Home Tags Posts tagged with "Scotland"

Scotland

By Jennifer Dixon, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Health and healthcare policy have been a matter for the separate administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland since devolution in the late 1990s. While there have been many similarities in the policies the four UK countries since then, there have been some very high profile differences.

For example, developing competition between providers has been championed in England but rejected in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The split of purchasing from the provision of care was reversed in Scotland and Wales, but kept in England and Northern Ireland. And in Scotland and Wales prescription charges were scrapped, and free personal social care made more widely available in Scotland.

But what effect, if any, have these policy differences had on overall performance? To find out, we at the Health Foundation along with the Nuffield Trust commissioned researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the London School of Economics to measure performance against 22 indicators, including mortality rates (avoidable deaths), life expectancy and ambulance response times. Drawing on largely publicly available data up to 2011-12, and in some instances 2012-13, the subsequent report revealed some interesting results.

Of the four nations, England performed marginally better in a number of areas including mortality rates, life expectancy and ambulance response times. However, nurse staffing levels were lower than in the other three countries. In Scotland, waiting times for planned surgery were down (similar to England) as were ambulance response times.

Wales on the other hand did not do as well when it came to waiting times, which have deteriorated since 2010, particularly for common procedures such as hip or knee operations. The difference between the typical waiting time for one of these procedures in Wales in 2012-13, for example, was 170 days compared to just 70 in England and Scotland.


Northern Ireland has improved on most indicators, but MRSA mortality rates still remain higher than in both England and Wales.

What this means and for whom

Four major messages come from what we found. The first is for the public. On the national indicators analysed, there were improvements across all four countries in investment, staffing levels, amount of activity provided and health outcomes. This is good news, although there is clearly a marked variation in performance within each country.

The second is for politicians. The main message here is that while the overall set of policies is producing results, no one policy cocktail consistently produces faster improvements over another, despite all the rhetoric.

This may be because there are many more similarities in policies than differences across all four nations. Or that where there are policy differences, they haven’t yet made enough of a difference to show up in the indicators. Some humility then is needed by politicians of all political stripes; how the health systems perform seems to be influenced far more by a bigger set of forces.

However, the data suggests that there may be two exceptions, both of which can be influenced by politicians. One of these is funding: the study period coincided with a large growth in public funding for healthcare, which can be associated with the improvements seen in performance. However, between 2010-11 and 2012-13, Wales saw a reduction in spending, potentially the reason for the lengthening of waiting times.

The second exception is targets and performance management. The data suggest that clear targets and strong performance management – as in the case of waiting times and rates of hospital acquired infection – produce results. This seems to be the case in Scotland, where waiting times on a range of indicators show marked improvement, particularly over the last five years. And part of the reason why, in Wales, performance against the less-stringent targets for waiting times has dipped since 2010, may not just be because of changes in funding, but because of less emphasis on the English-style tight performance management.

This isn’t a message for politicians to let rip with a vast number of targets and go for a heavy grip. Too many targets demoralise staff, cause collateral damage (other local priorities pushed aside) and can lead to stressed staff altering the figures.

The third major message in the report is for local staff: the managers, nurses and doctors. More than anything, it looks as though performance of the health system is down to you. Our study looked closely at the performance of one region in England (the north-east) relative to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, because it was more similar on a number of characteristics than England as a whole. In the north east of England, a combination of faster funding growth, plus local conditions, seem to have produced the most marked reduction in mortality over the last two decades.

The fourth message is for the treasury. Probably due, in part, to devolution, it is becoming harder to compare data across the four countries over time, as all four countries decide to define data differently. If achieving value for money in public services is an objective of the treasury, isn’t it time to exert some leverage to expect all four countries to collect and count data in the same way, as well as do it their own way?

The issue that looms large is the impact of large scale reforms of the health system of the type we have seen in England, with the implantation of the Health & Social Care Act. Received wisdom is that the disruption it has caused will produce a dent in the trend for improvement in England relative to the other UK countries. But we’ll have to wait for the next instalment of the study to find out.

The Conversation

Jennifer Dixon is Chief Executive of the Healthcare Foundation charity. She is also She is also a trustee of NatCen Social Research and a member of the Care Quality Commission (CQC) board.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

We have spent much of this week discussing the Red Road flats. Should they be blown up as part of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer? At first people were stunned by the idea. Then they thought it might be an April Fool joke. Then came the public outcry against it. Then the defence. Then a hint that the organisers might be changing their minds. And finally a letter to the newspapers from the chief executive of the games David Grevemberg re-affirming the decision that the 30-storey tower blocks are to be brought down live in front of a world-wide television audience of millions.

David Grevemberg Chief Executive, Glasgow 2014

David Grevemberg
Chief Executive, Glasgow 2014

“By dedicating just a few moments of the opening ceremony to the extraordinary story of Red Road it is our ambition to depict Glasgow as a brave, confident and great city that is confronting the need for change,” he writes.

The trouble is that the story of Red Road is not a happy one, at least it does not have a happy ending…even before the place is blown up. The seven tower blocks were built in the 1960s and were supposedly the very latest in working-class luxury. However they soon rotted away and became the new slums. One block has already been demolished, five are empty and are ready for the explosives squad. One will remain, housing refugees and asylum seekers.

So the questions being asked this week are: is blowing up the Red Road flats drawing the world’s attention to Glasgow’s failures? Is it disrespectful to the refugees still living there? Is destruction what Glasgow is about or should it be re-building? Will the 15 second explosion sequence work? Will it be safe? Will it really be a spectacle if most people are only seeing it on a screen in the Commonwealth stadium or on television? And, since we are only seeing it on a screen, why not show a recording of it?

