New Scottish Social Housing Charter places important new emphasis on tenant scrutiny

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Marian Reid Deputy Director of CIH Scotland

A new revised Scottish Social Housing Charter came into force on the 1st April this year. The Charter was first introduced five years ago as one of the provisions of the Housing (Scotland) Act 2010, with the aim of improving the quality and value of services provided by social landlords in Scotland.

The revised Charter is the result of an extensive consultation process involving a range of stakeholders including social landlords, tenants and representative bodies.

Although the outcomes of the new Charter are largely the same as for its predecessor, there are some important changes in emphasis. For instance, there is an explicit recognition of the role of new technology such as web-based systems and mobile applications in improving communication between landlords and their tenants.

The most recent changes to the Charter also point to a growing recognition of the role of tenant scrutiny as a means of improving performance, achieving efficiencies and delivering improved outcomes in social landlords’ housing activities. In relation to tenant involvement, one particularly notable inclusion is a direct reference to supporting tenants to scrutinise landlord services. Coupled to this, social landlords are now expected to actively involve tenants and other customers in reviewing how they deliver value for money.

As part of CIH Scotland’s Housing Festival, Housing Minister Kevin Stewart recently launched a practice guide and training toolkit to help landlords and tenants achieve more effective scrutiny.

Over the next five years, we can expect to see even more active engagement in tenant scrutiny of landlord services. The scrutiny resources combined with the revised Charter offer landlords the opportunity to fine tune their services to be as responsive as they possibly can be to the needs of tenants.

Marian Reid is Deputy Director of CIH Scotland.

 To download the Scottish Government funded scrutiny practice guide and training toolkit go to http://www.cih.org/scotland-tenant-scrutiny-programme

The Scottish Government is funding a series of free information events aimed at tenants and landlords and delivered by TPAS Scotland and Tenants Information Service (TIS), looking at the changes that have been made to the Charter.

For details go to http://tis.org.uk/ or http://www.tpasscotland.org.uk/

 

 

Another day, another election as Scots voters set to head to the polls for the seventh time in three years

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Alex Orr, Managing Director

Now that the dust has begun to settle after the Prime Minister’s surprise call of a snap election for 8th June, weary Scots are set to trudge to the polling booth for the seventh time in three years.

Prior to this is the small matter of the local elections on 4th May, a test of the Tory strategy to use these elections to send a message to Nicola Sturgeon of “no to a second referendum”. Indeed, as I write this, the Scottish Conservatives are to put opposition to a second independence referendum at the heart of their local government election campaign.

This is a message that will continue into the General Election. While in the rest of the UK Brexit will be very much to the fore, in Scotland, which voted to remain in the EU, it will be the independence issue that will continue to dominate. Indeed, Prime Minister May has again reaffirmed this view, writing in The Scotsman that a vote for the Scottish Conservatives would send a “clear message” of opposition to the SNP’s “divisive” plans for the second independence vote.

For the SNP, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has highlighted that the General Election will serve to “reinforce” its mandate for a vote on independence. She will also try and frame the election as being between a right-wing Tory party, which wants a hard Brexit, and her message of “elect us to stand up for Scotland”.

If the SNP do as well as predicted, they will claim yet another ‘cast-iron’ mandate to hold another independence referendum. This is why Nicola Sturgeon says that the Prime Minister has made a miscalculation.

Opposition parties will urge Scots to use the election to say no to a further plebiscite.

The challenge facing the SNP is that they did so well in the 2015 election, with 56 out of 59 MPs and falling just shy of half the vote (49.97%), that any fall will be seen by the unionist parties as a victory, a call for no independence referendum.

In the 2015 election Labour trailed in second on 24% (losing 40 of their 41 MPs) while the Conservatives secured 14% and the Liberal Democrats 8%.

With three parties chasing the “unionist vote” and consequently splitting that vote, the SNP clearly have a huge advantage.

