Yesterday, the First Minister outlined the Government's priorities for creating a more successful Scotland. He shared his hopes for working more constructively together so that we can achieve more and deliver greater achievements for the people of Scotland.
Today, I want to discuss how our approach to government will help build a more successful Scotland, with a smaller, more focused and efficient Government—a Government that is accountable, open, and closer to our people; and a Government that is clearly focused on achieving its strategic priorities. We will be a Government that works to build consensus through discussion, persuasion and parliamentary debates such as this one.
I will set out our Government's strategic objectives. I will also highlight some key areas in which we can build on existing achievements and work together to accelerate progress. I will also look at the financial climate in which we will operate and outline how we will ensure good financial management and a tight focus on efficiency and priorities.
Yesterday, the First Minister made it clear that the purpose of his new Administration is to focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable growth. That will be the drive of this Government. Taking decisions, advancing policies and pursuing new ideas are all part of our purpose of increasing sustainable growth—
We want our purpose to be understood across Scottish society—by business, public bodies, the third sector and local communities—and we wish to work in co-operation across Scotland with other organisations to deliver that purpose.
We have five strategic objectives that underpin our purpose. They will structure our decision making and give the clear focus to our Government that is essential to deliver for the people of Scotland.
Our objective of a wealthier and fairer Scotland will be achieved by enabling businesses and people to increase their wealth and more people to share fairly in that wealth. Our objective of a healthier Scotland will be pursued by helping people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, and by ensuring better, local and faster access to health care. Our objective of a safer and stronger Scotland will be delivered by helping communities to flourish, becoming stronger, safer places to live, through offering improved opportunity for a better quality of life. Our objective of a smarter Scotland will be achieved by expanding opportunity for Scots for success, from nurture through to lifelong learning, ensuring higher and more widely shared achievements. Our objective of a greener Scotland will see improvements in Scotland's natural and built environment and the sustainable use and enjoyment of it by all.
In the course of the next few parliamentary weeks, cabinet secretaries will lead debates in Parliament on how we intend to develop, in consultation and discussion with Parliament, the achievement of those objectives. Make no mistake, however: our purpose and our objectives will be the driving theme of this Government.
This new, smaller Government will take the strategic decisions that are right for Scotland. We will leave the detailed management of services to delivery bodies, we will leave local decisions to local decision makers, and we will leave the delivery of local services to workers at the front line. That is how it should be.
It means that the Government takes strategic decisions about the health and prosperity of Scotland and that we co-operate with local authorities in taking forward those priorities in the most effective way that we can.
We believe that national Government should concentrate on governing and on providing leadership, direction and focus on the strategic priorities that will change people's lives. We have taken early steps to achieve a smaller, focused Government, by reducing the number of Government departments and Scottish ministers. The five cabinet secretaries have a clear remit to concentrate on delivering the strategic priorities.
We will be an open Government. We will be willing to debate and discuss, to listen and persuade, and to reach consensus on the information and views available. As an open Government, we will be visible and accountable to the people who elected us. We will work to build their trust.
Will the Executive respond to the invitation that I issued yesterday to publish details of the estimated increase in congestion that is associated with the removal of the tolls on the Forth bridge?
We will put into the public domain whatever information about our policy commitments is required in the public domain.
In the spirit of openness, I am pleased to tell members that we will publish the budget review report, which is known to most members as the Howat report, as we promised when we were in opposition.
Last week, Tavish Scott called me
"a fair and decent man."—[Official Report, 17 May 2007; c 41.]
In a spirit of fairness and decency, I made the report available to the Opposition a couple of hours before the start of the debate—although Mr Scott has had many months to consume the report's details in secret.
Mr Scott's question pre-empts the comments that I am about to make.
As members know, the Howat review involved a team of independent professionals from the public and private sectors, who examined how well the Government's budgets were helping to achieve strategic outcomes. The team submitted the report to the previous Administration a year ago. As we said when we were in opposition, it is right that Scotland's people and Parliament should have an opportunity to scrutinise the findings of the independent review. After all, the Government spends taxpayers' money. Taxpayers have the right to know that the money has been spent wisely and prudently.
The budget review was commissioned in the context of the previous Administration's priorities and I applaud my predecessor Tom McCabe's decision to commission it. The report's findings are not the findings of this Administration. We will need to consider every recommendation carefully before we decide whether to accept or reject it.
However, we reject one recommendation at this stage, which I will mention.
The report identified potential savings and efficiencies across government, including the Scottish Executive and other public bodies. It examined how well programmes achieved strategic priorities and highlighted many areas for improvement that are in line with this Administration's priorities. Such recommendations chime with what we have been saying for some time.
The information and evidence in the independent budget review will help to inform wide-ranging, open debate and the consideration of our options for this year's strategic spending review. We will be operating in a much tighter financial climate than was the case in the first eight years of the Parliament, and we must generate the maximum value from the public purse. The report will inform how we build and maintain good financial management and it will contribute to a debate with a range of public bodies on how we deliver greater value and greater effectiveness from the public purse.
We will not take forward the recommendation to turn Scottish Water into a mutual company. I understand that the proposal represents the position of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, but we are not persuaded by the arguments. Scottish Water will retain its current status. That is our clear policy position.
I will not comment today on the report's other recommendations, but I will touch on a few major questions that it poses, such as the need to address a more strategic government focus, the crowded landscape of public services, and the duty to spend wisely and embrace the culture of best value across government.
The budget review says that the complex and dynamic array of priorities of the previous Administration has compromised the Executive's ability to set out clear outcomes and meaningful targets. Our new, smaller Government does not intend to set out a long shopping list. We do not intend to pursue micromanagement. Our approach is to maintain a clear focus on our five strategic priorities and to build consensus in the Parliament and among stakeholders on how we achieve them.
The review report highlights that Scotland has a crowded public sector landscape, which is causing duplication and a lack of focus. In recent years, an organisational spaghetti of partnerships and networks has grown up alongside a hugely complex system of performance monitoring and funding. We had been pointing that out long before we had sight of the report, so I am pleased that
We will now take action. A critical element of our approach to simpler, smaller government is to declutter the landscape. I will discuss how that will be done with the people who are involved in public services and will reassess the relationship between the Executive and agencies and public bodies. I make it clear that our programme is not about criticising public sector workers who do a valuable and valued job; rather, it is about the structures and processes of government and the public sector. I want to create a broad consensus in the Parliament and across public services that the government of Scotland has become too complicated and that we need to sort it out.
I congratulate the minister on his new position. In his statement, the First Minister said that any review of government procedures would not be predicated on any job losses. Can the minister give a commitment that there will be no public sector job losses under the Scottish National Party Administration?
There will be no compulsory redundancies under the initiatives that we progress. There must be acceptance that it is likely that there will be changes in what people do in their jobs, but we guarantee that there will be no compulsory job losses under our programme.
I am determined that this Government will grasp the challenge, and I will report back to the Parliament with detailed proposals on how we can simplify the landscape. Those proposals will advance the agenda of slimming down government that was expressed in our manifesto. We will incorporate into that process the recommendations of the Howat report, views that were expressed during the transforming public services dialogue and the continuing Crerar review of scrutiny of public services.
Over the next four years, we aim to deliver a clearer, simpler and more effective public sector structure. In parallel with our ambition for smaller, more focused government, we will work to make the most of every public pound. The Howat report shows scope for improving the way in which we invest in public services and public goods. The fact that we are heading for a tighter fiscal climate during the next strategic spending review makes it even more important that we maintain good financial discipline. As I said to Jeremy Purvis, the First Minister has already said—and I reassure people again on the issue—that our objective is about being smarter with public money. We want to see more people delivering services on the front line and fewer people getting caught up in the tangle of bureaucracy and processes. That is the purpose of our programme.
Before I leave the subject of public finances, I make it clear to the Parliament that it is our expectation that the increase in financial resources at our disposal that will arise from the comprehensive spending review will be lower than has been experienced since devolution. In addition, we will receive the details of the amount available later in the budget process than has ever been the case. In the light of that amended timetable, I will embark on discussions with the finance committee, once it is established, on how the Budget (Scotland) Bill proceeds through the Parliament.
In the light of the fact that the minister's party does not command a majority in the Parliament and in the light of the efforts that its representatives have said that they have been making on consensus and discussion with the Parliament, is he prepared to amend the budget process to allow much more debate of the budget by the finance committee and to enable amendments to it to be made earlier in—and, indeed, throughout—the process?
I seem to recall that Mr Peacock was pretty happy with the budget process when he was a minister in the Scottish Executive, so, with the greatest respect, if it was good enough for him when he was in government, it is good enough for me when I am in government.
The Government needs to create the framework that will free local agencies and front-line workers to innovate and to focus on delivering for the people of Scotland. We will build on the successes of the best-value regime, which promotes the qualities required for continuous improvement in performance. Local government has embraced the culture of best value and, as a result, is achieving better services for local communities. That needs to continue.
We agree with the Howat report that the Scottish Government, too, must embrace the best-value culture, so that the Government and all its agencies can demonstrate that they are well managed and focused on strategic priorities. We must ensure that here in central Government we make absolutely sure that public money is spent wisely and to best effect. Best value can help us to do that. The acid test for our public services is the difference that they make to the lives of people in Scotland. The performance of public bodies should be measured according to how they deliver an improvement in people's lives.
Coupled with our aim of simplifying the structures of the public sector is the on-going work to squeeze out duplication and waste. The previous Administration set a target of achieving £1.5 billion in annual efficiency savings by 2007-08. I make it clear from the outset that this
We will establish our efficiency programme for 2008-11 during the spending review. I confirm that we will expect public services to deliver at least 1.5 per cent per annum in efficiency gains across that period.
I will refer to one other important aspect of how the Government intends to relate to bodies outside of the Scottish Government. Partnership working will remain important to this Administration, but it needs to be simpler. We need to move from talking together to doing together. Community planning is central to that. In June, I will meet a group of public service leaders who are involved in community planning partnerships across Scotland. I will discuss with them how we can ensure that people and communities are better engaged in decisions about the public services that affect them.
I would be delighted to give way, but I must draw my remarks to a close.
We will discuss how public bodies can work together more effectively, and community planning partnerships are central to how we deliver that at local level.
The Government will take forward other initiatives on procurement and on observing the way in which the pathfinder approach has taken its course in different areas of Scotland in recent years. I have shared with Parliament my vision for a more responsive and efficient Government and for a more streamlined and effective public service. Our ambition is for a small, strategic Government that is clearly focused on putting the people of Scotland first. We will take that forward in discussions in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead.
Some members may recall that I refrained yesterday from commenting on the scope of Mr Swinney's portfolio. However, as today's debate is on the approach to government and this is our only chance to discuss a decision that is not subject to the discussion and persuasion that Mr Swinney has just promised but which, in fact, has already been taken, I might dwell for a moment on this leviathan department, which at least deserves
Last night, I was reading a bedtime story to my children. It happened to be "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", which some members will know:
"On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon."