Must Glasgow be better than the Olympic spectaculars

Must Glasgow be better than the Olympic spectaculars

There is also the whole issue of over-the-top opening ceremonies. Must we be better than the Olympic spectaculars? Must each show be bigger than the last, more shocking, more expensiv? ( The cost has gone up to £20m incidentally). What’s wrong with a parade and a torch-bearer to open the games? And, if we really want to push the boat out, a pipe band and a speech from the Lord Provost.

And talking of over-the-top showmanship, it didn’t come any better this week than ex-NATO potentate George Robertson’s declaration that Scottish independence would have “cataclysmic” consequences for global security. The break-up of the United Kingdom, he said, would weaken the West’s defences against “the forces of darkness.” This is surely “evil empire” stuff and a sign that Project Fear has finally lost touch with planet Earth.

There was another example this week from Ed Davey, the UK energy secretary. He put out a report claiming that Scottish energy bills would rise by an average of £200 a year as a result of independence. This was because the subsidy given to wind farms and other renewables would have to be borne by Scotland alone, rather than spread across the whole of the UK. The Scottish government hit back by saying the figures didn’t take into account the subsidy given to nuclear energy in England.

Margo MacDonald  A doughty fighter

Margo MacDonald
A doughty fighter

And for good measure, the Scottish government did a little scare-mongering of its own, this time over welfare cuts. It published a report saying Westminster’s cap on welfare spending will mean a cut of £2.5bn to benefits over the next two years, pushing – according to one estimate – 100,000 more children into poverty and setting back the fight against overall poverty by 10 years.

We are all missing one of Scotland’s most doughty fighters for independence, Margo MacDonald who died last week. She was 70 and had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Words that sprang up time and again in the tributes to her included, “forthright, determined, a bright light, a blond bombshell, a force of nature.” She began her political life with a spectacular win for the SNP in a by-election in Govan in 1977 and went on to have a career in local government and then in the Scottish Parliament, sitting latterly as an independent.

I’ll remember her for her clear-headedness and her skill in putting her arguments into a few straightforward words. I’ll also remember her courage in her personal battle with Parkinson’s and her campaign to bring dignity to the process of dying.

Spring has certainly arrived this week – after a pause in proceedings for the last fortnight. Leaves are starting to open, grass in being cut, and we awaiting any day now, the first osprey egg of the season at the Loch of Lowes. Yes, the “lady” is back. This remarkable old bird has returned to her Perthshire reserve for the 23rd year and is about to hatch her 69th egg.

By Arthur Midwinter, University of Edinburgh; John Curtice, Strathclyde University; Karly Kehoe, Glasgow Caledonian University, and Neil Blain, University of Stirling

Former UK defence secretary and NATO secretary general George Robertson dipped a toe into the independence debate this week and found the water scalding hot.

In return for his comments to hawkish think tank the Brookings Institution in Washington DC that a Scottish yes vote would be “cataclysmic” and music to the ears of terrorist “forces of darkness” around the world, Better Together insiders were soon briefing journalists that this was “hardly helpful” at a time of distinct unease for the campaign.

The yes side remains behind but has been making steady progress, most recently culminating in a poll last weekend that suggested there are now just five percentage points between support for yes and no.

This helps explain why some unionists have been calling for a more positive campaign. While campaign leader Alistair Darling is still insisting that the yes side are the negative ones, we asked our panel whether they thought Better Together should change tack.


John Curtice, Professor of Politics, University of Strathclyde/ScotCen Social Research

My impression is that the no side feels somewhat chastened that its big idea, which was to tell us we could not have the pound, has not worked. And neither has repeating statements of varying degrees of ambiguity about whether or not the financial institutions would relocate in the event of independence.

In the wake of this failure, you are certainly seeing signs of disquiet from parts of the campaign. Liberal Democrats such as Nick Clegg, Charles Kennedy and Willie Rennie have all publicly called for the no campaign to adopt a more positive tone. So we perhaps should not be surprised that George Robertson’s comments were greeted with disquiet by some in the no camp.

My view is that being negative is not necessarily a problem. The problem in the past few weeks has been ineffective campaigning.

Negative campaigning is more likely to work if you are telling people something new. Even before the currency intervention, it was already clear from the polling evidence that quite a lot of people in Scotland had twigged that they might not be able to use the pound as part of a monetary union. Whether or not they thought they would be able to use the pound also seemed not to be making much difference to whether people were likely to vote yes or no, as we saw from the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey 2013.

The source of the information has to have credibility. Telling people that, “a banker told me this” is not necessarily the most effective way of persuading people given their views about bankers as a class. And though businesses are not as unpopular as bankers, they are not that popular.

Equally, it is unwise to use a Tory to sell a big message in Scotland. They are not the most trusted source north of the border. Meanwhile, your claims should not be challenged by “experts” and quite a few senior economists have disputed George Osborne’s arguments against sharing the pound.

The problem the no campaign now faces is that nearly half of the Scottish population has decided it does not believe the claim that Scotland would not be able to use the pound, And having lost credibility on that issue its other claims about the risks of independence may now be regarded more sceptically too.

To be effective, negative campaigning also needs to be followed by the offer of a solution. But while the no side points to Scotland’s potential future economic difficulties, they are less effective at advising how the union will supply a solution.

