Monday, 25 July 2011

PCS Scottish Launch “WELFARE – An Alternative vision”

All Welcome- PCS Scottish Launch “WELFARE – An Alternative vision”
Thursday 28th July (6,30pm), STUC , 333 Woodlands Road, Glasgow.

PCS has taken a leading role within the trade union movement in voicing
concerns about welfare policy, and in campaigning to defend and strengthen
the welfare state.

As a union representing nearly 100,000 staff delivering welfare, PCS has an
obligation not only to our members, but to those who use it – including our
future, current and former members and their families too.

PCS members take pride in the welfare state, and they want a welfare state
that provides a decent standard of living for the retired, the unemployed and for
those unable to work, and that rewards them fairly as public servants.

Over the past 30 years the concept of welfare has been under attack. As
governments have stopped pursuing policies of full employment they have
sought to pass the blame for unemployment to the individual.

Now the government’s £18 billion welfare cuts will damage the welfare state
as a safety net that ensures a decent standard of living for those unable to work.
We have no wish to return to the welfare state of the late 1940s: it reflected the
social attitudes of its time (especially towards women and disabled people).

However, the welfare state did establish the principle of ‘social insurance’
giving people the security of knowing that if they become unemployed, ill or
disabled, and when they retire they will not be in poverty. If people need to
care for children, disabled or elderly relatives then they too should be guaranteed
a dignified income.

These principles are the hallmarks of civilised society – we need to make the
case for welfare for the 21st century. Our case is set out in a pamphlet which looks at the past, present and future of welfare and we hope it starts a new debate about the sort of welfare and society that we want.

Lynn Henderson - Scottish Secretary - PCS

Friday, 22 July 2011

Wick Wants Work Wins Work for Wick

Congratulations to all those involved in the Wick Wants Work Campaign   following the Government announcement that the HMRC office in Wick will remain open for another two years.

This is not only a victory for common sense but also one for effective community campaigning, in this case led by the PCS and supported by Thurso and Wick TUC .  Only last April we welcomed the Wick Wants Work Campaign to Congress and they contributed to trhe debate, along with a number of other civic organisations and partners, sharing our view for a "Better Way" , an alternative to the coalition's slash and burn approach to deficit reduction.

On the first day of Congress, in a strong contribution from Hamish Drummond from the PCS it quickly became clear to delegates just how ludicrous the coalition Government's decision to close the HMRC office in Wick was.

The Congress in Ayr provided Wick Wants Work with the chance to bring their campaign south and campaigners took every opportunity to raise the profile of what has ultimately turned out to be a shining example of trade union and community campaigning producing results and protecting jobs.

The visit allowed campaigners to engage with politicians from the UK and Scottish Governments, affiliated trade unions, other local TUCs and a number of other visitors to Congress.

We should remember that an HMRC presence in Wick is only guaranteed for two years but this provides a foundation for PCS and  Wick Wants Work to build a case for a permanent future for HMRC workers in the north of Scotland.

The STUC, working with local TUCs will continue to support campaigns to protect jobs and services in communities throughout Scotland and the success of Wick Wants Work serves as a reminder of the important role that trade unions have, not just in the workplace but also in our communities and throughout our society.

Once again congratulations to all  involved in Wick Wants Work.

Ian Tasker

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

A Better, Safer Way for Young Workers

Guest Blog, Laura Connor, Thompsons Solicitors

Work related ill health and injury cost the UK economy billions every year yet many employers continue to place their workers at risk by failing to meet their statutory obligations to protect their health and safety.

The CBI report that workers took 180 million sick days in 2009 with 30 million of those related to ill health and injury caused by work. The direct cost to employers of these work related incidences was £3.7 billion with an additional £31.5 billion being paid out in compensation payments to those made ill or injured by the failures of their employers.

Thompsons and the STUC have always shared the view that the majority of incidents in the workplace resulting in death, injury or ill health are easily preventable and it is incomprehensible, given the economics of health and safety failures as outlined above, that the current coalition Government is slashing the budget of the HSE by 35% over 3 years.

Young people are historically at significant risk of suffering workplace injury or being made ill by their work although recent figures published by the HSE show a significant reduction in fatal and major injuries since 2007/08.

The question that arises is how much that reduction is related to enlightened employers grasping the importance of providing health and safety training for young workers or, and this is the more likely given the recession, there are less people under 25 years of age in employment, therefore less opportunity for them to be killed injured or made ill by their work.