I was, of course, put in mind of John Swinney's portfolio. On Wednesday, he ate through one statement on post offices, one on bridge tolls, one debate on the approach to government, one debate on welfare and fairness, one debate on transport, one statement on energy policy and one set of questions and
"That night he had a stomach ache"
—or at least a headache, because that is the parliamentary business for this week and next week that falls within Mr Swinney's portfolio. One of the delicious ironies of the speech that we have just heard, which was sincerely devoted to the cause of slimmer government, is that its delivery has been entrusted to a department that is so super sized that it has already devoured most of the statements announced for the chamber and three of the four debates scheduled so far. I suggest tactfully to Mr Swinney that he consider putting his own sprawling department on a diet of parliamentary time, if only to allow one of his Cabinet colleagues to get a look in.
On a more serious note, I welcome unreservedly the publication of the Howat report. I am sure that the Parliament and its committees will study its content in advance of the forthcoming spending review. In the light of its key recommendations for fewer targets and more rigorous financial procedures, I look forward to Mr Swinney quickly adopting the unanimous recommendations of the Finance Committee on those matters—the committee was, of course, recently and ably chaired by Mr Swinney and myself as convener and deputy convener.
I ask the minister to reaffirm in his summation that, in the same spirit of transparency, his Government will continue to publish all the publications by the chief economist of Scotland, including "Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland".
As Mr Swinney has amply demonstrated this afternoon, his portfolio is the engine room of this Government. More than any other, it will be the one in which the rhetoric and the reality will collide. There is no doubt that Scotland is looking for new politics and much of the responsibility for that will lie in Mr Swinney's ministerial brief.
His Government is, indeed, undoubtedly new in so far as it is in office for the first time. In that respect, we on these benches are old because we have governed before. However, I believe that the litmus test for the new politics will be much more than having a set of new politicians in charge; it will be in having a genuinely new approach to government—in short, having politicians who are consensual, ambitious and in touch.
The First Minister was, indeed, consensual this morning in reappointing Elish Angiolini. We on these benches were consensual yesterday when we changed our minds on the abolition of the tolls on the Forth and Tay road bridges.
I lay down a marker: I hope that, in the two debates that Mr Swinney's department will steward next week on enterprise and transport, he will be equally consensual in reconsidering his Government's plans in effect to break up Scottish Enterprise and to tear up this capital city's embryonic public transport system.
Let us hope that last week's departmental restructuring—a case of decide first and debate later—was an early aberration and that next week's debates on enterprise and transport will be a genuine opportunity for Parliament to debate first and decide later.
I think that I should stick with the fate of new politics, to which I am addressing myself.
As I said, the first test of new politics is consensus. However, the second one that I mentioned is the scope of our ambitions—our willingness to do even better. Again, I welcome whole-heartedly Mr Swinney's commitment to slimmer government. We heard much in his speech about structures, but rather less about services and little about numbers. In fact, I think that we heard two numbers. One of those referred to efficiency savings of £2.7 billion, which is of course the triple counting that Mr Swinney deprecated when he sat on these benches. However, he later noted that the real target is 1.5 per cent a year. According to no less a source than the Scottish National Party's manifesto of as recently as last month, that figure
"matches savings achieved by the current Executive ... over the previous 3 year spending period."
More tellingly, the height of Mr Swinney's ambitions is a target that, as his party's manifesto again acknowledges, is less than half that set for
I hear the heckling that that was our target—how far from the truth that is. The previous Government had not yet taken a decision on the appropriate spending target for the next spending review.
Although we had warm words from Mr Swinney, we will, to use the Government's own slimming analogy, start fatter than the rest of the UK, continue to slim more slowly than the rest of the UK and have a higher target weight at the end of the day when it comes to getting best value for Scottish taxpayers. If that is the best that Mr Swinney can do, he will have our support in those endeavours—but ambitious it is not.
I made it clear that we had not laid out what we would do in the next spending review. However, it is not ambitious to suggest a target that is half that of the UK's and only to match what was done for the past three years.
The third, and perhaps most important, litmus test of new politics is whether, as a result of our endeavours, the voters think that we the politicians are moving closer to or further away from their concerns. The search for politicians who were in touch with people's concerns was doubtless one reason why, 10 years ago, the voters turned to another new politics—I am, of course, thinking of new Labour—in their search for new politicians. The fate of new Labour is an interesting issue, which I suspect is a matter for another day, but it shows that the idea of new politics is about people beyond this chamber looking for us to be on their side and in touch with what matters to them.
In this, our first proper debate, I invite colleagues throughout the chamber to ponder what the voters will make of this week's priorities: internal reorganisations; ship-to-ship transfers; power generation and electricity transmission systems; a sporting scrap; the suggestion that Scotland's voice in the UK Cabinet should be stripped out entirely.
Does the member agree that one thing that people want is more efficient Government decision making, so that we do not lose multimillion-pound new technology projects such as carbon capture because of the total incompetence in London?
I do not think that anyone on the Labour benches intends to degenerate into the blame culture.
I simply note that we have had total radio silence on schools and on rethinks on local hospitals, and—this should be close to Alex Neil's heart—the death of the department that delivered the highest-ever levels of employment in Scotland. Therefore, I wonder whether the public will see the politicians on their side.
In the spirit of new politics, let me conclude by affirming that, when the SNP acts to make Scotland a place where people can live their dreams, it will have our support. However, when partisanship comes before progress, we will oppose the SNP. New politics is not just about new faces; it is about consensus, ambition and staying in touch. Those are the litmus tests for us all. "New politics" cannot simply be the mantra of a minority Administration that does not live it as its modus operandi.
I began with the story of the hungry caterpillar. Mr Swinney has an overly super-sized department consuming all the debates and time in the chamber. I only hope, for Scotland's sake, that it may yet blossom into a rather beautiful butterfly. We will watch with interest, hope and no little expectation.
If that was an example of the new politics, there will be many demands that we go back to the old. I noticed that, for all Wendy Alexander's demands that we have consensus, there is not much consensus between her position on tolls and the Howat report and the position on which she fought the election only three weeks ago.
However, I will deal with the current Government rather than the previous one. I am grateful to the cabinet secretary for giving us the opportunity to outline our approach to a new Government and how we will deal with issues. Before turning to specifics, I will first advance two general principles under which the new Government should operate. First, value for money should be at the very heart of what the Government does in a way that, as most us would acknowledge, was simply not the case under the previous Administration. Secondly, there must be openness, because greater scrutiny leads to better decisions and greater public confidence in what the Government is doing. In fact, the two principles are linked, because greater openness will of itself be an additional pressure on the Government to achieve greater value for money. That is one reason why I am grateful that the cabinet secretary has done what his predecessor failed to do in ordering the publication
Given all his responsibilities, it is debatable whether the cabinet secretary in his first few days in office has fully digested all the implications of the Howat report and what it means, or could mean, for how the Government operates. Whether or not he has had the opportunity to do so, the Parliament has not had such an opportunity, and there will be no such opportunity today. Therefore, before the summer recess, the Executive should initiate a debate in Executive time on the report and what it means. Important issues are involved, and we must ensure that, in the spirit of consensus, we can all properly scrutinise what the report means for the Government.
I will briefly touch on some specifics in the report. Members might remember that, before the election, the Government parties routinely attacked the Conservatives' and the nationalists' spending plans. When he was defending his failure to publish the Howat report, the former First Minister said that the Conservatives' and nationalists'
"spending plans would not stand a day of scrutiny, never mind a year".—[Official Report, 28 September 2006; c 28020.]
April was an intense month of scrutiny, during which the Conservatives' plans held up rather better than those of the Labour Party. Now we know that at the same time that Mr McConnell was defending his failure to publish the Howat report and was attacking the Conservatives and the SNP, the Howat team
"faced difficulties in assessing the implications of switching or reducing spend in any programme."
The report found that
"The limitations of the SE's financial planning and management systems mean the assessment of the effectiveness of budget performance needs to be treated with a degree of caution."
It also found
"voluminous evidence of monitoring and measuring inputs", but not of spending being linked to outcomes. In relation to education, it discovered
"an attitude in more than one area that regarded budget lines of single-digit millions of pounds to be 'trivial'", which was a mindset that
"does not engender confidence in general cost control practices."
On health, which is the single biggest item of expenditure in the Scottish budget, the report said that
"it remains difficult to assess whether the NHS in Scotland is delivering value for money".
Those are reasons enough why the previous Administration refused to publish the Howat report before the election.
However, that is just the start. I turn to one area that Mr Swinney alluded to in which the Conservatives have long advocated change. We argued for the mutualisation of Scottish Water not only during the election campaign that we have just had, as the Liberal Democrats did, but in the election campaign before that. As Mr Swinney said, the Howat report suggests that ministers should consider mutualisation in order to save £183 million a year, but what did ministers in the previous Executive do? In response to a question that I asked in the chamber on 15 March, Sarah Boyack confirmed that the previous Executive had not even reviewed Scottish Water's structure. The Howat report was not only suppressed—it was ignored.
Does the member accept that the framework that was put in place for Scottish Water has been accepted as financially rigorous and as much more transparent than any previous system for Scottish Water? Earlier this year, I made a lengthy appearance at the Finance Committee to talk through Scottish Water's detailed projects, performance targets and efficiency gains. It is not true to say that we are not interested in the efficiency of Scottish Water. Such a suggestion is unhelpful. The opposite is true.
Whatever the member's interest in having an efficient Scottish Water, it is a fact that a year before she gave me that answer in the chamber, the Howat report suggested that she should consider the matter. However, her Government did not do so. At least her position is consistent—she does not appear to favour mutualisation now. I will leave the Liberal Democrats to explain how they got from rejecting mutualisation when they were in government to suddenly fighting an election on a platform of mutualisation.
There is a challenge in the Howat report for the current Government. Private sector prisons and prison escort services are cost effective, according to Howat. If, for ideological reasons, the new Government pursues a different path, it is questionable whether it will be acting, as Alex Salmond promised,
"wholly and exclusively in the Scottish national interest."—[Official Report, 16 May 2007; c 36.]
Publishing the Howat report is probably one of the easier commitments for the new Government to fulfil. I want to move on to one of its trickier commitments, on efficient government.
Alex Salmond has talked about his ambition. If he is ambitious with respect to efficiency targets, the Conservatives will certainly support him.
I start as a sceptic, not in relation to what can be delivered by way of efficiencies but in relation to what Governments have actually achieved. I am not alone in that. The Howat report said:
"We found that it was difficult to verify if savings promised through Efficient Government were actually obtained."
As Wendy Alexander said, one of the first acts of the new Government was to reorganise the shape of government. That is no bad thing—the Conservatives have long argued for smaller government. Yesterday, Annabel Goldie asked the First Minister what that would mean in practice; she also asked him to quantify what reduction, if any, there would be in the number of special advisers, civil servants and quangos. Mr Salmond answered some of Miss Goldie's questions, but he did not answer those ones. It is incumbent on the new Government to answer so that we know.
I would like to make some progress.
The previous Government was rightly criticised by the new Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism for failing to ensure that all the efficient government targets were measured on a net basis. I would be grateful to hear whether this Administration's new targets will be measured on a net basis and—crucially, given the change in the structure of government—whether the targets will be comparable with what has gone before, so that we can test whether the new Administration is more or less efficient than the one that it has replaced.
Mr Swinney touched on best value. There is a lot to be said about that, but I lay before the Government today a quite simple challenge: to ensure that, in common with local government, all best-value reports from central Government are published as a matter of routine. That would be in keeping with the spirit of openness and would represent significant progress.