Trouble is, the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats do not necessarily agree about how the UK economy as a whole should be run, let alone Scotland within it. Thus the no side finds it difficult to offer a united alternative vision that could be a vital ingredient of a more positive campaign.

Karly Kehoe, Senior Lecturer in History, Glasgow Caledonian University

With George Robertson, we need to keep in mind that he was speaking in Washington, DC. He was talking to quite a reactionary audience and not to people in Britain. There were specific things that this audience would have wanted to hear from a former secretary general of NATO.

But his speech indicated that he’s already questioning Scotland’s loyalty to the West. If you suggest that an entire nation can’t be trusted, of course that’s going to alienate people. It’s very condescending. That obviously isn’t good for the Better Together campaign and that’s probably why they wanted to distance themselves from it.

I can’t agree with Darling’s argument at the weekend that those in favour of a yes vote are inherently negative in their opinions. To assume that the majority buy in to what the pro-independence cybernats are saying is irresponsible. People are paying more attention to the mainstream media.

Arthur Midwinter, Visiting Professor of Politics, University of Edinburgh

George Robertson’s record on these issues is not great. He said before devolution that it would kill off the SNP. I just about choked at the time.

I have never regarded what Better Together is saying as negative. That’s a phrase that comes from Salmond. If people regard it as negative to be criticising your opponents, there’s something wrong with the quality of the debate in Scotland. You have to make arguments about the weaknesses of the economy and the fiscal position after independence. That’s not being negative, but robust and critical.

The notion that Better Together can come up with a plan for after the referendum is silly because it depends on who becomes the government. There will be some form of extra devolution, but not necessarily one that is agreed by all the major parties.

Better Together has probably been affected by the turn in the polls, though it’s difficult to tell what the causes are. Appointing Jim Gallagher as strategy director has made a difference to the tone. His advice would be that they should certainly be making a more positive case for the union, which has been a good change.

You have to separate the response to the SNP and the case for the union. The case for the union is now being made more positively, but I don’t regard what they are saying about independence as negative.

Neil Blain, Director of Media Research Institute, University of Stirling

George Robertson’s comments almost worked as an unconscious satire of the no campaign. It reminded me of websites such as bbcscotlandshire.co.uk that have been inventing scares about alien invasions and such like for months. Talking about forces-of-darkness type stuff at the Brookings Institution is not going to go down well.

It raises the real practical question of how the no campaign goes about being positive. If I was in the no campaign, I would find it incumbent on me to point out real difficulties with voting yes. The currency question, banks and GDP issues are real weaknesses for the yes campaign, so of course you would plug away at them.

I was astonished at Henry McLeish advocating going for more hearts and minds. People are going to decide on the basis of the economy. I would predict scare stories right through to the referendum.

But when it comes to making the no message more positive, there is a problem that many people think the status quo is not satisfactory. The SNP as a Holyrood party is enjoying sizeable majority support for a reason. When people were asked about devo max without knowing entirely what it was, 70% plus said they would go for it.

But the no campaign has to span everyone from traditional liberal home rulers who had no difficulty with devolution to hardline Michael Forsyth types. It makes it very difficult for them to put a message together about what Scotland will get in return for voting no.

To read the previous instalments from our panel, click on the links below:

3 April 2014: What does Alex Salmond owe the Poll Tax?

28 March 2014: All about the money as currency debate rages on

22 March 2014: Can we trust the polls?

Panel announcement

The Conversation

As an adviser to Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Arthur was appointed chair of the party’s Welfare Commission, which is putting together a series of proposals for the future of Scotland.

John Curtice, Karly Kehoe, and Neil Blain do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Rare medieval letters relating to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce are to be exhibited together for the first time. The exhibition entitled ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ will open at Stirling Castle next month and brings together two unique manuscripts which provide a fascinating insight into the different paths taken by these two leaders in securing the Scottish crown.

Wallace Letter  Copyright of the National Archives

Wallace Letter
Copyright of the National Archives

On display will be a 700-year-old letter from King Philip IV of France to his agents in Rome commanding them to ask Pope Boniface VIII to support Wallace. Written in November 1300, the letter was discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830’s and is currently on loan to the National Records of Scotland from The National Archives in London. In 2011 a panel of experts concluded that it was likely to have been in Wallace’s possession, although how and why remain unclear.

The Wallace letter will appear alongside a letter to King Philip IV of France. Dating from 1309 it was written by Scottish barons attending the first parliament following Robert the Bruce’s seizure of the throne in 1306. Their declaration of support for Bruce as the rightful king of Scots marked an important moment in the recognition of his crown. The document is preserved in the National Records of Scotland.

Bruce letter  Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Bruce letter
Copyright of the National Records of Scotland

Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, Fiona Hyslop said that the bringing together of these documents for the first time would “provide a fascinating insight into one of the most turbulent periods in Scotland’s history. This is a fantastic opportunity for visitors to view these rare and special documents which provide a tantalising glimpse into the lives and legacy of two of Scotland’s most famous historical figures.”

Tim Ellis, Keeper of the Records of Scotland and Chief Executive of the National Records of Scotland, added that the “death of Alexander III in 1286 triggered a dynastic scramble that came to a head in 1306, when Robert the Bruce seized the Scottish throne. This exhibition brings together for the first time two archival treasures connected to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, and adds to our understanding of this fascinating period of Scottish history. We’re delighted to be holding the exhibition which has been made possible through support from Historic Scotland and The National Archives.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’ exhibition will form part of a series of events at Stirling Castle which will tell the story of the events leading up to the Battle of Bannockburn, which marks its 700th anniversary this year. This will include a living history event ‘The Road to Bannockburn’ and an exhibition of paintings by renowned artist Iona Leishman.

