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.

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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.

 

Political parties set for taxing times ahead

Orbit Communications - Alex Orr 01
Managing Director, Alex Orr, @Alex_M_Orr

Having taken some time to fully digest the Scottish Government’s Programme for Government, which outlines the 16 Bills that will be taken forward over the coming year it is clear that while grandiose in its ambitions, some measures in the legislative programme are not quite as radical as first appears.

Some of the aims that have won praise are rather vague in their aspirations. There is a promise to “fund research into the concept and feasibility of a Citizen’s Income”, or Universal Basic Income as it is more normally called.

Green groups called this the ‘greenest’ programme ever, welcoming the pledge to phase out petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2032. The Scottish Government however doesn’t actually have the power to ban petrol and diesel. A promise was also made to “promote” the use of ultra-low emission vehicles, with a ‘target’ of phasing out polluting vehicles eight years before.

However, with independence on back burner – it is the first SNP programme since 2011 that did not focus on a referendum – and following the General Election losses, it appears that the SNP is now firmly re-focusing on the day job and looking to regain lost momentum.

There were firm commitments made in the programme, enough ‘red meat’ to put the Scottish Government back on track after its set-back of the General Election where it lost 21 MPs. There is also enough in these measures that can be embraced by all parties across the political spectrum.

There is to be a new Climate Change Bill; a deposit return scheme for bottles and cans; free sanitary products; an extension of free personal care to under 65s, and a lifting of the pay cap for public sector workers.

As part of the commitment to closing the poverty related attainment gap, an Education bill will be the centrepiece of the legislative programme, freeing head-teachers from Council control, sounding rather like a Tory policy.

It is however the issue of tax that has caused the most furore and drawn the newspaper headlines, detonating the heart of the Scottish political debate. The First Minister announced the launch of a discussion paper on the use of income tax in Scotland to support public services, calling for an honest debate on the “progressive” use of Holyrood’s tax powers.

Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, smelled blood and the potential of a broken election promise. In its manifesto for the 2016 election the SNP noted that “we will freeze the Basic Rate if Income Tax throughout the next parliament to protect those on low and middle incomes”.  Ms Davidson proclaimed that the “SNP is coming for the paycheck of everyone earning less than £43,000”.

This is dangerous ground for the SNP and voters have better memories for promises broken than promises met. Hence, the cross-party appeal to hear their ideas on tax and co-operate on the budget, spreading any potential fallout.

As the Tories want Scottish tax rates static or cut they are out of the equation, but there is support from the other parties for such a debate on tax rates. Ms Sturgeon wants to force Labour, and the Lib Dems, who have been urging her to use Holyrood’s new income tax powers, to put their money where their mouths are.

As we mark 20 years of the referendum that created the Scottish Parliament, there is ongoing questioning of delivering further devolution to Holyrood, given that it is not seen to use the powers it currently has. A move on tax would clearly address this.

With fortunes on the turn, Ms Sturgeon knows that she needs to be more radical, and she knows that passing Bills at the current rate of four a year won’t cut this, nor will tweaking services with the same old Budgets.

If tax is to go up to fund long-term change, she is clearly looking to make this a cross-party issue with other non-Tory parties, pre-empting charges of electoral dishonesty.

The onus is now on the opposition parties to decide whether to back her minority administration, or back the Conservatives and sack her.

School’s out for summer

Sarah Robertson Orbit Communications 04
Sarah Robertson, Account Executive:  LinkedIn

Yesterday (29th June) was the last FMQs of this school year and as of today our MSPs are off on an enviably long summer break. So, what better time than now to look back on the last 12 months and see what an end of term political report card might look like.

The wider political world’s record over the past 12 months consists of U-turns galore, plenty of pre-Brexit peacocking, the (unfortunate) meteoric rise of a certain Mr Trump who has singlehandedly saved Twitter’s stock from circling the drain, and a Jeremy Corbyn speech that drew the biggest crowd to Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage since the Rolling Stones in 2013.

The Scottish Government has faced some testing times during which Ms Sturgeon, as always, has remained personable. Maybe that’s why Nicola-bot just isn’t quite as catchy as May-bot. Over the last 12 months our First Minister has come across as, dare I say it, strong and stable in increasingly fractious and uncertain times. That being said, her record closer to home might not look so shiny.

The loss of the SNP’s majority certainly brought a new dynamic to Scottish politics and Ms Sturgeon’s government regularly received a bloody nose from opposition benches on issues such as education and healthcare.

Opposition parties have highlighted Nicola’s pledge made back in 2015 to put closing the attainment gap front and centre. Last year she made John Swinney, her most trusted minister, Cabinet Secretary for Education to prove to sceptics that she was serious. However, the Tories, Labour, and Lib Dems have found it relatively easy to throw punches at the government, drawing on Scotland’s sliding literacy and numeracy standards, our widening – not closing – attainment gap, as well as the delayed Education Bill.

