The latest Fraser of Allander economic commentary published a fortnight ago did not make for happy reading. Its analysis confirmed the views consistently expressed by the STUC through the first half of 2011: the recovery is weak to non-existent and the headline stats do not begin to tell the full story of what is happening in the labour market. Not good.
- The inability or unwillingness to treat issues of profound importance to Scotland’s fragile peripheral economies in a serious fashion – Prof Kay highlights the fact that Western Ferries now has an unregulated monopoly of vehicle services on Gourock-Dunoon. He asks, not unreasonably, whether the Scottish Government would let a private operator have an unregulated monopoly of tolls on the Forth Bridge?
- The extreme credulity of officials in the face of private sector companies and their lobbyists. Of course Western Ferries are motivated by the public interest. What else could possibly motivate them?
- The selective application of microeconomic analysis – when the STUC and others sought German style wage subsidy programmes at the start of the recession, the full weight of the Government’s analytical resources is thrown at us to show that high deadweight costs render such programmes inadvisable. But when standard economics strongly suggests that a regulated state ownership is the most appropriate model, the economics are dropped. All we get are vague statements about the need to ‘test the market’ whatever that is supposed to mean.
- Despite our devolved Parliament’s founding principles of openness, accountability, the sharing of power and equal opportunities, it still appears very, very difficult for civic minded individuals (organisations too?) to influence the policy process to any meaningful degree – no matter their level of expertise.
I do have some concerns over ‘expert groups’ and believe it is usually necessary to balance the experts with civic interests who tend to be more accomplished at seeing the bigger picture. The same goes for any future regulatory authority. But it is a good petition which deserves a fair hearing.
As the Scottish Government's ferries review proceeds towards the completion of a ‘ferries plan’ which will help determine the structure and quality of ferry services for the next couple of decades, let’s hope that the powers that be start to listen to the Professor.
Stephen Boyd - STUC