Dr Lorna Ewan  Historic Scotland

Dr Lorna Ewan
Historic Scotland

Lorna Ewan, Head of Visitor Experience for Historic Scotland, who operate Stirling Castle, pointed out that the castle had “played a key role in the events leading up to Bannockburn. The siege of the castle was the catalyst for Edward II to send a 17,000 strong army to Scotland who met Bruce’s men at Bannockburn so it provides a fitting location to tell the story to visitors.

Over the weekend of the 24th and 25th May, the Road to Bannockburn living history event will explore the events that led to this decisive clash. Visitors can find out about the tactics and weapons of the armies and join our forensic team in discovering more about the injuries sustained by the soldiers.

“Meanwhile Iona Leishman’s exhibition of paintings will provide a poignant overview of the realities of war. Together with the Wallace and Bruce exhibition they will provide visitors with an insight into one of the most famous periods in Scotland’s history.”

The ‘Wallace, Bruce and Scotland’s Contested Crown’, exhibition which is part of the Year of Homecoming programme, will open at Stirling Castle on 3rd May and will run until 1st June.

Tragedy is never far away. I live less than a mile from Liberton High School in Edinburgh where on Tuesday a 12 year old girl was killed by a changing-room wall which fell on her. Since then her picture, a beautiful and lively-looking girl, has been smiling out at me from every newspaper and television screen. How could it happen? And in a place were I have been a visitor on several occasions and where she should have been safe.

Keane Wallis-Bennett Died when a wall collapsed on her

Keane Wallis-Bennett
Died when a wall collapsed on her

Keane Wallis-Bennett was in her first year at the school. She was an “excellent” pupil, said her head teacher. She was good at sports, a good team player and keen on the environment. Her parents described her as “ our princess who dreamed of being prime minister.”

Investigators are still trying to find out exactly what happened. But many questions are beginning to fill the cold spring air. Was there an earlier warning, as some pupils suggest, that the wall was “wobbly”? Did the routine building inspection last year miss something? Are other similar dividing walls safe, in this school and other schools of this vintage? Liberton was built in the 1960s.

Whatever the answers, this single tragedy has stopped the nation in its tracks. Tributes and expressions of sympathy have poured in from pupils, parents, prime ministers and parliaments.

This is a case of “ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”

The gloomy news has matched the gloomy weather we’ve had all week, indeed for the past fortnight. Sea mist and a cold wind from the east have put a halt to spring. Is this another sign of climate change, I wonder. This week’s report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains yet another warning of worse things to come. It’s certainly put more wind in the sails of those arguing for Scotland to become one of the world’s leading countries for renewable energy.

Jonathan Hughes A new geological age

Jonathan Hughes
A new geological age

The new chief executive of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Jonathan Hughes, has been warning that we are now living in a new geological age, the Anthropocene, in which man for the first time is having a crucial effect on the planet. And he isn’t the only one. Noah has been woken from his biblical sleep this week to warn us again that we should be behaving better and looking after our planet. Edinburgh was a brief stop-off point on Russell Crowe’s whirlwind tour of Britain to promote the film.

Meanwhile someone in the Highlands has been busy poisoning 16 of our wildlife stars, 12 red kites and 4 buzzards. Their carcases were all found in the same part of Ross-shire, south of Conon Bridge, over the past two weeks. The RSPB officer in the area, Brian Etheridge, who has been helping to reintroduce the birds for almost 20 years, said it’s been the worst fortnight in his life. Police Scotland said it’s the worst case of wildlife poisoning on record.

Police Scotland itself has been under scrutiny this week, exactly a year after it was formed by the merger of the eight regional police forces. The chief constable Sir Stephen House said public trust in the new force was growing, crime figures were continuing to fall and he was on target to achieve savings of £1bn by 2026. The new unitary force has been under the cosh over its alleged lack of local accountability and for its high rate of “stop and search”.

Questions about the opening ceremony

Questions about the opening ceremony

Questions are being asked too about the Commonwealth Games. Will it be too disruptive for the ordinary traffic of Glasgow? And are the organisers about to commit a PR crime by demolishing the Red Road flats as part of the opening ceremony? Five 30-storey buildings, relics of the 1960s, are to be blown up in a 15 second live sequence shown on the stadium’s big screen. “Glasgow is proving it is a city that’s proud of its past but doesn’t stand still,” explained Eileen Gallagher, chair of the ceremonies committee. “ Glasgow is constantly renewing and re-inventing itself.” I’d say this is a pretty high risk, high rise exercise.

But I don’t suppose the opening and closing ceremonies – which incidentally will cost £14m – can be a pipe band, a few Highland dancers and a game of bowls. Even members of the Methil Bowling Club, who’ve just held their own closing ceremony, would expect more than that. Their club has closed after 114. It was established by Captain George Moodie, who retired to Fife, after serving as the first captain of the Cutty Sark. Now that is a part of Clydeside history we can be proud of.

More than 90% of small business owners in Scotland say they’ve already decided how they are going to vote in the September referendum on Scottish independence. But 48% of them believe independence would be a negative step for their business. 37% thought that independence would represent a positive step for their company, while 10% felt it would have no material impact.