Employers may continue to moan about the cost of ill health and injury but for work related conditions and incidents the answer is in their own hands. It is vitally important that all workers continue to be protected in the workplace, especially young people. Far too many young lives are ruined as a result of workplace accidents and, in the worst cases, they may be extinguished and never be allowed to participate and contribute to society.

Unfortunately many young people are not aware about the legal assistance that is available through their union.

At the 71st STUC Annual STUC Youth Conference Thompsons organized an informal meeting with delegates to discuss how we could help the Youth Committee promote the importance of good health and safety awareness, provide a platform for young people to share their views on workplace health and safety and encourage young workers to raise health and safety concerns with their trade union.

From those attending it was clear delegates from all sectors - public, private and voluntary had experience from their own workplaces or sectors where they felt their employer does not support them. In one case a primary school teacher had been assaulted by a pupil in the course of her work. Unfortunately physical and verbal abuse against young workers is not uncommon as identified in research undertaken at Queen Margaret University as part of ongoing work between the Scottish Centre for Healthy Working Lives and the STUC.

If you have any concerns, contact your union for advice. Thompsons offer their union clients, and their members, advice on most legal issues. As a young worker, you should not feel threatened or in any way inferior to those who may be older or more experienced than you. You have the same legal rights as every other worker. Austerity is not an acceptable excuse for unfairness or breaches of health & safety laws. Make sure your voice is heard and do not accept that which is unjust.

It would be good to hear from others who have similar concerns…..

Laura Connor, Thompsons Solicitors

Monday, 11 July 2011

OBR Financial Sustainability Report: ConDems lick their lips…

On Wednesday the Office for Budget Responsibility publishes its first Financial Sustainability Report which will ‘present long term projections for public spending and tax revenue, describe the public sector balance sheet, and set out summary indicators of the long term sustainability of the public finances’.

The FT reports today that ‘after years of delay, the Government will give the first glimpse of what the UK’s public finances would look like if the UK were a listed company such as Marks and Spencer or BT’.

The consequence?

Counting the future liabilities of the accrued pension rights for public sector workers and the future costs of private sector finance initiative projects will inflate the apparent liabilities of the state and send the calculated assets of government deep into the red’.

Pensions alone could add between £800bn and £1200bn to the estimate of current government liabilities, depending on the discount rate chosen. PFI will account for tens of billions more. This is surely a disaster for an economy at ‘risk of becoming the next Greece’? Er, no. As the FT goes on to say:

Experts welcomed the new transparency but cautioned that the new liabilities shown did not represent debts that had arisen out of the blue. Future assets, such as the ability to collect tax and imprison people who refuse are not counted in the new balance sheet’.

Carl Emmerson of IFS is quoted:

Unlike in Greece, where a new Government uncovered significant new debts that had been brushed under the carpet, any additional liabilities shown under new accounting rules are known and discussed’.

I usually stay very well clear of the forecasting business but here’s what I think will happen on Wednesday:

The OBR report will estimate liabilities in line with FT predictions above. Ministers and their supporters will immediately claim the report as additional evidence to support austerity. They will not miss the opportunity to present the report as signalling a new era of Government transparency and more evidence of the secrecy and profligacy of their predecessors.

Although the outlook for the UK’s long-term financial sustainability will not change with publication of the report expect a frenzied reaction designed to leave the uninformed with the impression that spending cuts and pension reform (wage cuts) are unavoidable if the UK is to avoid the fate of Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and now Italy.

What will be the response of the markets to the report? I think they will shrug. Of course, by the Government’s own logic, any new information confirming a significant deterioration in the public finances should provoke a negative reaction in the markets. But the markets know very well that what Carl Emmerson argues above is true and that the OBR report changes the UK’s relative fiscal position not a jot. I also think that those who consistently invoke the markets as a justification for austerity will do as they always do – ignore what the markets are actually saying today in order to focus portentously on what they might say tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the new labour market stats also published on Wednesday morning will be cherry picked and the stream of shocking economic data pointing towards very low or even negative Q2 GDP growth ignored or dismissed.
That is my prediction.

Stephen Boyd - STUC

Friday, 8 July 2011

A little masterpiece of political economy

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.

However, a pleasant surprise awaited those who managed to stick with the commentary to the end; an outstanding article on ‘The Governance of Scotland’s Ferries’ by Professor Neil Kay, Department of Economics, Strathclyde University. This is a little masterpiece of political economy – in six short pages Prof Kay manages to catalogue the failures of policy since devolution, describe the dangers that lie ahead and propose sensible solutions rooted in a deep understanding of microeconomic analysis, EU competition law (the great bogeyman of Scottish ferry policy) and the needs of our island and peninsula communities. Marvellous stuff, if ultimately depressing in the story it tells about policy development under devolution. 