Current opinion polls provide little consolation to these parties. The most recent poll (Panelbase/Sunday Times March 2017) had the SNP on 47% (-3% from General Election 2015), the Conservatives, 28% (+13%), Labour continuing its decline on 14% (-10 %) with the Liberal Democrats barely visible on 4% (-4%).

On this basis the Scottish Conservatives, with only one MP in Scotland, are likely to do well, leapfrogging Labour to second place, as they did in the Holyrood elections. They will be targeting constituency seats won at that election, so expect West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk and Dumfries and Galloway to be in the Tory firing line.

Labour will be content to try and hold onto their sole MP, Ian Murray in Edinburgh South, and try and stem the continuing rot. There may also be a sly Labour eye cast to East Lothian, held at Holyrood by former Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray MSP.

The Liberal Democrats could see an increase in their vote and will target seats they took in the Holyrood elections, such as Edinburgh West, where former SNP MP, Michelle Thomson, now stands as an independent, and North East Fife, held by Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie MSP.

Theresa May has rolled the dice, pitching the General Election in Scotland as a de facto vote on Scottish independence. Expect both the SNP and the Tories to claim that they have rolled double sixes on 9th June.

My internship at Orbit Communications

 

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Abbie Anderson discusses what she learned during her internship at Orbit

Last week (10th – 14th April), Abbie Anderson, a second year English Literature student at the University of York, embarked on a week long internship with Orbit Communications. On her last day, we asked her to write a short blog about her time with us. 

My internship at Orbit Communications has been an amazing experience and I am really grateful for this opportunity. The whole team welcomed me with a smile that quickly eased my nerves. My time at Orbit has been incredibly informative, fun and I can genuinely say it has inspired me to pursue a career in Public Relations (PR) and Public Affairs!

Throughout my short time here, I worked closely with both Sarah and Graeme, whom I would like to thank for taking time out of their busy schedules to converse with me and provided the support and guidance I needed.

During the week, I was given numerous opportunities to experience the different aspects of the company. I was mainly hoping to come away with greater knowledge about PR and Media Relations. Through various tasks, I soon realised my skill set was very much at home in this job. I really enjoy working in a creative environment and being able to write various articles made each day enjoyable.

Following an insightful presentation given by Graeme, I was tasked with writing some press releases and articles. Through my English Literature degree, I have had a lot of experience with writing, but this definitely challenged me. I worked on quite diverse projects relating to Hanover Scotland, the Scottish Association of Landlords and the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition. Each article varied in length and required additional research. I was very grateful to Sarah and Graeme, and all the other staff, who could provide a guiding hand. I loved writing each article and hopefully one might even make it into a newspaper!

On my second day I was invited to attend a meeting with Sarah and Graeme at Hanover Scotland. Through observation, I learnt how important it is to establish a good relationship with your client and how many aspects of a company directly affect PR. I would also like to thank John from BOLD marketing, who took time to explain the purpose of the meeting, and the preparation that had gone into it.

Later in the week, Jordan tasked me with issuing a press release to The Orcadian, a newspaper based in Orkney. After emailing the article to the newsroom, I was asked to ring to ensure they had received it and provide any additional information they may have required. Through this experience, I saw how often Orbit works with newspapers and journalists, in order to gain as much coverage as possible for their clients. I have always enjoyed working with the media, so this is something I look forward to in the future.

The skills and knowledge I have gained whilst being here have given me confidence I did not previously have. Not only do I feel my writing has improved but this week has changed the career that I hope to pursue! I genuinely can’t thank Orbit, especially Sarah and Graeme, enough for this opportunity.

In the current economic climate private sponsorship of arts and heritage has never been so important

David Watt - Arts & Business Scotland
David Watt, Chief Executive, Arts & Business Scotland

On the 3rd April 2017, the new Culture & Business Fund Scotland (CBFS) was launched by Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop. Providing critical pound for pound match funding of private sector sponsorship of arts and heritage activities, the CBFS will help to bring to life creative projects of all sizes, throughout Scotland.