Ingenious Britain Surveyed 1,000 firms

Ingenious Britain
Surveyed 1,000 firms

The finding comes from new research by Ingenious Britain, a small business network which surveyed 1000 small business owners in Scotland. When asked if they believed they had enough information from the different campaigns to make an informed choice about the potential impact of Scottish independence on their business, only 63% said yes compared with 37% who said no.

When it came to investing in the future, 41% felt that independence would make it less likely that they would be able to invest in growing their business. By contrast, 36% felt it made it more likely and 13% thought it would make no difference. They identifies two worrying factors. The first is a fear that business tax increases in an independent Scotland would have a direct impact on their ability to invest. The second concerns exporting to the rest of the UK which could be a big problem if Scotland had to adopt a new currency.

“One thing all businesses need, especially small businesses, is certainty,” said Marlon Wolff, CEO of Ingenious Britain. “There is an indication coming through our research that a sizeable proportion of small business owners have sufficient reservations about the potential negative issues and challenges independence might present to be seriously questioning whether it is really in the interests of their company. However, it is going to be a close decision with many reacting against what they perceive to be status quo in which their needs as Scottish businesses are not reflected or taken into account.”

Tessa Hartmann  Uncertainty having a negative impact

Tessa Hartmann
Uncertainty having a negative impact

However, it’s clear that business owners are as divided as the rest of the population. Dr Tessa Hartmann, who runs Glasgow-based Hartmann Media, a PR and communications company working in the fashion sector, is firm in her belief that independence would be a bad step. “Given the long life cycle in orders that exist within the fashion industry, the uncertainty is already having a negative impact on the sector and affecting our exports, especially as customers don’t know what currency we would be using in an independent Scotland.

“But more than that, Scotland’s long heritage in fashion and textiles has thrived as part of Brand Britain. Remove Scotland from the UK and many of our young designers and fashion companies would become ineligible for much of the crucial support and profile they currently receive from the likes of London Fashion Week and the British Fashion Council.”

However, Rory Haigh, who owns Optimum Underfloor Heating in Inverness, takes the contrary view and believes independence would be a boost for his business. “Scotland has completely different social and economic needs to the south of England,” he explained. “We are a small country with a good track record of entrepreneurship that is not currently being harnessed or promoted. The government of an independent Scotland would be far more proactive in doing that and in addressing the everyday needs and concerns of Scottish businesses.”

The latest Scottish Construction Monitor suggests that employers in the industry in Scotland are at their most confident since the beginning of the economic downturn. The survey charts industry confidence on a quarterly basis, asking members of the Scottish Building Federation (SBF) members how confident they feel about the prospects for their business over the next 12 months compared to the previous year. There was a nine-point drop in the last quarter of 2013 – but now the latest survey shows that confidence has rebounded to PLUS 20, its highest rating since the Monitor began in 2008.

Vaughan Hart MD, Scottish Building Federation

Vaughan Hart
MD, Scottish Building Federation

Scottish Building Federation Managing Director Vaughan Hart said this was “the first time that the percentage of companies more confident about the future outlook for their business compared to the last year has risen above the 50% mark. At the same time, it is important to keep these results in perspective. Recovery across the different sectors of the industry remains mixed. While there has been strong growth in infrastructure and private commercial activity, housebuilding remains flat. The challenge now must be to ensure the recovery is sustainable in the longer term. Industry confidence needs to reach a point where companies have the confidence to invest long-term in rebuilding skills and capacity. I am not convinced we have reached that point yet.”

The survey also asked employers a series of questions about occupational health. It follows the SBF’s decision to enter into a new partnership with the not-for-profit organisation Constructing Better Health. This industry-wide occupational health management scheme aims to promote health and well-being within the workforce throughout the UK. It found that only a small minority of companies use an external supplier of occupational health services or employ an occupational health adviser. A substantial majority of employers carry out workplace health risk assessments and offer employee toolbox talks on workplace health topics such as noise, hand arm vibration and skin and respiratory conditions.

Employers need extra help with Health and Safety

Employers need extra help with Health and Safety

At the same time, only a minority of companies said they carry out baseline health checks of new apprentices entering the industry. A majority of respondents also said they would welcome additional support and advice on occupational health issues. One of the key objectives of the new partnership will be to promote the wider use of baseline health checks of new apprentices joining the Scottish construction industry with the aim of enabling better management of the health and wellbeing of construction workers throughout their working life.

The results prompted the Chief Executive of Constructing Better Health, Michelle Aldous, to point out that the survey offered “an interesting insight into occupational health practices in the Scottish construction industry. A lot of excellent work has been done in recent years to raise the profile of workplace health and wellbeing within the sector in Scotland. But as the results show, there are clearly opportunities for an even more proactive approach through the wider use of baseline health checks of new apprentices entering the industry.

“The wider use of these checks would help us to monitor the health and wellbeing of the industry’s future workforce throughout their working lives. It would provide crucial data to enable the industry to take the targeted measures necessary to minimise workers’ exposure to serious long-term health risks. At the same time, it would help ensure that those that do suffer from such conditions receive the care and support they need.”

By Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen; Chris Whatley, University of Dundee; Jo Armstrong, Glasgow University, and Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

Scots would continue to use the pound as part of a formal currency union after independence, the SNP long argued. But Chancellor George Osborne ruled that out in a recent speech, following advice from Treasury civil servant Sir Nicholas Macpherson.

Since then the issue of currency has been the dominant one in the independence referendum campaign. And the SNP’s case appeared to be strengthened when Beijing-based professor Leslie Young criticised Macpherson’s claims and appeared to suggest that currency union was still viable.

