Scotland, who have just launched a dedicated vehicle leasing and fleet management procurement framework for the social housing sector. More information about PfH Scotland and the new framework is available at http://www.pfhscotland.co.uk.  

Let’s talk about love in the care system, at the moment there isn’t any

Duncan Dunlop
Duncan Dunlop, CEO, Who Cares? Scotland

It has been a year since we called on the First Minister to consider what was going wrong with the care system in Scotland. A year after she sat down with young people from Who Cares? Scotland. A year since she decided to call for a Root and Branch Review of the Care System (now known as the Independent Care Review).

One year on, the First Minister has shown she will not wait for the review to conclude but will look to make improvements throughout its journey. Following moves from North Ayrshire Council, who had been calling for an exemption to Council Tax for Care Experienced Young People, the First Minister announced this as a Scotland wide policy.  It’s an excellent sign that we are not waiting until the end of the Independent Care Review to take action. Immediate action to fix current inequalities is a great leap forward. However, we hope that at the conclusion of the care review this inequality won’t exist.

Make no mistake, this was an immeasurably powerful commitment from the First Minister. The care system has been in existence for 150 years and there has been change. However, it has always been change within the current construct. We still haven’t solved how to care for young people in Scotland whose own parents aren’t able to.

The current Review of Care in Scotland has the capacity to make a radical change however. A radical change to how people are cared for in Scotland.

Outcomes, at present, for Care Experienced people are shockingly poor. The statistics show that 45% of children in care are diagnosed as having a mental health disorder. In residential units, research shows that 39% of children units have self-harmed. Part of the problem is in how we deliver care and in the language around care. Homes are referred to as units or placements. Those who are meant to love and support you are called staff. Language matters and it’s never neutral.

It’s not just mental health that suffers. Care Experienced people are less likely to achieve high school qualifications, less likely to go to university and more likely to end up in prison. With many children experiencing as many as ten placement moves in their care journey, it’s easy to see why they may struggle at school. Why they struggle then at home and in the communities they find their selves being moved into.

Our members tell us that they feel like they live in a system that takes care of everything for them as a means of managing risk. A system which doesn’t reflect the process of growing up in a traditional family home.  A system without love. This can leave them exposed in a world where, when they turn 21, they find their selves having to deal with the harsh realities of life. In many cases, they leave a system which in seeking to stop things happening to them, hasn’t been able to make enough things happen for them.

It is important that we deliver radical change. We need to act now. The average age of leaving care is 16-18 according to the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland but the law says young people have the right to remain in care until they are 21.

Every single month this year, one of our young members has died.

Why, if young people have the right to stay in what they feel is a secure and stable environment, are they leaving five years before they have to? They are swapping five years of safety and stability for uncertainty. So, we hope that the review examines what has made this happen.

It comes back to love and how we care for our young people.  They are brought up in a world of risk assessments, of logs that record their every move and behaviour. An environment that is alien to what a family home should feel like.

Young people want to be loved. They want the freedom to love people back. The status quo is presented as though the system is neutral towards the idea of love. It isn’t. It doesn’t talk about it at all, that’s not neutral.

Let’s talk about how we bring young people up in an environment that is stable and secure but also, shows them that we love them. Let’s talk about love.