Professor Kay has been a regular commentator on ferry policy over the last decade, contributing in depth to the seemingly endless stream of Government consultations and parliamentary inquiries. His contributions (which can be found on his website ) are offered as a ferry-using peninsula resident who happens to have much relevant expertise. Has Government welcomed this public spirited contribution? Not likely. Perhaps the most disillusioning moment I’ve experienced in the Scottish Parliament was to hear the term ‘academic’ being used pejoratively by Ministers against Prof Kay and other interested researchers during a debate on tendering back in 2005. Disgraceful. 

Nevertheless, Prof Kay has continued to provide valuable insights into the shambles that is ferries policy. I can’t improve on Prof Kay’s FoA article so would simply encourage people to take a look. The following quotes do not tell the full story but provide a flavour of where bad policy has left us and the nature of the dangers that lie ahead: 

“The…more dangerous scenario is that eventually Calmac loses its contract to another EU bidder. At this point, if there was a coherent regulatory framework in place as for other essential services then at least there is potential to guard against problems from moral hazard, adverse selection, opportunistic behaviour, technical or financial failure on the part of the incumbent operator. But obviously these safeguards would have to be in place before the tender process takes place, you do not start re-writing the rule book once the game has started and you are worried about who is winning, just as you do not start looking for an operator of last resort when you need them to start tomorrow”. 


“There is a debate to be had, and reasoned arguments on both sides, as to whether most of the Scottish ferry network should be run by a single state owned holding company or whether most of it should be in private hands, much of it awarded through public service contracts. There is also a debate to be had, and reasoned arguments on both sides, as to whether or not some routes should be tendered separately rather than as part of the main Calmac bundle, effectively to institutionalise cherry picking and bring in a degree of oversight by government. Indeed these very debates were encouraged in the current Scottish Ferries Review. The problem is that the debates are irrelevant, a waste of time and even counter- productive since they are not predicated on a real understanding of commercial logic and interests, let alone what EU law permits and prohibits in this context. In the absence of coherent oversight the market will provide its own solutions and one of the first lessons students learn in Economics 101 is that you cannot just rely on crossed fingers to ensure that private interest aligns with the public interest” (my emphasis). 

I’ll say it again, read the full article. 

The ferries debacle reflects some wider problems with policy development under devolution. These include: 
  • 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.  
That said, Prof Kay is trying once again. He currently has a petition before the Scottish Parliament which ‘calls on the Scottish Parliament to urge the Scottish Government to support the setting up of an independent expert group to consider and recommend institutional and regulatory options for issues relating to the provision of competitively tendered Scottish ferry services under EC law’. You can find it here. The background information contained therein is another beautifully concise summary of the failure of policy to date.
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

Thursday, 7 July 2011

The strange and selfish world of employer lobbying

Interesting piece in the business pages of today's Glasgow Herald, 'Spending Cuts are top threat to SME sector' (pay-walled) which reports a survey of SME's (small and medium sized enterprises) by RSM Tenon. With 18% of respondents identifying it as the most pressing threat to their business, 'spending cuts' replaces 'cash flow' as the top concen of the SME community.

The authors cite the direct loss of public contracts and the detrimental impact on consumer confidence as the primary mechanisms through which spending cuts translate into problems for SMEs. Hardly original observations but accurate nonetheless; the STUC has always argued that the coalition's war on demand would adversely impact all sectors of the economy.

Worth noting in this context that the bodies which purport to represent SMEs remain gung-ho supporters of austerity ( I would give the Federation of Small Business a partial exemption here - for all their faults they do engage on an entirely different level to the other employer representative oragnisations in Scotland) . I spend a reasonable amount of time in the company of these people and I have not once heard any senior employer rep in Scotland acknowledge the impact of cuts on SMEs - or for that matter, larger firms. Not once. Instead I hear only blanket adulation for coalition ministers, support for their risible plan for growth, dutiful repetition of Gideon's 'Uk is the next Greece' line (yep, they're still at it) and all the usual Government/household equivalence fallacy of composition hysterics.

They act as if things are going swimmingly. Not the case. To emphasise the awfulness of current economic performance, let me thrown in a couple of graphs:

From todays' NIESR monthly estimate of GDP growth which forecasts that the UK economy grew by only 0.1% in 2011 Q2. With 0.5% GDP growth in Q1 cancelling out the 0.5% contraction in 2010 Q4, the NIESR is in effect forecasting that the economy has grown by only 0.1% in the 9 months to June - this is an appalling performance by any standards and one that cannot lead to a sustained fall in unemployment.