In the current economic climate, rising costs and shrinking budgets are putting pressure on arts and heritage organisations’ finances, making private sector sponsorship more important than ever.

Evolving from Arts & Business Scotland’s renowned New Arts Sponsorship Grant (NASG), which recently celebrated a decade of success, investing over £7.5 million across more than 500 individual arts and heritage projects, the CBFS is bolstered with a new dedicated heritage strand and will also allow projects to continue to receive funding during their second and third years.

2017 is also the official year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, and widening the scope of the new fund to include support for Scotland’s crucially important heritage sector is extremely timely. Ranging from archaeology to historic buildings and taking in intangible heritage, green spaces, libraries and museums, our hope is that the new heritage strand will attract lots of exciting new applications.

We are also particularly keen to highlight the opportunity the new fund offers for projects to apply for second and third year funding, a key facet that has been particularly welcomed by businesses and cultural organisations that have participated in the New Arts Sponsorship programme in previous years. This innovation should hopefully encourage applicants to be even more ambitious with their project proposals and will enable relationships between culture and business to strengthen and grow over a longer period of time.

Over the past decade, NASG helped a wide variety of arts and heritage projects of all sizes located across the length and breadth of Scotland get off the ground, ranging from the creation of a unique sculpture celebrating the role of herring gutters in the Shetland fishing industry to the marketing and promotion of a new local arts festival in Galashiels – and from a specially commissioned piece of event theatre telling the story of Aberdeen and engaging the local community across the city to an interactive theatre production exploring issues around the impact of climate change, launched on the Hebridean island of Eigg before touring the Highlands and Islands and beyond. With a new wider scope, I am confident that the new fund will help to realise a similarly eclectic mix of arts and heritage projects in the years ahead.

Eligible projects can receive grant funding between £1,000 and £40,000, matched by business sponsorship to the same value. In the fund’s inaugural year, £300,000 will be provided by the Scottish Government, via Creative Scotland, while Historic Environment Scotland will make an initial contribution of £36,000 towards developing and raising awareness of the fund within the heritage sector.

Programmes such as this have the important benefit of encouraging private investors to give generously to the cultural sector with the reassurance that the value of their investment will be matched by government support. As well as doubling the financial stimulus to qualifying cultural projects, allowing larger and more complex projects to get off the ground, this approach also amplifies the positive impact on business from being associated with these projects. I have spoken to many organisations that have enjoyed fruitful partnerships with the cultural sector as a result of our previous NASG programme. Common to all are the huge benefits they have seen to their own business as a result of getting involved.

A public opinion poll commissioned by Arts & Business Scotland to coincide with the launch of the new fund demonstrates the extent of these benefits to business. A majority of Scots say they would be more likely to buy goods and services from businesses that support arts and heritage projects in their local area. 69% agree it is important for businesses to support such projects in their local community while more than three in four Scots agree that supporting local cultural and heritage projects reflects well on businesses.

As many participating businesses will testify, supporting cultural projects isn’t just an act of selfless philanthropy. There are lots of good, hard-headed business reasons for doing it. With its new wider scope and longer term focus, I look forward to seeing the Culture & Business Fund Scotland deliver many more successful partnerships between business, heritage and the arts over the next year and beyond.

If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table

Like most people who work in politics, I have spent the last few days, weeks and months trying to figure out if Theresa May has any kind of long-term strategy for how to handle Brexit and, if she does, what that might be.

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Graeme Downie, Director. @graemedownie

Also like a lot of people who work in politics, I tend to find myself reaching for some kind of comparison for political drama or documentary to explain what I think.  That is often West Wing or Yes Minister.

In this case, however, it is the new version of House of Cards with Kevin Spacey.  In that show there is a recurring line which Frank Underwood uses to explain why he takes what at first glance seems like illogical or risky actions – “If you don’t like how the table is set, turn over the table.”

