A week in Scotland

SNP Deputy Leadership

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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

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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.

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!

Andrew Hall: Digital delivers in our classrooms

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Sumdog CEO Andrew Hall

This week marks National Digital Learning Week, an initiative organised by Education Scotland that aims to show how the use of digital technology can enhance learning and teaching, raise attainment and equip young people with important skills for the modern world of work. This year’s theme is “Digital Difference”, with teachers invited to share and celebrate the digital approaches that make a real difference in the classroom.

Coinciding with Digital Learning Week 2017, Sumdog has organised Scotland’s first ever nationwide online maths contest. Over 2000 individual classes from more than 500 schools across the length and breadth of Scotland are signed up to take part. Pupils work together as a class to answer correctly as many maths questions as they can over the period of the contest, which closes tomorrow. The overall winning class will be announced at a special event in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, May 24.

Sumdog is an education technology social enterprise headquartered in the west end of Edinburgh. Used in 88 countries worldwide, our game-based learning system is specifically designed to improve skills and attainment in maths and literacy and is carefully aligned to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence. It uses educational games to motivate students in maths, reading and writing.

Sumdog’s unique learning engine gets to know each student, leading them through the curriculum while enabling their teacher to monitor their progress and target help where it’s most needed. With each new skill they master through Sumdog, pupils can earn rewards. The virtual pets they adopt can learn fun new tricks and each correct answer earns a virtual coin which can be spent in Sumdog’s on-screen store.

Most importantly of all, Sumdog is having a meaningful impact on addressing educational attainment in half of all Scottish schools where it is now regularly used. A recent study in Glasgow Council schools shows the huge potential of digital tools like Sumdog. Over a period of six months, the study found that those pupils using Sumdog at least one hour per week progressed three times faster in improving their maths than those who used it very little or not at all.

With a majority of pupils participating in the Glasgow study coming from areas of high deprivation, there is strong evidence that digital tools like Sumdog can make a serious contribution towards meeting the Scottish Government’s mission to close the attainment gap between pupils from the most and least deprived backgrounds.

With digital tools making an increasingly important contribution to modern teaching practices in our schools, National Digital Learning Week is a great opportunity to share positive experiences and to encourage the wider use of digital technology to enhance teaching and improve learning outcomes.

To find out more about National Digital Learning Week, visit http://www.digilearn.scot.

Read more at: http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/opinion/andrew-hall-digital-delivers-in-our-classrooms-1-4447242

Let’s empower our learning disabled to lead on change

People with additional needs are helping to make their services and communities better says James Fletcher, director of the Association for Real Change Scotland (ARC)

People with additional needs are helping to make their services and communities better says James Fletcher, director of the Association for Real Change Scotland (ARC)

This week is learning disability awareness week with the theme ‘looking back, thinking forward.’ To mark this, members of the National Involvement Network, a group of over 80 people with learning disabilities or support needs, have decided to hold a unique event in Glasgow called “Hear our voice; 10 years of leading change in our services and communities.’

The event will planned and delivered entirely by people with additional needs with support from ARC Scotland and will be attended by over 180 people who can help shape the future of social care in Scotland.

It will celebrate the remarkable achievements of the members of the National Involvement Network in becoming leaders of change, and highlight their ground-breaking publication the Charter for Involvement.

The Charter for Involvement sets out in their own words how they want to be involved in decisions made about their services and communities.  It does this in a practical and straightforward way that can be understood by everybody.

It avoids the jargon and over-complication that is often introduced by professionals and is a barrier to meaningful involvement and co-production.

Their work has become part of the DNA of Scotland’s social care sector and has already helped to improve the lives of hundreds of supported people across the country.  At this week’s event, a further three organisations will formally commit to putting the Charter into practice- bringing the total to over 50 organisations that are now doing this.

This is making a real difference to work practice and culture within social care organisations and health and social care partnerships in areas such as staff recruitment, training, policy-making and governance.

It is telling that over the past year, members of the National Involvement Network have chosen to focus their attention on speaking with people who have communication difficulties about their experiences of living in their communities.  They have developed a specialised ‘Talking Mats’ framework to do this, and some have undergone training to use it.

Through this work they have helped people to connect with their community resources, such as church and cinema and to express ways in which the support they receive can be improved.

For the members of the National Involvement Network, learning disability awareness week is an opportunity to celebrate their remarkable achievements over the past 10 years.

Lynnette Linton, Chair of the National Involvement Network said “We would like delegates attending the conference to learn what involvement means from the point of view of people who receive support. We hope they will be inspired and motivated to find new ways to hear and include the voices of people who use support services.”

The event is also an opportunity to look to the future and consider how supported people themselves can help social care organisations and the communities they work in to address and adapt to the very real challenges they face.

Learning form the experience of people who receive support (and those who need it but don’t get it) must surely be the foundation for informing the changes still to come within this sector. As Lynnette Linton put it, ‘In future involvement won’t be special, it will just be natural.’

Fortunately, there is a willingness amongst many people to share their experiences in and contribute to finding solutions to sometimes complex issues, such as budget cuts and managing risk.

This valuable resource has yet to be fully realised. To do this, people tell us they must first feel listened to and respected, and to clearly understand how their views will influence the decisions being made.

Meaningful involvement and co-production takes time to do properly, will not always give the answers that are hoped for and may challenge professional assumptions.  However the result is support and community services that are centred around the people that use them.

By this time next year the National Involvement Network aim to have 100 organisations signed up to the Charter for Involvement, and to extend their work to communities out-with the central belt.