Second chart, courtesy of Duncan's Economic Blog, shows the weakness of production and manufacturing output in Q2. Together with weak PMI data for services and construction this seems to confirm that the NIESR's forecast is likely to be accurate.


Of course none of this matters to employer bodies whose priorities remain 1) rewriting history around the origins of our current troubles and 2) arranging economic and social affairs in order that the proceeds of growth continue to be funnelled unmolested to their larger members (no pun intended). Having vigorously promoted an extreme deregulatory agenda for the past couple of decades, they react with great indignance to any suggestion that they might, just might, bear some responsibility for the crisis.

No surprise then that policy which undermines the prosperity of small firms is of so little consequence. But maybe policymakers, particularly those who claim to aspire to a fairer distribution of wealth, should stop paying them so much attention?

Stephen Boyd - STUC

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Food for Thought: Trade Union Strategies for Marketing

Historically, it is not very often, if at all, that the words – or principles – of trade unionism and marketing are used or seen together.  Trade unionists often blanch at the thought of marketing, sometimes seeing it as linked to the corporate world only.
Marketing isn’t necessarily always a full-page advertisement in a newspaper, a TV commercial, or a sports team sponsorship that costs a fortune.  In its basic sense, it’s about ‘selling’ or ‘persuading someone to buy’ something.  In the case of trade unionism, the product is not usually something concrete in the first instance.  However, there are many aspects which make it highly valuable, and therefore, extremely marketable.
Unions offer members and workers the opportunity to have better terms and conditions, increased access to learning, a safer work environment – to name but a few.  In the case of union learning, for example, unions are ‘selling’ workers the basis for a better life, better skills, better career prospects, increased confidence and the potential for a healthier wage-packet. 
Some people instinctively feel that trade unions can only make negative contributions in the workplace, while others instinctively appreciate that trade unions are there seeking to add value.  Marketing and communications are key functions, requiring specific skills, which help to address this lack of understanding and get our messages out to our publics.  By employing marketing and communication skills, the roles of union reps and activists can be enhanced and become more effective.  Marketing - and increasingly, Social Marketing through Twitter and Facebook – are of integral part to the success of any campaign.
Across the country, budgets are being squeezed, poked and slashed from every angle.  Money allocated to marketing is sometimes the first to go.  Indeed, the April 2011 IPA/BDO Bellwether Report* reveals that marketing budgets were “revised down” (or in other words, cut!) for the second consecutive quarter in response to public sector spending cuts and rapidly rising cost pressures.
Competing pressures for trade unions means we need to work together to reduce the costs of marketing and communications. Members can reap the benefits through our hard work, time and effort in negotiating on their behalf to bring the many facets of marketing together creatively and strategically for all of our campaigns.  In the future, they will remember that “the union did this for us” which will, in turn, raise the profile of individual union brands and the trade union movement as a whole. 
An article that appeared in the Journal of Marketing Communication** in 2009 said, “Once, we thought that comparing advertising and public relations was a bit like comparing apples and oranges.  While they both belonged to the broad general category of communications, they looked and sounded different and were even very different in practice.  Then in the 1980s, someone suggested fruit salad...The educational approach to date has largely focussed on changing what already exists.  That is, what is the best way to combine the apples and oranges we already have, rather than what is the best way to make fruit salad (Kerr, 2009).”   
This insight can also be applied to marketing and trade unions.  To ensure maximum effect and achievement of our aims, trade unions must use a combination of many different methods of marketing: careful branding, press releases, case studies, public relations, integrated social media, etc.  We need to pinpoint measures of our successes and think of integrated, long-term strategies as a better way forward to meet our objectives.  By thinking strategically, and in combining individual union campaigns with the aims and objectives of the STUC’s Better Way campaign, we can get our messages out – and have them be heard.  The key to achieving maximum impact is maintaining a positive, consistent and highly visible profile – and to proactively add value at every opportunity.
Jennifer Payne, STUC
*The Bellwether Report is researched and published by Markit Economics on behalf of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA). First published in July 2000, it features original data drawn from a panel of around 300 UK marketing professionals and provides a key indicator of the health of the economy.
** Kerr, G., (2009) Apples, oranges and fruit salad: A Delphi study of the IMC educational mix, Journal of Marketing Communication, vol. 15, nos. 2-3, April-July 2009