That is the closest I have come so far to trying to explain what Theresa May might be up to.  Here is Prime Minister, previously regarded by many as a steady, safe pair of hands – winning the Conservative Party leadership by virtue of being the only candidate not to make a stupid mistake.

And yet, her approach to the upcoming Brexit negotiations and her dealings over a possible second Scottish independence referendum have seemed more the actions of a spoilt teenager, taking intractable black or white positions.  This has often seemed unreasonable and surely doomed to fail, afterall where is the famous British strength of negotiation and compromise, something Brussels diplomats will genuinely miss when the country exits the EU?

On Brexit, the Prime Minister is smart enough to know that in a traditional negotiation she has a very weak hand indeed.  One country versus 27 who are angry, have self-preservation at the core and, crucially, control many of the timescales.  No one would realistically expect to walk in to that kind of fight and not come out more bloodied that the opponents.  However, her actions, right from her decision to delay the triggering of Article 50, despite initial howls from the EU top brass, through to the way she has managed the furore about EU nationals is not what might be thought of as the traditional “British” way of handling diplomacy.

In her dealings with Nicola Sturgeon as well, the Mrs. May has been extreme – starting off with a “No” when questioned about whether Brexit was a sufficient material change to justify a second independence referendum and sticking to that hard line this week with a brisk “now is not the time” response to the First Minister’s demands for new constitutional vote.  This didn’t seem like simply a negotiating position, this was seemed pretty definitive and with a hint of dismissiveness.

Hardly the Marquess of Queensberry rules here from the PM either then– no negotiation, no discussion, no pleasantries.  Just no, in fact.

The response of many in Scotland this week has been to dismiss this approach as a Prime Minister who doesn’t understand Scotland or just flat out doesn’t care as she is beholden to the right wing of her own party.

This may well be the case but perhaps Theresa May just doesn’t like the way the traditional table of British negotiation is set and knows the meal will end badly unless she upends the table and at least tries to improve the setting from disasterous to at least just bad.

Firms should give Modern Apprentices a chance

 

Tony March
Tony March, Business Development Manager, Anglian Water Business

Photo courtesy of Skills Development Scotland

This year’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week (6th to 10th March) provides a unique opportunity to draw attention to and recognise the important role Modern Apprentices play in the businesses and other organisations in which they work.

Modern Apprenticeships give people across Scotland the opportunity to combine learning with real business experience, all while earning a living. The Scottish Government’s commitment to having 30,000 Modern Apprenticeship starts by 2020 will ensure that more young people have the opportunity to follow career paths that may not have been open to them previously.

Organised by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Scottish Apprenticeship Week highlights the commitment of businesses, like our own, who have decided to invest in the skills of their workforce. The theme this year is ‘Apprenticeships are Changing’ and during this week hundreds of activities and events take place throughout the country, encouraging more employers to take on apprentices and inspiring countless young people to think about apprenticeships for their future.

There are over 80 different types of Modern Apprenticeships on offer, from traditional industries such as construction and engineering through to marketing and digital media.

Recruiting a Modern Apprentice enables employers to fill the skills gaps that exist within their current workforce as apprentices begin to learn sector specific skills from day one, developing specialist knowledge that will positively affect the bottom line.

In addition to eager, motivated staff who are committed to on the job training and development, industry research has highlighted numerous direct and indirect benefits of Apprenticeships for both recruiting new apprentices and for training the workforce. These include a significant increase in employee retention, the delivery of a more competitive organisation and a more motivated and satisfied workforce, as well as delivering the skilled workers needed for the future. Indeed, according to Skills Development Scotland, 97 per cent of Modern Apprentices would recommend a Modern Apprenticeship to their peers.

As a company we recognise that our Apprentices play a major part in our continued success and aim to provide an environment where their commitment and our high standards offer unique career opportunities.