Members of the Scotland Decides ’14 panel assess the state of the currency debate.


Professor Michael Keating, University of Aberdeen

The nationalists have lost the currency union argument because if the Treasury and the Bank of England don’t want to share the currency, they don’t have to. This is not to say that Scotland could not continue to use the pound. It could do so without the consent of the UK but this would mean accepting monetary policy made in London for the rest of the UK.

It’s really not convincing for the Scottish Government to say rUK [the remaining UK] will give way and share the currency with us anyway. It leaves them in a weak position in negotiation if they do not have a fall-back. It also rules out the euro, which nobody wants to talk about at the moment but many want to leave open for the future.

I have not seen many outside the SNP on the yes side who think that currency union should be the only option on the table. There are several other options. One is to opt for a Scottish currency, at least in the longer term.

Another is to leave things open and say it will be up to a future Scottish Parliament to decide, although this would be risky politically.

The SNP argument that it’s as much Scotland’s currency and so London has no right to say it belongs to them is more of a moral argument than a legal one. If you withdraw from the state, you withdraw from the currency.

But the SNP’s threat to not take on any UK debt is certainly a counter argument. The UK has already said it will pay the debt and then ask the Scottish Government to pay their share. That allows the Scottish Government to say they will withhold their share, which puts them in a stronger position. That might give an independent Scotland a battering in the financial markets, but it might only be temporary.

Having said that, it’s a kind of nuclear weapon, because it might invite all kinds of retaliation and open up conflicts in other fields.

Professor Jo Armstrong, University of Glasgow

The Leslie Young report was useful because it neatly highlights there is more than one set of answers to the questions posed (and then answered) by Sir Nicholas MacPherson on the key issues surrounding Scotland joining a formal currency union with the rest of the UK.

The key questions were: “Are the fiscal rules that will be required and the monetary conditions sufficiently tight that an independent Scotland would be able and willing to comply?”

Young implies that the fiscal and monetary rules would need to be sufficiently tight, or the markets would react negatively against Scotland. Hence a key reason against Scotland formally sharing the pound, he suggests, falls away.

But using his article as evidence in support of sharing the pound runs counter to the idea that Scotland wants to have its own fiscal levers, particularly around corporation tax. Would the Bank of England be comfortable with that? Macpherson’s letter suggests not.

Macpherson also highlighted that Scotland’s banking system is too large for Scotland to be able to provide the necessary guarantees, and would need to rely on the rest of the UK to provide such insurance, which would not be desirable to London.

Young suggests this banking issue will not be a problem as he envisages the banking sector in Scotland will become smaller, if the lender of last resort is the Bank of England.

Given limited fiscal manoeuvring and a largely local banking sector, it is somewhat unexpected that the Scottish Government is arguing this paper cuts a swathe across the Treasury’s arguments for not having a currency union. Is the Scottish Government really arguing for a formal sterling currency union based on Young’s propositions?

Professor Chris Whatley, University of Dundee

Some say the English are bullying the Scots with issues like the currency union, but I don’t think so. George Osborne and the Treasury are entitled to say: “If you guys and girls go for independence and separatism, that’s fine, but these will be the consequences.” This is just stating the facts of economic life.

It was exactly the same in 1707. The Scots knew that there would be consequences from not being in the union. One of the reasons why some Scots went into the union in the first place was because there was a threat that England would close the border to Scottish goods or increase the taxes on them, which was actually already happening.

There has always been that animosity, that contest and even dislike between England and Scotland. Now that rivalry is re-emerging. There were sensible people around in 1707 who recognised that it wasn’t good for either country.


Will the pound save the union?
The Laird of Oldham, CC BY-SA

That was one of the reasons why some people supported the union in the first place, including the then monarch, Queen Anne. We seem to be slipping back and reopening some of those festering wounds. It’s not a good place to go to.

So if there’s caution about independence this shouldn’t necessarily be interpreted as being “feart”. It’s about being prudent, asking whether an entire breach of the union is worth the dislocation this will cause.

Professor Trevor Salmon, University of Aberdeen

If we go for currency union, an English Government that agreed to it would lose the next election. People in England have high antagonism towards the Scots and Alex Salmond. It’s not going to be equal partners negotiating.

I don’t think Alex Salmond quite understands what the English think of him and Scotland. Too much debate is intelligent and rational, but at the end of the day it’s perception that counts.

The perception is that the Scots are getting about £1200 more per head than England. The more concessions that the prime minister makes, the more support he will lose among the voters.

The Conversation

Michael Keating receives funding from the Economic and Social Research Council.

Chris Whatley, Jo Armstrong, and Trevor Salmon do not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article. They also have no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Another battle has broken out in the energy war. Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) has thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors, and the government, with a promise to freeze its electricity prices until 2016.

SSE LogoSo the old Scottish dam-builders, and their electricity board comrades in the south of England and Wales, have challenged the other five companies in Britain’s energy business to match their offer. And they’ve challenged the Coalition government by showing that Labour’s price freeze idea can work.

Meanwhile the market regulator OFGEM has cast a smokescreen across the whole battle field by recommending an 18-month long investigation into the whole business of energy supplies by the Competition and Markets Authority.

Jackie Baillie MSP Called for an energy price freeze

Jackie Baillie MSP
Called for an energy price freeze

The issue was top of the agenda at the Scottish Parliament when Labour’s Jackie Baillie challenged the first minister Alex Salmond to admit that a price freeze was the best way to protect households from ever-rising fuel bills. “Will he change his mind or will he continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tories in opposing a price freeze ?” she asked, three times.