As Wendy Alexander said, Mr Swinney has a broad remit in his new role; he also faces a great challenge. We will support him and his Government where they act to obtain better value for money and where they push for greater openness over the way in which Government works. Where they do not, or where, for ideological reasons or party advantage, they try to bluster their way through, we will have no hesitation in holding them to account.
I apologise to the minister and to other members for having to leave early this afternoon due to commitments at home in Shetland tonight.
So far, successive new ministers have jumped up and down in Parliament to offer barrowloads of warm words, a great belief in consensus and a commitment to make not decisions but statements. This morning, an SNP back bencher congratulated Mr Lochhead on his caution. The SNP Government has raised expectations and declared that it can change the world, but it has done little. The Government has hit the ground prevaricating, and now we are debating an approach to government.
The cabinet secretary is a man of action—he has certainly demanded it for eight years. I have a series of questions for him; if he answers some questions, that would indicate that his Government and his department are prepared to take decisions. That is what Government is. I was often criticised, not least by Mr Swinney, for making decisions. Whether or not members agree with them, at least I made them.
When the previous Scottish Executive introduced its efficient government proposals, Mr Swinney—now a cabinet secretary—described them as "drivel" and said that real efficiency would require something
"a great deal more imaginative".—[Official Report, 2 December 2004; c 12586.]
We know that Mr Swinney is committed to efficiency; he said in December last year in the chamber that he wants service improvements, not service cuts. He must therefore have been a little disappointed when he read the recommendations of the Howat report. He did not confirm, in response to my earlier question, whether he accepts those recommendations in their entirety. I am sure that we will want to pursue that vigorously over the coming weeks and months.
I made it clear that each and every recommendation will be considered by the Government as part of the strategic spending review, with the exception of the recommendation on Scottish Water. Today, I have allowed more people to be involved in that debate about the strategic spending review. More people have access to the Howat review than was the case under the previous Administration.
I accept the minister's reply. However, despite more people being involved in a debate about decisions, it still comes down to the fact that ministers are paid, employed and put in the Parliament to make decisions. It is time that they decided to do exactly that. Does he—indeed does his Government—support a £60 million cut in
"We see no reason for the continuation of general grants to individuals".
Mr Swinney's conversation on that subject could be quite interesting.
"No SMART targets are in place. There is no basis to judge what difference the budgets make to the development of the Gaelic language."
We will be interested to learn the Government's position on that.
To be fair to the cabinet secretary, I do not expect full answers today—the Howat report is 181 pages long, after all. However, the Parliament expects the minister to make clear when he will indicate which recommendations he will back and which he will oppose. What is the minister's approach to government?
Howat recommends an "'independent' challenge function", with a minister for finance without any other responsibilities. As other members said this morning, and as I made clear when we debated the First Minister's recommendations last week, I must assume that the SNP has ignored that recommendation, given Mr Swinney's enormous set of responsibilities.
There is a further recommendation in Howat that bears further consideration. The report is against initiatives. I will not be the only member to be entertained to learn whether or not Mr Swinney will stop all initiatives by ministers from this day forward. I hope that that point will be addressed in the winding-up speech.
We know that Mr Swinney is devoted to efficiency. Therefore, he will not stop at the meagre savings that Howat proposes. If I have got his figures right, the cabinet secretary intends to deliver £4.3 billion of savings in three short years. Parliament will expect other imagined, or imaginative, proposals to fill that gap. I am not the only member who looks forward to hearing in detail over the coming months how the cabinet secretary proposes to keep to his principle of efficiencies, not cuts.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies was somewhat understating the position when it described the SNP's efficiency plans as "difficult to achieve." Professor Arthur Midwinter—who is tough on us all, in fairness—might have been closer when he said that the SNP's proposals should "carry a health warning." Even if the SNP could fill the gap, there are further issues that must be addressed in Parliament. The SNP has underestimated how much its own policies will cost. Mr Swinney did not describe that this afternoon. It has yet to be confirmed—perhaps the minister can enlighten Parliament in his summing-up—whether the Executive intends to press ahead with its plans to write off all Scotland's accumulated student debt, abolish loans and replace them with grants, at a cost that we know will be at least £1.7 billion, not £100 million, as the SNP claimed when it was in Opposition.
Does the SNP intend to deliver the promises of the Minister for Community Safety to dual every A road in the country by cancelling one train line, while still managing to pay for a new toll-free Forth crossing and bullet trains between all the major cities of Scotland? Even rough estimates suggest that we would need five Howat reports to be able to pay for all those proposals. Once a third of the total of all those imaginative savings have gone to graduate debt, what will be left for investment in universities and colleges—an area of expenditure on which the Government of which I was part was very proud to deliver? The SNP manifesto did not pledge one extra penny for that important area of expenditure.
How many new schools will be built under the Executive's budget? Where will the money come from to make Scotland a renewables powerhouse, as the First Minister pledged yesterday? The cabinet secretary must explain—the First Minister failed to do so yesterday—how he intends to meet the funding gaps. What is the Government's position? Is it Howat plus, Howat minus or Howat not at all? The Parliament would welcome a clear exposition of the cabinet secretary's position.
One of the most welcome aspects of winning an election is that the SNP now gets the opportunity to show that it can make a real difference to Scotland and to the way in which we are governed. Throughout the election campaign, we regularly highlighted our intention to slim down government, and a start has been made already, with a smaller ministerial team than before.
Listening to the comments that were made by various members when the motions on Cabinet
What else have we been saying? The notion of slimmed-down government is not just about reducing the number of ministers; it is also about taking a long, hard look at the processes of government and working out how they can be streamlined to far better effect. The fact that something has aye been does not mean that it always will be. Frankly, I think that Scotland has been held back by the aye-been attitude. It is long past time for change. That change will be welcome.
When I have discussed the specifics of the issue with the cabinet secretary, I will give the member my views.
One thing that the change that I am talking about will mean is that the vast array of agencies, quangos, non-departmental public bodies and so on will be up for serious review. I hesitate to use the phrase "bonfire of the quangos" because it has never yet amounted to more than a damp squib. However, perhaps the cabinet secretary could indicate whether he intends, for example, to continue with plans to merge the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Scottish Natural Heritage, which was talked about during the campaign. If he intends to do that, does he have a timescale in mind and can he guarantee that the merger will reduce bureaucracy?
I believe that cutting back on the proliferation of bodies that seem to do jobs that are slightly different variations on a similar theme will go down well with the public. Arguably, many functions can be taken back into central Government. Equally, we have robust local authorities in Scotland that might also be able to take on some of the functions of the various agencies. In particular, I would like the cabinet secretary to talk about his plans for Communities Scotland, whether he intends to consult local authorities before any transfer of functions takes place and whether he has a timetable for the completion of the changeover—if that is what is envisaged by the new Government, as I hope it is.
I ought to add the caveat that I hope that, should such further devolution of power to local
One of the biggest challenges facing us—and it is one that we all share, whether we are in government or in opposition—is the need to ensure that the image and standing of this Parliament are raised considerably. There might be significant proposals to be made about how some parliamentary reforms will bring this institution closer to the people whom it serves—that is for a different debate. However, yesterday, the First Minister made it clear that the results of the election, in and of themselves, demand a different way of working in this place. That, in turn, demands a different response from members across the chamber. Frankly, we might have to get used to the lack of diktat from the front bench. That means that former ministers will have to reprogramme their brains to accept that new reality—and, indeed, some of us who are now on the Government benches might have to reprogramme our brains to remember that it is we who have the ministers.
Alex Salmond said that the five subject debates that would follow on from yesterday's statement—of which this is the first—would provide members with an opportunity to contribute to and influence the Government's programme. Having said that, we could probably do without bedtime stories from Wendy Alexander—the fact that she was not up to a big workload does not mean that John Swinney is not.
Pinching other parties' good manifesto commitments is not new. In the past eight years, it has been done continually—mostly by Labour nicking our good manifesto ideas. What is new is the open acknowledgement of the source of those good ideas. There needs to be more of that openness.
My final comments are on the Howat review. It has taken two years and a change of Government to get the review out into the open, which is a shameful example of the worst way in which to govern. I have not yet seen the review, but I agree with Derek Brownlee that it would be useful to have a debate on the review alone. However, the issue is germane to today's debate, as the review was set up to consider the performance and outcome of programmes and to identify those that did not match partnership priorities. The cabinet secretary commented that the new smaller Government fits into what Howat found and that
The themes on the approach to government that we heard about before today's debate were based on more joined-up government and the new-politics principles of the consultative steering group. Today, we have heard about an additional dimension, which is that of addressing what John Swinney described as the "crowded public sector landscape". I will deal with each of those issues in turn.
The basic assumption about joined-up government is that it is essential to make ministers responsible for larger policy areas, but that is misguided. If that were the case, the acme of good government in Scotland would be the old Scottish Office, in which there were five ministers and a secretary of state. I believe that the changes in 1999 were a big advance on that, not just because of the accountability and scrutiny arrangements in the Scottish Parliament, but because the changes ensured that the balance of power between ministers and civil servants was changed and meant that ministers had far more time to engage with stakeholders, which is absolutely vital to the new politics in Scotland, which actually began in 1999.
I wish John Swinney and his colleagues well, but there is a fundamental problem with dealing equally with the details of a large number of subjects. I have fears for some aspects of his portfolio. For example, I know how much time Jackie Baillie, Wendy Alexander, other ministers and I spent with the voluntary sector when we had responsibility for it. I know that John Swinney regards the voluntary sector as important, but I fear for it, in the midst of all his other responsibilities.
I could give several other examples, but I will mention only one, as it has not been highlighted so far: the moving of the equality unit to the Justice Department. The unit has been essential to many successes in the Parliament and there has been widespread agreement in the Parliament about its achievements. The ministers who have been responsible for the unit have devoted a great deal of time to it. I wish Kenny MacAskill well in that work, but I have fears about the unit being joined up with the justice portfolio, which is already very large.
Some of the new arrangements are in principle welcome, such as the introduction of the broader remit of health and well-being. I welcome the fact that housing is to be included in that remit, which is one connection with the post-war Labour Government. However, even in that new remit, there are problems, because it is an illusion to think that it will capture the totality of well-being, which is an issue that must be addressed throughout the Executive. That is why I welcome the appointment of a Minister for Public Health, which may be a more significant development in that regard.
One of the oddest features of the changes is the way in which the responsibilities for climate change and the environment have been put in separate places. I understand the rationale for that, because I asked John Swinney about the matter—perhaps he will say something about the issue later—but I still think that having those responsibilities in two places will create difficulties. It would be better to have a champion on climate change—the Minister for Environment—cutting across the work of the Executive, in the way that the Minister for Public Health no doubt will.
It is difficult to disagree with many of the generalities that John Swinney expressed. The empowerment of front-line staff to deliver local services has been an objective for a long time. He said that the community planning partnerships are essential to delivery—they were set up by the previous Administration, so I am sure that we agree on that. However, the heart of what John Swinney said was about "crowded public sector landscape" and simplifying structures. We must be careful not to think that simply changing structures will deal with the many challenges in the public sector. That is not to say that such changes should not be considered, but I caution against assuming that they will be a panacea.