We currently employ two Modern Apprentices, both based at our Edinburgh office. Nineteen year old Owen, the first Modern Apprentice we took on and a former youth professional footballer, joined us last August to train as a mechanical engineer and splits his time between office-based and on-site activity as well as completing his studies at Fife College. Two months later Jamie Palmer, who is the same age and who had left school unsure of what to do next, joined us to train and work in our customer support team.

Since joining both Owen and Jamie have thrived, demonstrating the value of Modern Apprenticeships, not just to the individual but to us as a company as well. They bring passion, skills, dedication and drive to the workplace and we feel lucky to have them both.

Tackling Scotland’s skills gap is a priority for the current Scottish Government. A Modern Apprenticeship is undeniably a great way for young people to enter the workforce, offering them the chance to develop vital skills while providing them with a paying job, leading to an industry-approved qualification.

While it is encouraging to note that in the previous financial year, Scottish businesses employed a record 25,500 Modern Apprentices, with four out of five apprenticeships taken up by 16 to 24-year-olds, we would like to take this opportunity to encourage more businesses to take on a Modern Apprentice, as we have.

As highlighted already the benefits can be immense, to both the individual and the organisation, leading to improved productivity, morale, staff retention, quality of service, and assistance in meeting specific industry needs. Plus, businesses get help with training, funding and recruitment and apprentices often help to up skill existing staff.

There really is no better time to recognise the valuable job all of Scotland’s Modern Apprentices do and the vital role they play in so many businesses.

We must protect our history

David Watt - Arts & Business Scotland
David Watt, CEO, Arts & Business Scotlan

The history of Scotland is undoubtedly rich and complex. From the earliest Stone Age hunter gatherers of 12,000 BC, to the arrival of Roman legions in AD 71 and the Viking invasions from AD 793, early Scottish life underwent rapid change. Our more recent history encompasses the cultural, intellectual and artistic renaissance of the mid-15th century and the dramatic industrial advances of the 1800s. All of this and much, much more make up Scotland’s magnificent and renowned ancestry.

Scotland boasts six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: St. Kilda, Edinburgh Old Town and New Town, the Heart of Neolithic Orkney, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall and the Forth Bridge. Scotland ranks 12th out of an index of 50 developed and developing nations, based on its reputation for being rich in cultural heritage. The most recent Historic Environment Audit (SHEA) found that the historic environment contributed in excess of £2.3 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2015/16, accounts for 1.3% of Scotland’s total employment and attracts over 14.6 million visitors a year.

As our heritage informs our modern way of life, it seems appropriate that 2017 has been defined as the official year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, providing us with a unique opportunity to celebrate all that Scotland’s rich past has to offer and the people who work tirelessly to protect it. The significant contribution heritage makes to Scotland is due to the hard work of a wide variety of groups and individuals throughout the country who campaign tirelessly to ensure our heritage sites are preserved, protected and promoted.

The importance of our historical environment in our daily lives should not be underestimated. A recent survey found that 89% of adults agree that “it’s important to me that heritage buildings and places are well looked after” (SHEA 2016). Not only that, SHEA 2016 found that those who visited a historic site were over 50% more likely to report a high level of health and wellbeing.

In an evolving public funding landscape, where financial resources are scarce, it is important to support those groups and individuals who are the custodians of our heritage. To this end, we established Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage, a training and capacity building programme. Running since 2014, it has trained more than 600 individuals from over 400 organisations, helping them to develop their fundraising skills to maintain and develop our rich heritage for the people of Scotland.

As this training programme enters its fourth year in what is the year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we want to encourage even more people, to take part and benefit from this vital training programme. We also wish to use this unique moment in time to encourage all to remember and celebrate the hard work and dedication of those who have a passion and responsibility for our heritage, ensuring that it can be enjoyed by generations to come.

David Watt, CEO, Arts & Business Scotland

On behalf of the Resourcing Scotland’s Heritage project partners: Archaeology Scotland; Built Environment Forum Scotland, Greenspace Scotland & Museums Galleries Scotland