Public Services (Trade Unions)

Secretary of State for Scotland (Meetings) – in the Scottish Parliament at 2:30 pm on 7th February 2002.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour 2:30 pm, 7th February 2002

I declare an interest as a member of the GMB.

To ask the First Minister what role trade unions have in improving public services. (S1F-01636)

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

Trade unions represent the people who work at the sharp end of public services, and their contribution to delivering first-class public services is very important. We are on the side of the pupil, the patient, the passenger and the victim of crime. Scotland's teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers, along with public service staff at all levels, have a pivotal role to play. I am sure that they share our commitment to improving public services through investment and reform.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I am pleased that the First Minister agrees that trade unions are the legitimate representatives of workers in the public sector. Does he agree that unions not only should be consulted about the future delivery of public services, but should be at the heart of developing the agenda for delivery? Does he also agree that the debate on the modernisation of public services is not simply about the role of the private sector, but about other measures that enhance services to the public, involving the work force, through partnership, as can be seen in the national health service?

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

There are many examples in Scotland of politicians and managers, both national and local, working closely with trade union and staff representatives to deliver real changes that have made a significant difference to public services. The commitment to doing that exists and we should work on it.

As political representatives, we should never forget that our primary duty is not to the providers of the service, but to those whom we represent in the chamber, such as patients, parents, pupils and passengers on our public transport systems. However, we deliver better public services by working in conjunction with the front-line staff who deliver those services. My clear intention as First Minister is that we should continue to do that.

Photo of Andrew Wilson Andrew Wilson Scottish National Party

Does the First Minister agree that if the trade union movement were to apply a best-value or value-for-money test to its subsidising of the Labour party or individual members from the Labour party, the Labour party would fail that test, because its policies are more akin to those of the Conservatives than to those of the trade union movement? Does the First Minister also agree with the comments made this week by Bill Speirs, the general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, who said that the language of the Prime Minister in London was more akin to that of Mrs Thatcher than to the progressive language that is used here in Scotland?

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Andrew Wilson has strayed well beyond the First Minister's area of competence, but if the First Minister wants to respond, it is in order for him to do so.

Photo of Rt Hon Jack McConnell Rt Hon Jack McConnell Labour

That is very rich coming from a member of the nationalist party, from whose benches this morning we heard classroom assistants described as people who tie laces, wipe noses and sharpen pencils. I am glad to have the opportunity to say that. Last Friday afternoon, I was in a school in Motherwell, the head teacher of which described classroom assistants as the best innovation in Scottish education in her lifetime. Classroom assistants are making a real contribution to increasing standards. If members from the SNP do not condemn Colin Campbell's remarks from this morning's debate, they should be ashamed of themselves.