I know that John Swinney wants to get rid of Communities Scotland. We will debate that issue, but my view is that simply bringing all the Communities Scotland civil servants into John Swinney's department and making it even bigger will not change fundamentally the delivery of housing and wider regeneration services. That must be considered carefully, but we need to have an open mind about the subject and about all that the Howat report says. I will not go into the details of the report, because I have not seen it for months, but I was critical of the recommendations that were made and of the group's understanding of how central Government and local government work.
As for the new politics, I have always strongly supported the consultative steering group's principles. If they start to permeate our proceedings—there have been signs of that since
"the mushy ground of false consensus."—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 58.]
That is one danger of the new politics, so people still have to put their views vigorously. Another danger is the risk of incoherence and inconsistency, as one policy is voted in and out without a clear direction from the Government.
The key issue is how the Government will use executive power. Traditionally, Governments at Westminster and here have had great ability to use executive power without reference to Parliament and I welcome the fact that the Government has said that it will not do that. The first big touchstone of that will be the Edinburgh tram. I was shocked and disappointed by what the First Minister said about that yesterday. I do not for the life of me see how scrapping the Edinburgh tram is consistent with his overall objective of fuelling
"economic growth while reducing our impact on the planet."—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 61.]
The tram is essential for the environment. Without it, Edinburgh will grind to a halt in years to come. The tram is also essential for the development of Edinburgh, Leith and—not least—the waterfront in my constituency.
In his wind-up speech, perhaps the minister will tell us how he will involve the Parliament in the decision about the tram. Will he pay heed to Parliament's views? Apart from the SNP, everybody in the Parliament—all the other political parties and Margo MacDonald, the independent—supports the Edinburgh tram and realises its importance. In the spirit of the new politics and of involving the Parliament, will the minister at least indicate that he will listen to the views of the Parliament and of most people in Edinburgh and Leith on that issue?
The next leader—exactly, Mr McLetchie. Tavish Scott has a lean and hungry look about him at the moment.
It was a bit rich of Tavish Scott to criticise Mr Swinney for not having read all 181 pages of the
I will echo some of the comments that we came up with earlier and I will ask the cabinet secretary for a bit more detail on the ideas of smaller and more efficient government. Of course, we agree with much of the rhetoric that we have heard about a tight focus on efficiency; enabling people and businesses to increase their wealth; the maximum value from the public purse; spending money wisely and to the best effect; and a small and strategic Government. We agree with all that rhetoric, but we would like very much to see the details. A previous Administration that talked about small government said that it would do less, better, but we did not see much evidence of that.
On specific details, Conservative party leader Annabel Goldie has asked for several answers, which I hope we will receive sooner rather than later. What will the Administration do with the number of quangos? What will it do to reduce administration costs, which have risen year after year? What will it do with the car pool, which has grown year after year? What will it do with the number of special advisers and spin doctors, and with the spend on advertising, which has increased year after year? Once we have answers to those questions, it will be clearer where we can support the Administration. On some matters, such as business, we can support the Administration.
I ask the cabinet secretary to closely examine the implementation of programmes. Will his department report back to us regularly on what savings have been made against budget? Will he commit to having some form of regular, independent, Howat-style review—perhaps not 181 pages every time—so that we can see the commitment to smaller and more efficient government?
Will the cabinet secretary also agree to dispense with some of the SNP manifesto commitments that do not favour smaller and more efficient government? I will give a couple of examples. We agree entirely with widening small and medium-sized enterprises' access to public sector contracts, but the manifesto states:
"We will set a minimum target of 20% of public sector contracts by value to be sourced from small and medium sized enterprises."
We question where that 20 per cent will come from and how the Government will enforce that target.
Is it going to force public sector agencies not to give contracts to the best companies purely on the basis that they are not SMEs?
Another commitment that I am concerned about, which appears later in the manifesto, talks about flexi-working. In principle, one can support that, but the commitment states:
"Every public sector body will be required within 6 months of our taking office to explain what its policy is and what has been preventing it from doing more, and to provide an action plan of measures."
That will be a requirement of every public sector body. Some of the comments in the finance and sustainable growth part of the manifesto would not lead to leaner and more efficient government, and I hope that the cabinet secretary will agree to dispense with them.
An issue that is not directly related to finance and sustainable growth but that was put forward by the Scottish Conservatives throughout the election campaign is the concept of localism. In general, will the Administration agree to give more powers back to local government and give more powers to local community councils so that we have real local democracy and an end to, or at least a significant reduction in, the ring fencing that the previous Executive placed around local council spending throughout Scotland?
I ask the cabinet secretary to review his comments about Scottish Water. To quote the First Minister, the strength of parliamentary debate ought to determine what happens on that issue. Mutualising Scottish Water will give us a great chance to take it forward to a brighter future. The rhetoric from the cabinet secretary was very good, but we need to see the reality sooner rather than later.
Mar a tha an sean-fhacal Leòdhasach a' ruith, "Is ann caochlaideach a tha a h-uile nì ach faochagan an Acha Mhòir." Following is the translation:
As the Lewis proverb runs, "All things are subject to change except the whelks of Acha Mòr." The member continued in English.
The proverb is made all the more surreal by the fact that Acha Mòr, as members may know, is some distance inland. Nevertheless, surreal as it may be, the saying can be used to describe the political landscape in Scotland, which has
Government has changed and the style of government has changed. That fact is appreciated throughout Scotland, not least by islanders. Islanders in the constituency that I now have the honour of representing are looking to the Parliament both to listen to their distinctive economic needs and to act on them in order to develop the island economy and to maintain the environment and culture that give the islands their distinctive identity.
If Parliament wants to demonstrate that it is listening to those distinctive needs, it will, for instance, have to listen to the call for the people of Lewis to have a more direct say in the future of their island in terms of wind farm planning. Although I appreciate that ministers cannot prejudge that issue, I was encouraged by the First Minister's comment yesterday that he wants Scotland to become a renewables powerhouse. However, that does not mean that every application for renewables projects is right.
If the Parliament wants to show that it is going to address the economic needs of the Western Isles and similar places, it will have to address transport. Islanders are aware that the cost of living and doing business in the islands is so high as to be almost unsustainable. Recently, I spoke to a constituent who runs a business exporting goods from the islands. He told me that the cost of getting his goods from Stornoway to Ullapool is greater than that of getting them from Ullapool to Belgium. We would do well to examine the lessons that can be learned from other European countries, where island communities and their transport links are regarded as an integral part of or an extension to the national road network. That lesson can be learned in the Western Isles. I hope that the Parliament will examine it. My party has been at the forefront of that cause, but it has many other supporters.
No electorate in Scotland is more engaged, attent or sophisticated than that of the Western Isles. Today, it has heard a programme for, or an outline for an approach to, Government that it will find inspiring, not just because it is more open on issues such as the Howat report, but because it is generally and genuinely more open to listening to the voices of others and to the voice of Scotland. The programme or approach can be commended to all of Scotland, from Auchincruive to Acha Mòr.
I congratulate Alasdair Allan on his maiden speech, much of which I recognise and sympathise with as a fellow
I confess that in recent weeks I have given a fair degree of thought to what issues I might raise in my maiden speech. The options seemed to be considerable and varied, and I performed several U-turns. For example, I thought that renewables would be an obvious issue on which to set out some bold thinking. Thanks to the efforts of my predecessor, Jim Wallace, Orkney is home to the European Marine Energy Centre, which provides world-leading wave and tidal energy test facilities. As well as the world's largest commercial wave farm and leading-edge grid-connected tidal devices, Orkney proudly boasts a cluster of excellent companies in the renewable energy sector. I hope to be able to return to that issue in the near future.
Tourism would likewise have been a suitable subject on which to open my account here. Described by the Lonely Planet guide as
"A glittering centrepiece in Scotland's treasure chest of attractions",
Orkney has much to offer the discerning and, indeed, the less discerning tourist.
Farming and fishing were prime candidates in my early musings about a maiden speech. Orkney's fantastic reputation for beef, lamb and seafood will be well known to many in the chamber. Although those sectors face challenging times, I know that we will return to those subjects later in the year.
There were other issues to be considered, and efficient government had serious competition. However, I do not want to create the impression that efficiency in public services is not important to Orkney—quite the contrary, for many of the reasons to which Alasdair Allan alluded. In a small constituency where public services are delivered to communities that are based on a number of islands, ensuring that maximum value is derived from every pound of public money spent is arguably more important than ever. Indeed, the cost of delivering public services to dispersed island communities with an ageing population is inevitably higher. That is still not fully recognised in the current funding arrangements. I will be arguing strongly about that in the months ahead.
However, Orkney already has a positive story to tell about making efficiencies and working more collaboratively across the public sector. Considerable work has been undertaken, and was supported by the previous Scottish Executive, to promote closer working between Orkney Islands Council, NHS Orkney and HIE Orkney. During the
This afternoon's debate is on the approach to government. I commend to the minister an approach that promotes exercising the greatest control at the most local level possible. Perhaps John Swinney will indicate this afternoon whether he is prepared to support the on-going work in Orkney and to provide the necessary transitional funding to enable it to be taken to the next level.
I am conscious that carrying on a Westminster tradition in the Parliament may be seen by some as heretical, but I believe that the tradition of paying tribute to one's predecessor is worth while. No one in the Parliament will fail to recognise Jim Wallace's enormous service not just to liberal democracy in Scotland but in supporting the creation of a stable, progressive Government in this country. Jim's approach to government was enlightened and far-sighted. He argued fiercely for the Scottish people to have more control over their affairs, through the Scottish Parliament. He also defended strongly the rights of communities—especially remoter communities such as Orkney—to be given the tools with which to take control of their futures.
I know how conscious Jim was of the task that faced him in following in the footsteps of Jo Grimond. I can only empathise with him and note that, over the past 24 years, Jim has made the task of following in the footsteps of one's predecessor considerably more daunting. However, a commitment by the new Government and across the Parliament to empowering local communities further would be a fitting way of taking forward Jim Wallace's work. It would also be a tangible and worthwhile legacy for the new politics about which we have heard so much.
I do not know whether it is technically possible to lose your maidenhood twice, but as this is my first speech in this chamber and my first as the member representing East Lothian, I hope that members will indulge me and allow me a moment to mark it.
From the birth of kings and the battles of many centuries to agricultural and the industrial
Re-reading Mackintosh on how Scotland should be governed, I find it astonishing how prescient his vision of a Scottish Parliament was. He even foresaw the SNP holding power, or a share in power, in the Scottish Parliament. He did not fear that, because he thought that
"the practical task of governing the country" might convince them that
"the days when small countries can maintain the fiction of national sovereignty are over."
We can only hope that that will be the case.
Mackintosh's other great concern was the nature of cabinet government and the centralisation of power within the executive branch. He believed in efficiency and that a Scottish Parliament would improve the governance of Scotland, but he might have baulked at the creation of ministerial briefs as all embracing as the one that is held by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth.
Over the past couple of days there has been some banter about the crocodile tears that were shed by Mr Swinney when Wendy Alexander held the brief for enterprise, transport and lifelong learning. I, too, held that brief, although I do not recall receiving much sympathy from Mr Swinney at the time. That portfolio existed in the context of a clearly articulated strategy that explained how economic growth would be driven by improving the commercialisation of research and innovation in our universities. That link was never simply a convenient description of a ministerial brief; it represented a pipeline of support and funding, including the small firms merit award for research and technology—or SMART—funding, the support for products under research programme, the proof of concept fund and the Scottish co-investment fund. That support—unique to Scotland—has been internationally admired and has created and sustained spin-out companies in many sectors. Indeed, in the case of life sciences it has nurtured an industry that now contributes £1 billion to the Scottish economy.