On healthcare, the issue of low and stagnated pay has bitten the government where it hurts, and long waiting times for things like access to mental health services have proved troublesome hurdles for the SNP administration to navigate. While over the years these issues have been rumbling in the background, it seems they have begun to come to a head and the public have started to ask, with all the extra powers the Scottish Government now has, why things aren’t improving.

A glaring blemish on the SNP’s report card, and something that Nicola will no doubt be reflecting on over the summer holidays, is her party’s loss of 21 seats in the General Election. There is no doubt that this result has influenced her U-turn on indyref2 and it is evident there is growing doubt amongst party ranks as to whether Independence, for now, is a good idea.

Only yesterday, on the last day of term, a report by the Fraser of Allander Institute said Scotland’s economy is “likely to continue to lag behind the UK.” While opposition parties have used this to berate the government, and ministers have said the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong, it is clear that whatever side of the political spectrum you sit, the summer probably won’t be the relaxing break some had hoped. Will any of the party leaders take Alice Cooper’s words literally? I can think of one south of the border who might.

“Out for summer, out for fall. We might not go back at all.”

Lies, damn lies and political predictions

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Graeme Downie, Director. @graemedownie

Like most pollsters, pundits and political types that have been talking on TV all night and into the early hours I should start this piece by admitting it is entirely likely that what I am about to say is entirely wrong!  I certainly was with my predictions about this election.

I will leave others to talk about the implications of the UK-wide results beyond saying Theresa May will surely go down in history as having committed the biggest act of political suicide in history – or at least since the one her predecessor made a little over a year ago!

For those of us working in public affairs in Scotland who were looking forward to a period without elections after a total of 6 votes in 3 years, with more opportunity to focus on policy issues which matter most to our clients, this seems a forlorn hope.  it is almost impossible to imagine any party governing for anything close to the full 5 years of a Parliament so a further General Election is surely on the cards – the only question is when!

In Scotland, the story of the night will clearly be the fall of the SNP vote and their loss of seats, in particular the loss of high profile figures from their traditional base in rural areas of Scotland such as Angus Robertson, their former leader at Westminster and Alex Salmond, former First Minister.  Those wins for the Conservatives, along with wins in areas such as Stirling and Aberdeenshire signal a clear return for the party to areas of Scotland which were former strongholds in the 1990s and before.  The role of the Scottish MPs could in fact be critical in a UK context and it would be a supreme irony if those MPs make the difference which keep the party in control of Downing Street.  Either way, the result for the party is certainly not something that anyone would have predicted a few years ago and will put an end to the jokes about numbers of Tory MPs and Pandas.

The other story of the night is the extent to which Labour has also drastically over-performed expectations.  Whilst the party was expecting to hold Ian Murray’s seat in Edinburgh South, as well as perhaps winning in East Lothian, they achieved that and a lot more besides, returning MPs from their own traditional heartlands, including winning seats back in Glasgow.  This certainly gives the party a platform and credibility to continue to rebuild.  The difficulty for the Scottish party now will be the extent to which their success may or may not have been down to Jeremy Corbyn, who was opposed by Kezia Dugdale.  It is likely that hatchets will be buried in that regard in the short term at least but it does present a future problem for the party.

For the SNP, it must feel like a disappointing and frustrating night full of contradictions.  They have achieved their second best ever result in a Westminster election and have some right to claim they have “won” the General Election in Scotland.  They also could not ever have been expected to repeat their exceptional result from 2 years ago when they won 56 out of the 59 seats but the scale of their losses will surely have surprised most in the party.

Although Nicola Sturgeon’s position is under no immediate threat, with so many experienced defeated former MPs, particularly from rural areas, able to snipe from the sidelines should they choose, the First Minister could face a rocky period.  Alex Salmond indicated in his concession speech that he isn’t planning on staying quiet in the future.  The First Minister will need to consider a rethink to her long-term strategy to balance the desire of many in her base support for a quick second independence referendum, whilst trying to win back SNP voters which have been lost in this election precisely because they do not want such a vote anytime soon.

It appears that any thoughts of such a referendum will be off the table at least in the short to medium term but the First Minister will face a struggle to hold together the very broad SNP coalition – will she be forced to decide if the party is an urban one or a rural one?

The other question for the SNP is what role they will now try to carve out for themselves at Westminster?  They have offered to support a Labour Government but surely the price you would expect them to demand, a second independence referendum, is perhaps a gift they don’t actually want at the moment as if this election result has taught us anything it is that voters take a dim view of unnecessary elections and tend to react accordingly, as one Mrs T. May seems to have discovered!

So, there will certainly be plenty to talk about at the next PubAffairs event next week which Orbit are delighted to sponsor.  It will take place from 6pm on Wednesday 14 June at Hemma in Holyrood Road so I hope you will come along.  Between us we might even be able to make some sense of what has happened and have a guess at what might happen next!