Mr Salmond said the SNP government in Scotland was already cutting fuel bills by £70 a year by agreeing to switch the renewables subsidies from energy bills to general taxation. He went on to welcome the competition inquiry but pointedly added that it should include an examination of the “massive subsidy” being given to the nuclear industry.

To me, it all seems like another case of political cowardice by all the parties concerned. The cruel fact is that energy costs are going to rise as the world becomes more industrialised and more populated. Of course the public complain about it – and a quarter of Scottish households are being pushed into “fuel poverty” – but the cruel fact remains. It would be better if the politicians accepted the fact of rising prices and encouraged people to use less energy.

The Big Six  Competition investigation

The Big Six
Competition investigation

Instead, all political parties are behaving like medieval witch-hunters and are hell bent on roasting the “big six” energy companies at the stake. The very fact that there are six of them, many of them global companies, indicates that there is no monopoly. The competition inquiry will be hard pushed to find any other large-scale industry which is more competitive. Britain actually has some of the lowest energy prices in Europe. They went up just 4 per cent last year, not a great deal more than inflation. The average household bill is £1,260 a year. The profits of the energy companies are running at around 5 per cent, not a lot considering the amount of capital invested.

SSE, for instance, has invested more in energy projects and its distribution network than it made in profit in each of the last five years. But now it has given in to political and consumer pressure and been forced into a price freeze which means it can no longer continue its wave and tide development programme. It’s all so short-term and so short-sighted.

If you think the energy companies are behaving badly, consider the banks. We had another example of their cavalier approach to their customers this week in the case of North Sea oil worker Richard Durkin. He bought a computer from PC World in Aberdeen with the help of a credit agreement for £1500 with HFC Bank, part HSBC. The following day he took it back, realising it did not contain an internal modem. But the bank continued to collect his monthly payments and when he fell behind, they put him on a credit blacklist which he could not challenge.

Price of a returned laptop £250,000

Price of a returned laptop
£250,000

Not only is this a scandal, but the legal system has taken 16 years to clear the matter up – finally awarding him £8,000 in damages at the Supreme Court in London. Mind you, Mr Durkin could have settled for £116,000 damages in Aberdeen Sheriff Court back in 2008 but he chose to challenge that ruling, saying the amount was too little. He reckons the litigation has cost him £250,000, leaving him a little rueful. “I’ve got mixed feelings,” he said. “But I’m glad I’ve helped the greater good with a consumer victory.”

This week the golfing authorities, almost as fast moving as the legal system, have entered the 21st century. The governing committee at the Royal and Ancient Golf Club in St Andrews has written to its 2,500 gentlemen members urging them to vote in favour of admitting women to the club for the first time in its 260 year history. The vote – in person only – takes place on 18th September this year. And if that date seems familiar, it’s the day Scotland decides whether it wants to remain part of Club GB or perfect its golf swing on its own.

Celtic Football Club, meanwhile, is wondering if it is to continue playing on its own or whether it can compete in a new mini-European league which has just been given the go-ahead by UEFA. It won the Premiership title with seven games to spare when it beat Partick Thistle 5-1on Tuesday night. Its arch rival Rangers still have a year’s probation to serve in the Championship league after their financial collapse and this week we learnt they are still making a loss of £3.5m a year. All this, I’m sure is worth discussing more, but I’ve run out of this week’s supply of energy.

By Daniel Sage, University of Stirling

Recent proposals for benefit reform have centred upon the argument that at present many people feel they get nothing for something from the welfare state, while those on benefits reap the rewards.

The rationale behind these proposals is two-fold. The first is that the erosion of universal benefits and social insurance means many people feel they now get little welfare bang for their income tax buck. This is the argument for self-interest: people like welfare when they get something from it.

The second is that heavy means-testing has created a dependency culture in which many claimants do not want to work. This is the argument against solidarity: that the public are less willing to help benefit claimants because they perceive them as undeserving.

But what if there is another cause of attitude change? And thus, what if the solution might be much, much different?

Welfare and young people

The graph below shows the percentage change (1987-2011) for those who agree with three long-running questions from the British Social Attitudes series relating to the benefits system. Importantly, the graph is broken down by age-group.


British Social Attitudes

The first conclusion we can draw is that there has been a uniform shift against support for the welfare state.

However, by far the largest shift in negative attitudes was among 18-34 and 35-44 year-olds. Among 18-34 year olds for example, the belief that “unemployment benefits are too high” rose 52.5% between 1987 and 2011. For the over-65s, the corresponding change was just 21.6%.

Of course, age is not the only demographic factor associated with changes in attitudes towards welfare. Labour supporters, for example, have shifted their views much more rapidly than Conservative ones. Similarly, people in Northern England, Scotland and Wales have “caught up” with those in the traditionally more conservative South.

Conservative sympathisers and southerners are still significantly more likely to report negative attitudes than other groups in most instances. Yet being young, which was once a predictor of positive attitudes to the welfare state, is now a fairly strong predictor of negative attitudes. This is a remarkable transformation.

Distinct values

One reason for this change could be that the youngest generation of adults hold culturally distinct values on a whole range of issues: from the economy and civil liberties to welfare and social justice. Young people are supposedly much more individualist than previous generations. So they are less swayed by arguments about the collective pooling of social and economic risks than, say, the baby boomers born after World War II.