The portfolio also responded to a business community that said that investment in the transport infrastructure was the key to success. The result was a transport delivery plan that had at its heart the route development fund, which has delivered more than 30 new direct air routes from Scotland, including vital links to the United States and the far east, and a plan for our capital city that seeks to place its international airport at the heart of our rail network and to link businesses from every part of Scotland to the rest of the world.
The Administration's early decisions have broken the link at the heart of government between ideas and enterprise, and have threatened the link between Scotland and the world that the Edinburgh airport rail hub can be—all for an efficiency saving that, by the cabinet secretary's own admission on television last week, amounts to around £500,000 over four years.
Efficiency in government is a good thing, and this side of the chamber will support it as long as it also underpins effectiveness. The efficiency that matters most to Scotland's economic future is to maximise the contribution that our people make to their own future and ours by ensuring that there is high-quality employment for all and by giving everyone access to the skills and training that they need. We must, above all, avoid wasting our people's potential.
In the spirit of these subject debates, and given the minister's willingness to listen and his desire to focus on the important issues, I commend to him Labour's plan for a full employment agency that would pull together all the necessary supports to put 100,000 more Scots into employment. If the Government really wants to put economic growth at the centre of its priorities—which is what the First Minister said yesterday he wished to do—it must put skills and full employment at its heart. I do not know whether this is what is meant by the new politics—after all, it has always been the politics on this side of the chamber—but I can tell the minister that he will have our support if he commits himself today to the goal of creating full employment to drive economic growth.
The minister outlined his Government's ideas for its smooth running, but things cannot run smoothly if we do not have an effective Parliament that is infused with good will. We have just come through a bruising, sometimes bitter and constantly divisive election campaign. Of course, that is how it is in democratic politics: groups of people held together by shared ideologies—or more limited
However, in Scotland our political contests contain an additional element that can overshadow and poison debate on the policies and issues that quite properly distinguish one political party from another. The national question—or what is known as the constitutional or independence question—bedevils every election fought in Scotland. At a time of great change in the global economy, in security, in the environment and in the balance of power, that unresolved question can divert our energies and focus from those 21st century facts of life that we can deal with only if our society is united.
How do we in this Parliament resolve that question—or, if I can put it more accurately, how do we enable our fellow citizens to do so? It will not go away, because it is too deeply embedded in our politics and attitudes, nor will a resolution be arrived at unless the issue ceases to be the prerogative of one party and all Scots are empowered to decide the issue by knowledge rather than mythology and by opinion formulated by facts rather than bile or vested interest.
What part should be played by this Parliament—the forum of the nation? Cannot this institution take responsibility for however Scots wish its powers to be developed? The parties elected here have a duty to govern according to law and to scrutinise the policies and actions of Government. This Parliament has the function of providing the means for that to take place.
To bring about as good as possible a programme of governance, would we not be assisted by having the national question addressed by a special committee or unit of the Parliament charged with investigating, analysing and then publicising for public information the powers and relationships of this Parliament, drawing on the experience of the last two sessions and this third one? We all know of the confusion among our constituents on the powers of, and therefore the responsibilities of and possible outcome of actions undertaken by, the Parliament and its Governments.
Opinion polls usually show a clear majority of those polled to be in favour of more powers being vested in this Parliament. Even among MSPs on the other side of the constitutional divide from myself, there is acknowledgement of the need to enhance some powers, acquire some others and re-examine the terms of the memorandum on co-operation and understanding that we have with Westminster. It is fair to say that it has fallen into disrepair, and we are not exploiting the potential.
Had parties other than the Scottish National Party become the Government, it might have proved easier for all opinions represented here to act on those democratic and opportunity deficits. The hitherto expected response to initiatives such as I suggest, were they to be proposed by the SNP, would have been outright rejection by the unionists on the grounds that the intention would be to break up the UK and that voters do not want that, but voters in general have only a sketchy knowledge of the respective implications of the Parliament exercising sovereign or devolved powers. However, it is no longer the function of the SNP, now that it is in government, to concentrate on a campaign of information and persuasion on the merits of sovereignty. Would that it had done so consistently over the past decade, instead of confusing the issue by substituting a tactic—a referendum—for a policy: the establishment of sovereignty.
However, we are where we are, and we must devise a way of focusing on what Annabel Goldie called bread-and-butter issues. We must separate them from consideration of how our present powers are used, whether they help or hinder Scottish Governments to meet the expectations of Scots, what powers if any might be transferred from Westminster, whether our representation in the European Union is satisfactory—particularly with the onset of a new constitution—and whether our relationships with countries outwith the UK and the EU allow us appropriate participation in international activities.
Because of the Government's very narrow advantage over the main Opposition party, the Parliament will find it difficult to agree and to agree to differ on specific policies, never mind to agree on how best to develop the effectiveness of Parliament's powers, yet that is what we must do to keep faith with our electors.
I propose that an ad-hoc research and development, non-policy-making unit of the Parliament be established to provide researched information on the powers and operation of the Parliament. That might lead to another constitutional convention, or it might not, but it is certainly preferable to having our every exchange of views in this chamber permeated and undermined by attacks on and defence of a referendum that is highly unlikely ever to take place on constitutional choices that are unresearched, underpublicised and misunderstood by many—perhaps most—of our fellow citizens. I therefore appeal to the minister to consider my proposal.
I congratulate the two brand new members and the
I will make some serious points about our approach to government, First, I agree in general with Margo MacDonald's point that we must address the question of the Parliament's future powers, irrespective of our point of view on the matter. The decision on carbon capture that BP announced yesterday will have a major impact on our ability to lead in a key technology in Scotland and I firmly believe that the decision would not have been made if the Scottish Parliament had had full powers over energy policy.
We must find the right mechanism for discussing such matters and we must make advances on the accretion of powers to the Parliament, not in four or five years' time but in a far shorter period. Gordon Brown has made a commitment to consider a written constitution and to reform the UK public appointments system, and developments are taking place in the context of the proposed EU constitution. As an institution, the Parliament cannot ignore such external developments. Some kind of mechanism, be it a cross-party committee or whatever, must be established sooner rather than later, to consider all the issues to do with power and governance in Scotland.
Secondly, I will make a series of suggestions about how we improve the efficiency of government in Scotland. I welcome the speech from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney. The Howat report makes a worthwhile contribution to the debate, although I do not agree with everything in it. From my experience in dealing with Government as a parliamentarian and as a businessperson, I think that major savings can be made to the benefit of the taxpayer in six key areas. I will list the areas in which we can get a bigger bang for the buck.
Evaluation has become a new industry in Scotland. Every time someone in Scottish Enterprise sneezes, it costs about £30,000. Then a consultant is brought in, at a cost of £10,000, to evaluate the sneeze by deciding how far it went and how big an impact it had. A considerable amount of money is wasted on unnecessary and useless evaluation. Across the whole Government
Financial and quality audit is also a major area of waste. When the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee in the first session of the Parliament conducted an inquiry into lifelong learning four or so years ago, one of the most astounding facts that we learned was that some colleges were being quality audited 28 times every year by different parts of the Scottish Executive and its agencies. That was complete nonsense. We can have an audit system that cuts across the whole Government; every nook and cranny does not need its own audit function.
Huge amounts of money are spent on public relations and advertising. Sometimes the democratic process is undermined by agencies that do not agree with decisions made in the Parliament or the Executive. There is massive scope for improvement in that regard.
Recruitment is another area of waste. When the intermediary technology institutes were set up, £300,000 was spent on recruiting the first three chief executives, all of whom resigned within a year of being appointed—£300,000 went down the Swannee.
Consultancy—of which I have some knowledge—is another area in which savings could be made. As Alex Salmond pointed out the other day, £100 million has been spent on consultancy by one agency in the past four years and much of that work has ended up on the shelf and has not been followed by action.
Finally, computer systems are another area of waste. Scottish Enterprise is just about to spend megabucks—up to £7 million—replacing a computer system that is working perfectly well and which was installed only three years ago at a cost of £3 million. Such matters can be addressed. Across those six areas alone, I believe that we could save between £200 million and £300 million over the next four years, which could be redirected into front-line services. That is where the emphasis must be.
The Government should go ahead with the efficiency drive—we need a bigger bang for the buck—but the purpose of doing so is to improve the quality of service delivery and to redirect resources. It is not simply a question of making Government smaller. Just as important is the redirection of resources away from bureaucracy into service provision. If we do that, Scotland will be a lot better off for it.
I join other members in welcoming John Swinney to his post as cabinet secretary for everything and then just a little bit more—I keep discovering that there are more things for which he is responsible. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will rise to the challenge that will come from the sheer size of his portfolio.
My colleague Wendy Alexander referred to the bedtime story, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar", which I was delighted to hear is Margo MacDonald's favourite story, but I confess that I could not quite get my head round John Swinney turning from a caterpillar into a butterfly—that would be a fairytale worth reading.
I am sorry that Roseanna Cunningham has left the chamber because my memories of bedtime reading with my daughter are of that well-known tale, "Little Red Riding Hood". For those members who have not read it, in that story the big, bad W is the wolf. For the nationalists, I suspect, the big, bad W is Westminster. They spend most of their time blaming Westminster for all the ills and show no signs of stopping. Now, however, they must move from rhetoric to reality, which involves making the right—but tough—decisions. That is what comes with being in Government.
I turn to the subject of the debate—the Government's approach to government. Interesting. Once I got beyond the novelty of the lack of a motion to outline the Government's position, and John Swinney's beguiling speech, I concluded that empty vessels do, indeed, make a lot of noise. However, far be it from me, at this very early stage in proceedings, to break up the consensus about what needs to be done.
As I came to the Parliament today, I did not think that the people I passed in the street would have had the subject of this afternoon's debate uppermost in their minds. If asked, they would probably have concluded that they cared little for a discussion about the approach to government. They would probably have said that what they cared about, ultimately, were results—outcomes rather than inputs. They would have wanted to know how we would improve the quality of their daily lives and how we would deliver on their priorities.
On that basis, I have two points to commend to John Swinney. Frankly, a massive reorganisation of institutions wastes time and diverts attention. I speak from experience because I have been through a public sector reorganisation and I know that it is about nothing but people taking their eyes off the ball of delivery. Instead, Mr Swinney should consider working in partnership with the wealth creators in our economy, with those charged with
Scotland is uniquely placed. As a small country with a population of 5 million, we are able to talk to each other, to try things out, to innovate and to get things done quickly. In short, we are able to deliver for the people who put us here. However, I have a genuine concern about what John Swinney said. The SNP can have in place the very best strategic framework, but if it does not have a handle on delivery and the means to monitor outcomes, the results that people want will not be achieved and it will be unable to deliver on its priorities. I fear that the Government's idea of reform is simply a reorganisation of the public sector. That would be a missed opportunity to build a meaningful engagement of third parties in the delivery of public services.
I waited—in vain, unfortunately—for more than a passing mention of the voluntary sector or the role of the Scottish social economy. I think that that is a serious omission because Labour members desire to focus not just on delivery in general, but on delivery specifically for the very poorest people in our society. I am talking about those who live at the margins and who often live in communities that are disadvantaged, in which the market is non-existent, where the private sector will not go and where the public sector tries, but is not sufficiently flexible or sensitive to deal with the real problems experienced. It is often in communities like those that voluntary sector organisations come into their own. That is not to diminish their role as the major provider of services in sectors such as care and housing—in some cases across Scotland—but the added value that is achieved from voluntary organisations providing services in communities is of considerable interest.
Aside from the range of quality, person-centred services that it provides, the sector is close to the communities that it serves because local people are involved in the delivery and management of the services. The voluntary sector enhances the capacity of the communities in which it operates. That is good value, so it is disappointing for all of us in the chamber to learn that many of Scotland's voluntary organisations are on the wire due to funding shortfalls from the public sector. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is quick to point out that the issue is not only about money; it is also about relationships and about how the voluntary sector and the Government can work better together. Will Mr Swinney rectify his earlier omission and make a commitment to the meaningful involvement of the voluntary sector as a significant delivery partner? It can deliver on our priorities.
I thank Jackie Baillie for the thoughtful comments that she has made on the third sector. I accept that she may have missed the remark that I made at the start of my speech. I said that I want our purpose as a Government to be understood and that we want to co-operate with business, public bodies, the third sector and local communities, because I accept entirely the direction of Jackie Baillie's thinking in relation to the third sector. One of the reasons why third sector issues have been brought into the responsibilities of my Cabinet portfolio and, more specifically, Mr Mather's responsibilities as the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, is that we see a much more central role for the voluntary sector in policy making in this Administration. I hope that that clarifies our thinking.
That certainly was not a question, but I am happy to accept the clarification because it is well intentioned.
My criticism is that there was no detail beyond that initial statement. I will take John Swinney up on his offer and commend to him and Mr Mather some bedtime reading. It is not a fairytale, but a report from the Better Public Services Forum, entitled "Quality through Diversity: emerging models for Scotland's public services". It does not sound desperately exciting, but I assure members that it is. I cannot do justice to all the report's recommendations. Suffice it to say that the challenge to Government is to put service users at the centre of thinking and action, to give service users an enhanced role in designing services and to empower communities to influence delivery and priorities. I suggest to John Swinney that he needs to stand on its head the approach that he has outlined today and, instead of tinkering with the institutions, focus on delivery and put people in our communities in the driving seat.
Several members have started their speeches by commenting that the approach to government is a fundamentally different question, given the different kind of Government that is now in place. Minority government changes many things about the way in which we will have to work.
Wendy Alexander was right to say that new politics means more than just new politicians. She spoke about three of the core tests being the aspiration for consensus, ambition and for voters'
Does the member think that it would have been wise to submit the biggest restructuring of Scottish government for a decade to some form of Parliamentary discussion, which we are apparently to be denied?
Ms Alexander has already asked the cabinet secretary that question and it has been answered.
I will comment on the Howat report, which many members have mentioned. There is a great deal to take in in a short time, so it is impossible to respond to everything in the report. I welcome the fact that John Swinney responded immediately by restating the commitment not to mutualise Scottish Water, which is one of the recommendations in the report. Several political parties agree with that manifesto commitment. Mutualisation would in practice be privatisation in key regards. I do not believe that most Scots would find that in keeping with their priorities or find it acceptable.
I agree with Margo MacDonald and Alex Neil that in this session Parliament will have to get its teeth into the issue of powers. Even the Howat report uses language such as the "evolution of devolution". It would be bizarre and almost perverse if Parliament, after an election in which many people voted for change, was unable or unwilling to touch the issue of powers.
The Howat report's comments on the nature of a partnership agreement could be regarded as a harsh critique of the specific partnership agreement that was in place in the previous parliamentary session. However, more reasonably, it is a discussion of the problems inherent in any partnership agreement formed by a coalition. The report offers a series of options for helping to solve such problems.
What surprised me, though, is that in a report that sets such store by the quality of forward thinking in government there appears to be no discussion at all of the different set of problems that would arise and solutions that would be required if we eventually arrived at the situation in which we now find ourselves. We have a Government that does not command a legislative majority in Parliament and that cannot produce a partnership agreement or a programme for government that it can implement.
If a partnership agreement is seen as a mixed bag of commitments—general and specific, costed and uncosted—that lead to a lack of focus or
Minority government means that some power has shifted from the Executive to the Parliament and that will be healthy. Legislative changes made by MSPs in parliamentary committees and in the chamber will have an impact on the Executive's budget. A majority Executive can be reasonably sure that, broadly speaking, its programme will be put in place, which means that Parliament can hold ministers to account for the consequences—we can hold them responsible for all the consequences. However, none of that holds now.
The question of how Parliament as a whole will exercise responsibility and take informed decisions, given that the civil service works only for the minority Executive, will arise in this session. The answers that we come up with may well come to be regarded as a precedent for minority Governments well into the future. The approach to government is therefore a question not only for the Government, but for us all.
Ministerial remits have been referred to. Initially, I shared Malcolm Chisholm's concerns about the possibility that the equalities agenda might move from the communities portfolio to justice. I believed that if that happened there would be a danger of an overly legislative focus developing in the equalities agenda. Social attitudes—the whole hearts and minds agenda—are crucially important to equalities policies. I was pleased therefore that that portfolio change did not take place and that equalities will stay in the communities portfolio. I think that that was an early indication that the Executive is willing to take on board concerns and rethink its plans.
Several members referred to the crucial issue of environmental remits. On one level, the more ministers who have an explicit responsibility for environment and climate change, the better. I would like to see them all have that explicit responsibility. However, on another level, there is a clear need to join the dots between cause and effect. The previous Scottish Executive sent some ministers out into the wider world to champion the cause of climate change and bang the drum on it, while other ministers pursued unsustainable policies, notably on economic growth and transport.
I may have as many criticisms of the SNP's transport policies as I did of those of the previous Executive, but at least now there is one cabinet secretary and ministerial team who are accountable for both cause and effect. I look forward to being able to question—in my oh-so-constructive tone—the same minister on his transport policies, his energy policies and the consequences in terms of climate change.
Having congratulated Mr Swinney yesterday on his appointment as cabinet secretary, I start by congratulating Jim Mather, who is another former member of the Finance Committee, on his appointment to ministerial office.
I thank Mr Swinney for putting a little more meat on the bones of the Scottish National Party's approach to government. The First Minister's speech yesterday was a little light on content. His approach seemed to be predicated on the idea that the economy is a good thing and nuclear power is a bad thing. Mr Salmond often reminds audiences that he was a Royal Bank of Scotland economist before he became a politician. After I listened to his musings on power generation yesterday, it was certainly clear to me that he was never a scientist or an engineer.
One of Mr Swinney's priorities is to deliver
"annual efficiency savings of 1.5% per annum" and to meet
"the Treasury target of 5% annual administration savings".
That is what it says on the SNP website. Unfortunately, as we know from the Finance Committee, that is easy to say but not always easy to do. Indeed, in last December's budget debate, Mr Swinney expressed strong reservations
"about whether it was possible to verify the effectiveness of the efficient government programme because of the lack of established baselines against which the process and the achievements that the Government was claiming could be judged."—[Official Report, 21 December 2006; c 30798.]
Audit Scotland also agreed that robust baselines were required and the Howat report—published today, I understand—advised ministers that efficiency savings must be more transparent, robustly costed and deducted from the budget baseline. Indeed, the Finance Committee also asked for changes in budget lines to be specifically reported in budget documents.
Therefore, let me put this question to Mr Swinney, although I appreciate that it is only one week since his appointment. Is progress being made on those actions that all members of the Finance Committee agreed required to be done if we are to be able to claim that we are making
Last week, the First Minister said that it was his belief that there had been
"too many Government departments, too many executive agencies and too many quangos for a country of 5 million people."—[Official Report, 17 May 2007; c 46.]
Today, the cabinet secretary said that he wished to "declutter the landscape". It is well worth debating that point, but if the Executive's intention is to bring departments together and to streamline government, how can it do that without any compulsory redundancies? Is slimming down government just about bringing people together in a bigger department but with the same number of people? How will that make savings? In particular, what is the new Government's attitude towards the relocation of departments and agencies?
I would be amazed if the natural turnover in any department was less than 1.5 per cent per annum. Compulsory redundancies are in no way essential to deliver the kind of savings that Mr Swinney has elucidated.
One cannot always be certain that the people who decide to leave are the people who should not be in the organisation. Sometimes departments need to recruit a person with a particular specialism, so they cannot simply say that they can do without a particular post just because the post holder happens to have retired or moved on.
What is the ministerial team's view on the relocation of departments? As we know, it was the Parliament's first First Minister who stated that the Executive should be
"committed to ensuring that government in Scotland is efficient and decentralised, as part of a wider vision of more accessible, open and responsive government."—[Official Report, Written Answers, 15 September 1999; S1W-1558.]
In 2002, progress was made with the small units initiative, which aimed to promote sustainable rural communities by relocating small units of Executive work to more remote and rural communities. How will that initiative sit with the new Executive's aim of bringing departments together? In the last session, the Finance Committee held an inquiry
The First Minister and his colleagues have said that they will accept good ideas from the other parties. I want to venture one good idea. Before and during the election campaign, I sent out thousands of surveys to constituents to ascertain their priorities for the next parliamentary session. In the town of Dumfries, the top priority, even above tackling antisocial behaviour and drugs, was addressing the state of the town centre. The SNP's manifesto made no commitments on town centre regeneration, but the Labour Party's manifesto contained good ideas in that respect, such as the establishment of a town centre turnaround fund. Will the Executive please reflect on establishing town centre trusts with powers of compulsory purchase and the ability to set up business improvement districts, which our manifesto suggested? If the Government is to be consensual and we are to bring ideas to the table for it to contemplate, will it undertake to consider that suggestion in the forthcoming spending review?
Yesterday, the First Minister said:
"A vibrant, dynamic economy is the beating heart of a successful, confident nation."—[Official Report, 23 May 2007; c 60.]
A dynamic, vibrant town centre is the beating heart of a successful, confident local economy. I urge the Executive to prioritise town centre regeneration.
Elaine Murray's calls for budget baselines, transparency and the robust measurement of effectiveness were well made. Effectiveness must be at the heart of good, efficient government, but achieving that effectiveness has so far been difficult.
The debate is about how we should approach the government of this country. If what we bring to government is well thought through and in the public interest rather in partisan interests, it will succeed in the public interest. The reality is that all of us in the Parliament, irrespective of our party-political affiliation, have been forced into searching for agreement by using ideas and the force of logic and argument to win majority support.
Governing is a practical operation. It is about getting things done in committees and as a result of debates in the chamber that are informed and in which cases are supported and judged on their merits. We should compare what happens here with the norm at Westminster. There, the job of the
Consensus is about the attitude that we bring to debates and how we turn common and understood sensible Scottish attitudes into practical action when we deal with local and national problems. If our attitude is right and what we bring to government is well thought through and in the public interest rather than in partisan interests, it will, as I said, succeed in the public interest.
We must have a knowledgeable approach to government. Ministers must have at their disposal the experience and expertise of civil servants, and members of the Scottish Parliament must benefit from the input of outside organisations and Scottish Parliament officials and researchers.