Also, young people have been at the receiving end of some of the most high-profile reforms and cuts to the broader system of state provision. The Education Maintenance Allowance – a seemingly popular and effective programme – was abolished, while tuition fees were trebled up to £9000 per year. Now the Conservatives have pledged to abolish Housing Benefit for under-25s if they win the next general election.

These two forces have created a new dynamic where the liberal, more individualistic outlook of younger people is strengthened and reinforced by a weakened stake in welfare provision.

Implications for the welfare state

For people concerned for the legitimacy of the welfare state, changing youth attitudes raises question marks over how welfare can be defended. Evidence suggests that the idea of a contributory principle – where people get back what they put in – is favoured by older and more advantaged groups, so it might do little (if anything) to win over the young. Indeed, shifting even more resources towards established workers – as the contributory principle logically implies – may end up alienating young people even more.

Instead, new policy should ensure much greater protection, support and opportunities for young people. A good start would be to defend the rights of young people to social security benefits, as well as investing much more in supporting the often difficult and complex transition between full-time education and the labour market.

Social security should also resonate with the particular cultural values that young people have: if they are more wedded to notions of personal freedom and autonomy than solidarity, social policies should be designed accordingly. More support could be offered, for example, to young people who want to move to new areas in search of jobs or training opportunities.

The welfare state is not in the extreme state of crisis some politicians would have us believe – support for the broader principles of social security remains strong. But the capacity of the welfare state to tackle poverty and protect against social risks is reliant upon a strong degree of social legitimacy.

Understanding which groups have shifted their support – and why – is essential. For those who want to defend the welfare state, new and relevant ways must be found to make it work for the 21st century.


A version of this article was first published on Society Central, the evidence-for-policymakers site run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The Conversation

Daniel Sage receives funding from ESRC.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

By Daniel Sage, University of Stirling

Recent proposals for benefit reform have centred upon the argument that at present many people feel they get nothing for something from the welfare state, while those on benefits reap the rewards.

The rationale behind these proposals is two-fold. The first is that the erosion of universal benefits and social insurance means many people feel they now get little welfare bang for their income tax buck. This is the argument for self-interest: people like welfare when they get something from it.

The second is that heavy means-testing has created a dependency culture in which many claimants do not want to work. This is the argument against solidarity: that the public are less willing to help benefit claimants because they perceive them as undeserving.

But what if there is another cause of attitude change? And thus, what if the solution might be much, much different?

Welfare and young people

The graph below shows the percentage change (1987-2011) for those who agree with three long-running questions from the British Social Attitudes series relating to the benefits system. Importantly, the graph is broken down by age-group.


British Social Attitudes

The first conclusion we can draw is that there has been a uniform shift against support for the welfare state.

However, by far the largest shift in negative attitudes was among 18-34 and 35-44 year-olds. Among 18-34 year olds for example, the belief that “unemployment benefits are too high” rose 52.5% between 1987 and 2011. For the over-65s, the corresponding change was just 21.6%.

Of course, age is not the only demographic factor associated with changes in attitudes towards welfare. Labour supporters, for example, have shifted their views much more rapidly than Conservative ones. Similarly, people in Northern England, Scotland and Wales have “caught up” with those in the traditionally more conservative South.

Conservative sympathisers and southerners are still significantly more likely to report negative attitudes than other groups in most instances. Yet being young, which was once a predictor of positive attitudes to the welfare state, is now a fairly strong predictor of negative attitudes. This is a remarkable transformation.

Distinct values

One reason for this change could be that the youngest generation of adults hold culturally distinct values on a whole range of issues: from the economy and civil liberties to welfare and social justice. Young people are supposedly much more individualist than previous generations. So they are less swayed by arguments about the collective pooling of social and economic risks than, say, the baby boomers born after World War II.

Also, young people have been at the receiving end of some of the most high-profile reforms and cuts to the broader system of state provision. The Education Maintenance Allowance – a seemingly popular and effective programme – was abolished, while tuition fees were trebled up to £9000 per year. Now the Conservatives have pledged to abolish Housing Benefit for under-25s if they win the next general election.

These two forces have created a new dynamic where the liberal, more individualistic outlook of younger people is strengthened and reinforced by a weakened stake in welfare provision.

Implications for the welfare state

For people concerned for the legitimacy of the welfare state, changing youth attitudes raises question marks over how welfare can be defended. Evidence suggests that the idea of a contributory principle – where people get back what they put in – is favoured by older and more advantaged groups, so it might do little (if anything) to win over the young. Indeed, shifting even more resources towards established workers – as the contributory principle logically implies – may end up alienating young people even more.

Instead, new policy should ensure much greater protection, support and opportunities for young people. A good start would be to defend the rights of young people to social security benefits, as well as investing much more in supporting the often difficult and complex transition between full-time education and the labour market.

Social security should also resonate with the particular cultural values that young people have: if they are more wedded to notions of personal freedom and autonomy than solidarity, social policies should be designed accordingly. More support could be offered, for example, to young people who want to move to new areas in search of jobs or training opportunities.

The welfare state is not in the extreme state of crisis some politicians would have us believe – support for the broader principles of social security remains strong. But the capacity of the welfare state to tackle poverty and protect against social risks is reliant upon a strong degree of social legitimacy.

Understanding which groups have shifted their support – and why – is essential. For those who want to defend the welfare state, new and relevant ways must be found to make it work for the 21st century.


A version of this article was first published on Society Central, the evidence-for-policymakers site run by the Institute for Social and Economic Research.

The Conversation

Daniel Sage receives funding from ESRC.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.