The work of Audit Scotland, which has built up a formidable reputation as the public finance watchdog, has been an almost unnoticed Scottish Parliament success story. The Auditor General for Scotland, Robert Black, and his team of public auditors have revolutionised public scrutiny of the Government and public organisations throughout Scotland. Major studies on value for money, good governance and effective management have provided improvements in the provision of public services in Scotland, from improvements in further education and national health service services to improvements in local government and in individual policies such as free care for the elderly. Audit Scotland always encourages value for money, better management practices and the efficient use of resources. In other words, the approach to government has to be one of learning from past practices and, most important, learning from past mistakes, in order to produce positive change for the benefit of all the people of Scotland.
Given the Parliament's finite resources, large though they may be, the approach to government must always be one of value for money, which should be put into practice—not financial cuts for their own sake but better use of resources. The approach to government must be one of sustainability. We must avoid the danger of one-off policies that disappear within a short timescale and probably leave the situation even worse than before they were introduced. The approach to government has to be medium to long term,
It is important that we reflect on what was said by the First Minister yesterday. Alex Salmond is not the most uncompetitive of individuals, yet he clearly set out the kind of Government approach that is necessary for the Parliament to deliver what the electorate has decided is the way forward. It is time to get down to business, to have respect for diversity of opinion and to put forward priorities that are to be considered as a first draft and not a final position. All of us should support good ideas that are well researched and well argued, and we should remain open to persuasion in a situation in which Government has to share power with Parliament. The goals are clear: the approach to government in the current session must involve not just legislation but the debate, inquiry and understanding that have always been the basis of the work of the Parliament's committees.
We must reduce unnecessary burdens on business, communities and individuals, and we must encourage faster, more sustainable economic growth and a vibrant, dynamic economy that rewards the energy and creativity through which Scottish business can flourish. We need environmentally sustainable economic success and we must provide the resources for the world-class education system, national health service and employment opportunities that we all seek for the people whom we represent. We must play to Scotland's strengths in, for example, developing renewables technology in wind, wave and biofuels, along with initiatives in energy conservation and microgeneration. The electoral conundrum that has been imposed on us by the choice of the electors of Scotland should be seen as an opportunity for a positive approach to the government of our nation. The arithmetic may be awkward for the party managers, but if our attitude is right and if we all think and act positively as MSPs, we can turn a potentially unstable situation into something positive for the benefit of Scotland.
The approach to government that we take as individuals and as part of party groupings will now determine whether the Government acts for or against the electors who sent us here. The work that the Parliament and the Executive do over the next four years will be judged by the electorate. I hope, after four years, to see a changed, modern, progressive Scotland. Such an advance is our duty. I hope that the Parliament now gets down to work to deliver that objective.
This has been a high-quality debate, with many excellent contributions from a series of perspectives. It has, inevitably, been a wide-ranging debate. I single
The perspective that we got from the western and northern isles emphasised a number of key points. The insights of Alasdair Allan and Liam McArthur on the value of beginning with local communities also came through from other members, and it is important for us to bear that point in mind. It was echoed in Jackie Baillie's observations about the position of the voluntary sector, which prompted a somewhat defensive reaction on the part of the cabinet secretary. Incidentally, I should have started by congratulating John Swinney on his appointment.
The Scottish Executive should take a clear approach to the roles of central and local government and the private and voluntary sectors. It is not just a matter of debating and discussing issues with the voluntary sector; it is a matter of how we involve the voluntary sector in building on the work that has already been done on making the new Scotland. The sector has an important part to play, and it is bound up in many ways with flexible and sensible approaches for delivering public services. I would like the new Executive to take a more sophisticated approach in that regard.
John Swinney homed in on good financial management, and that is a good starter for 10. Value for money—squeezing value out of every pound of the Executive's budget—is extremely important. That relates to John Swinney's points about leaving local decisions to local decision makers. I would like him to elaborate on that in the future, and not just in relation to today's debate. I was disappointed that he rejected without further discussion the idea of proceeding with the mutualisation of Scottish Water, which would have funding and organisational advantages.
Wendy Alexander spoke about the problem of John Swinney's sprawling department—he has the sympathy of many members about its breadth. It is a difficult challenge to bring to such a wide and dispersed department the cohesion that is required at the heart of government. Wendy
There have been calls for further debate. Derek Brownlee spoke about the need for a debate on the Howat report, and one or two other members echoed that. I go along with that. The importance of being able to measure outputs as well as inputs was also raised. We have all struggled with that—it is not an easy thing to do. Eight years into the Scottish Parliament, there is now a greater understanding of that, but there has to be considerable development in that area. We require methods under which we can judge the performance of the Executive.
I have some comments to make about the Executive's position and approach. As the successive cabinet secretaries come to the chamber with their thoughts, we are beginning to get an idea of how the SNP Government intends to operate. I confess to a growing sense of surprise at the somewhat mushy nature of it all. Yesterday, in a speech that oozed consensus—not the thing that we most obviously associated with Alex Salmond in the past—the First Minister seemed to say that the SNP wants the Opposition to write its programme. There is of course a place for consensus and openness. I accept that there are limitations, but a minority Government is still a Government. It is supported by the civil service and it is able to make spending decisions. It should be able to show a coherence of direction. Even minority Governments should be in the business of proposing to Parliament what their direction is.
Surely the point is that there is an invitation to participate. We look to the other parties in the Parliament to make positive contributions to the decision-making process. They have an opportunity to contribute, thanks to the approach of the new Executive.
Absolutely. I listened to Andrew Welsh's speech, which I thought was a good one. That is of course a welcome opportunity to participate, of which we will take full advantage. However, that must be matched against the need for the Government to act as a Government. The SNP's dilemma is that its manifesto was for opposition not government.
Over the coming weeks, we will see the Government becoming impaled on the horns of more and more dilemmas as it tries to square a number of tricky circles: the commitment to a non-nuclear future and the opposition to wind farms; the transport policies that dual every road but also scrap the key public transport projects in Edinburgh; and scrapping student loans on an ill-
I accept that we are only a few days into the new Executive and the new Parliament. We are all struggling to come to terms with the implications of the new Executive and its direction of travel and to see how the SNP's main objective of independence will be matched with its new role of running the country while having a minority of seats in the Parliament. Andrew Welsh touched on a good point when he talked about the role of the committees. When the committees get going, they will develop their own esprit de corps, objectives and direction. That will be one of the checks and balances that will develop in the new system.
All of us in the chamber have to consider the opportunities of the new situation. We must also look to the Executive for a degree of leadership on the priorities that it sets. I do not think that we have had that so far from the ministers who have come before Parliament.
This is an interesting time for Scotland. We have many issues to deal with and we must come to terms with the new arrangements and ensure that we live up to the expectations that the electorate has imposed on us. However, that is not simply a matter of relatively mushy consensus; it is a matter of consensus where possible and close scrutiny where necessary. The Executive will have to develop a more coherent view on how it wants Scotland to be run under the present disposition rather than under what it sees as the ideal disposition in the future.
I have enjoyed this debate for a number of reasons, not least because of the mention of that caterpillar in the opening speeches.
It is always nice to have a debate in which many members make their maiden speeches: it gives the debate an air of optimism, which is a quality that has worn rather thin over the years in the more cynical among us. It is because of that air of optimism in the Parliament that I welcome the fact that the first major debate that we have had this session has dealt with the approach to government. The approach to government will be key to how this Parliament and the Government work in years to come.
Many people have said that the new Executive has been a bit mushy and consensual. Let us remind ourselves that minority Governments have little alternative but to be consensual. Only through achieving consensus will anything get done.
John Swinney set out his stall: he talked about consensus, about his key areas and about achieving sustainable growth—which I support. He also talked a great deal about efficiency. Efficiency is something that Conservative Governments have talked about in Scotland and in the UK over many years. It is something we need to achieve, but John Swinney has to look over his shoulder because he made—or a number of his colleagues made—significant promises during the election campaign, which will hold him to ransom to some extent.
John Swinney set out what I would describe as sound right-wing principles in his approach to government. He talks the talk but will he walk the walk? That question will be answered only as we progress, but let us examine some of the issues that will demonstrate whether he will.
The Howat report raises issues to do with Scottish Water. John Swinney is determined that Scottish Water will not be mutualised. He will not take the opportunity to free that organisation from the dead hand of Government and return significant savings to the public purse because he is dogmatically committed to the principle of public ownership of the water supply.
Will John Swinney consider the opportunities to develop public services and secure public expenditure ahead of time through the continued use of public-private partnerships? In opposition, the SNP was determined not to exploit that method, but John Swinney has not addressed how he will achieve the necessary investment in public services without it. Has he considered the options for efficiency savings by forcing more public services into the private sector? Anyone who takes the trouble to look at the figures will realise that many of the services that have been moved into the private sector through contracts have been delivered far more efficiently. If Mr Swinney wants to achieve efficiency, he must go down that road.
Does the member accept that many of the efficiencies that he mentions were brought about because of the lower wages that were paid to the people, such as hospital cleaners, who moved from the public sector into the private sector?
I accept that that can be argued in some cases but, broadly, there are great examples of how moving services out of the public sector can achieve true efficiency savings. Not least of those examples are those have been moved into what John Swinney described as the third sector, or the voluntary sector. I support John Swinney's commitment to make greater use of the opportunity to involve the voluntary sector in the provision of public services.
One or two very good points have been made in the debate and must be repeated. Derek Brownlee called for a full debate on the Howat report, once we have all had time to digest it but before the summer recess. I support that call, because the fact that the Howat report has informed significant elements of today's debate indicates that there is a great deal more discussion to be had on it.
In an excellent maiden speech, Gavin Brown suggested that we must quickly end ring fencing in local government budgets. Too often, the Labour Party, in coalition in the Parliament, was willing to grant money to local authorities only in a way that tied their hands in spending it. The finances of too many local government organisations have been seriously affected not by a lack of money, but by a lack of opportunity to spend money that would otherwise be available.
The member will recall that, during the election campaign, one of the main policies with ring fencing attached was the Conservative policy on ring fencing to reduce council tax for older residents. Is the member now reviewing that policy, given that he wants to abolish all forms of ring fencing for local government expenditure?
The member takes a rather hybridised attitude to a policy that was designed specifically to help those who are most affected by the current impact of local government taxation.
Alex Neil mentioned BP's decision to pull out of the plans for a carbon capture power plant at Peterhead. That is likely to cause great regret to many members and is an example of how a Government, through mismanaging its finances, can cause the private sector to make decisions that it might not otherwise have made.
We now have a Government, albeit a minority one, that seems only too willing to take radical decisions based on dogma well in advance of the time when real decisions need to be made. The SNP must reconsider its dogmatic rejection of nuclear power in the Scottish context. I do not believe that I will ever see a nuclear power station being built in Scotland, but I need to see a Government that is prepared to take the radical decisions that are necessary if we are to avoid the enormous social and economic implications of the Government making heavy-handed decisions on the basis of dogma, when practical decisions on the basis of experience would be much more acceptable.
I welcome John Swinney and Jim Mather to their ministerial posts. Like Wendy Alexander and me, they were both members of the Finance
I commend all the members who made maiden speeches. As Liam McArthur said, the debate might not have been the one in which they would have chosen to make their maiden speeches, but it has been interesting, not just because of the maiden speeches, but because of many other speeches.
It is interesting that, in the past fortnight, Alex Salmond has sought to make a virtue of the fact that the SNP Administration has the support of only 49 of the Parliament's 129 members by referring constantly to Scotland's new politics. We are asked to accept his inability to broker a coalition, and therefore to propose a programme of government against which he could be held to account, as a strength. It is rather strange to see that as a strength. Coming cap in hand to the chamber and saying, "What shall we do?"—if that is the message of what has been proposed—may raise an issue for the system of democratic accountability. If that is the new politics, we will have to find a new way of dealing with it.
Ministers cannot expect to abandon large chunks of their manifesto and to pick and mix other policies without some criticism. It may be old-fashioned to see elections as the opportunity for political parties to enter into a contract with voters, but a contractual process exists. Politicians say what they intend to do and they are judged on that basis. We expect to see not generalised ideas about how politics might be developed, but a concrete programme that ministers intend to follow, against which we can hold them properly to account.
I feel sorry for Green voters, whose representatives in this place have been enticed into Mr Salmond's warm embrace. What price have Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie extracted for what seems to be relatively unprincipled support for that other bedtime character, the enormous crocodile? Their former colleagues who lost their seats to the SNP must have looked somewhat askance when the Administration refused yesterday to publish officials' calculations of the increased vehicle congestion that will follow removal of the tolls on the Forth bridge—while the SNP mouthed off some platitudes about openness, transparency and accountability, as Mr
I will give Patrick Harvie another insult and then let him in.
The support that the Green rump provides for Mr Salmond binds the Greens to the prospect of abandonment of Edinburgh trams by the Administration that he leads. On climate change, which is the key test for any environmentalist, the first steps that the new Government, which Patrick Harvie apparently supports, has taken have all been in reverse.
Insults from Des McNulty are as delicious as ever, but he seems to have forgotten how to read a document that was published in full, that binds us to no aspect of policy, and that commits us to working together constructively when our policies genuinely overlap. We have made a commitment to work with the Executive on climate change, on opposition to nuclear power and on other subjects on which we genuinely share an agenda. Des McNulty misleads the chamber if he suggests that we have made a commitment to other policies.
A question comes back: what did the Greens get for their support? They seem to have been steamrollered on climate change in the first fortnight, which is to their discredit.
It is possible that Mr Salmond may entice others in. In his smaller Government team, he has been careful to leave spaces in the ministerial car park. Perhaps Liberal Democrats might be enticed back by the accoutrements of office. Mr Scott may be less keen to stand at the bus stop when the winter weather comes—who knows? That may rest in the future.
The reality is that government demands that people take hard decisions, make hard choices, pursue a strategy and be held to account for what they do. Bluntly, the new politics should not have to incorporate a process in which ministers say that they are not responsible and do not have the votes to push policy through. The SNP is in government and must take responsibility for what it does, not blame things on others, whether other parties in the Parliament or institutions elsewhere in the UK. We will hold ministers to account in detail for the things they do—for the spending decisions they make, the administrative decisions they make, and the judgments they make on strategic priorities—and for their management in the administration of particular policies. That is a legitimate role of the Opposition, and we will exercise it enthusiastically and diligently.
We absolutely will do that. We will also reflect on issues in regard to which we feel that we were not able to persuade the people to support the policies that we put forward. The Labour Party has an underlying sense of who and what we stand for in political terms. That vision—the set of principles that has underpinned Labour policy for the past 100 years—is one that we will continue to pursue and that we will adapt in the new circumstances of the Scottish Parliament.
I represent an area that suffers from significant social deprivation and disadvantage. I will be looking to ministers to tackle such issues, to provide more employment and to deal with the health disadvantages and other problems that are experienced by my constituents and constituents elsewhere in Scotland. This is not a situation in which everybody's interests can always be satisfied. We will consider the principles that are applied by ministers in the decisions that they make, and when we find them wanting we will criticise in the most robust way possible.
This is the first time I have spoken in the chamber, and I have perhaps not yet picked up the nuances of the language that is used here. Des McNulty says that the Labour Party is clear about what it stands for, yet he has again criticised the policy to remove the bridge tolls. I do not know where the Labour Party stands in relation to the tolls. I read in today's Evening News that the Labour group on the City of Edinburgh Council is against the removal of the tolls, yet we heard today from Wendy Alexander that Labour is now in favour of the removal of the tolls. Perhaps Des McNulty can clarify the matter.
I can clarify it easily. The position is absolutely clear. The Government has proposed that tolls be removed from the Forth and Tay bridges. We recognise the case that has been put forward in Fife and elsewhere for the removal of tolls. There is a perceived inequity associated with them, and we recognise that the feeling within the Parliament is that they should be removed, but there are financial consequences to the removal of the tolls, which ministers have not taken into account in making their decision. Also, although it has been demonstrated that it is likely that there will be increases in congestion, ministers have not published that information or made apparent their knowledge of it in arriving at their decision. Crucially, the proposed new crossing of the Forth, which is a vital ingredient of taking forward the Scottish economy—which is ministers' top priority—has not been discussed in the context of the decision on tolls.
It is easy to do the nice bits; it is more difficult to look at the big picture in taking the whole issue forward on behalf of Scotland. Climate change is linked to economic development, which is linked to a series of other issues. We will hold ministers to account not on the basis of one decision, but on the basis of all the decisions they make. When we think that they have got it wrong, we will criticise them—and we will criticise them robustly.
I commend Gavin Brown, Alasdair Allan, Liam McArthur and Iain Gray on their maiden speeches; they augur well for debate and dialogue, as did Andrew Welsh's strong invitation to participate, which I particularly welcome. I was heartened by the constructive tone of many of this afternoon's speeches, which were awash with good ideas, leaving me with insufficient time to respond to the debate. Fortunately, they will be recorded in the Official Report for all time.
Today, we set the tone by publishing the budget review at the earliest possible opportunity—we have started as we mean to go on. We have to contrast our position with the previous Government's year-long delay, the result of which has impacted on my colleague, Stewart Stevenson, and the Peterhead carbon capture project involving BP. Today, we have defined our strategy, giving out powerful signals about what we want Scotland to achieve and how that should be done. John Swinney covered those signals in his opening speech when he talked about moving to smaller, more focused and genuinely efficient government and a decluttered landscape, ensuring that Government is accountable, open and closer to the people. The most important signal was John Swinney's definition of the single, unifying goal of increased sustainable growth, in which he established that he expects a new constancy of purpose in all spheres of Scottish endeavour, which I welcome.
I will focus first on Wendy Alexander's speech. I understand how she feels and her concerns about what we are taking on board. We will be the most vociferous and effective of caterpillars, but we will not be deflected from focusing on our strategic goals and from delivering leadership. We are determined to pull Scotland together in common cause; that is what it is all about. I welcome her welcome for the publication of the Howat report, which was a nice moment.
When it comes to auditing efficient government, we can look back at what happened in the past when we had gross and no cost and did not know whether the net amount was negative or positive, because we had no baseline data. I welcome
In December, Mr Swinney said—this has been quoted already—that the claimed efficiency savings now being adopted by the SNP Administration wholesale and without change could not be trusted without improved baseline data. Will Mr Mather tell the chamber what specifically the new Administration will do to improve that baseline data, and will he deliver the opening up of access to the civil service to other parties during the budget process, which he called for year after year during the previous parliamentary session?
We will crack on to deliver the efficiency that we say that we will deliver; we will do what is right for Scotland; and we will make sure that we are not led astray by bogus comparisons. The efficiency target that we announced today is the minimum, and we are looking for opportunities for further efficiencies throughout the public sector. They will have to be true efficiencies that are triggered by decent people who work in the public sector and are motivated to do better. The chancellor's target includes cuts, and we are going to make sure that ours is achieved without compulsory redundancies.
I applaud Derek Brownlee's continuing interest in the Howat report and, indeed, his utterly commendable early reading of it, which kindly verified many of the concerns shared by the members of the previous Finance Committee—the great apprenticeship that we served on that committee was very useful. He made an important point when he eloquently exposed the lost opportunities that were caused by the delay and by the money that was spent on a report that was not delivered to the Parliament for a whole year.
I notice that Derek Brownlee still has a healthy scepticism about efficient government. We will be assiduous in meeting the criteria that he sets. We will do so in preparation for building the country and making it more effective by moving forward and taking more powers on board.
However, I cannot agree with Derek Brownlee on Scottish Water. If Scottish Water moved towards mutualisation, the £3 billion that is held by the Treasury would have to move to the City, and we would pay extra for that. Once the City had us for £3 billion, we would be on a slippery slope to privatisation. Under privatisation, there would be shareholders outwith Scotland who had different objectives from ours and who would be looking to maximise their return. We want to maximise the economy—we want shareholders and the people of Scotland to work together closely to drive the economy forward. Derek Brownlee's colleagues found that the mutualisation of Scottish Water was a vote loser in Argyll and Bute, where it was a key issue in the election campaign. Scottish Water should remain a public body that is managed and regulated in Scotland and which contributes to our unifying goal of increased sustainable growth. We will stick with that approach.
Tavish Scott focused on efficiency. He must recognise that the previous approach did not stand up to audit and that we must move beyond it. We will have to wait and see how the Parliamentary Bureau responds to the call for a fulsome debate on the Howat report, but we are up for that, especially once we have had time—denied to us over a long period—to digest the report. We are conscious that the savings that we can encourage by decluttering the public sector will be consummate and material. We will take no lessons on the funding of student finance from the Liberal Democrats, a party that does not know the difference between a cash payment and a long-term debt.
Our financial obligations will firm up as we begin to define what consensus can be achieved in the Parliament. We will do so under the strict financial stewardship of John Swinney. At the moment we are in an interesting place. In a useful and erudite speech, Margo MacDonald asked us how we would resolve the national question and called for informed, reflective debate, instead of polarised advocacy. She floated some interesting ideas that are worthy of consideration. I say to her that we are fearless on the issue. We believe that every time we look at the problems that Scotland faces the answer will be independence. Only independence will give us the comprehensive solution.
Scotland still faces a core problem that limits competitiveness and growth and results in too much wealth that is created in Scotland not staying in Scotland. If we do not address that core problem, we will shift it constantly on to other people, other departments and the taxpayer. That will have unintended consequences, such as the low average incomes in Scotland. Wendy Alexander said that there is high employment in Scotland. That is true, but people in Scotland also
There were other interesting speeches. Alex Neil gave us some unpaid consultancy, going through a list of issues that are hot potatoes and which will undoubtedly deliver a vast amount of evaluation, when people could be piloting and benchmarking instead. The audit of audits that will be carried out by Lorne Crerar in his review of scrutiny will consider the inappropriate use of public relations and advertising, the recruitment costs that are cranked up time after time—sometimes with huge questions about the effectiveness of that recruitment—and the huge amount of consultancy that in many cases is essentially a fig leaf for state aid. We must move to a better position. Stewart Stevenson and I could bore for Scotland on computer systems, as we know how much waste exists in that area, but the problem can be tackled.
Elaine Murray also produced some good ideas. In her comments on town centres, I detected a possible convert to our small business bonus, which will do the trick and benefit not just town centres, but down-at-heel parts of cities and our villages—not just shops, but workshops and small businesses.
It is great to have Iain Gray back. I enjoyed his speech and the way in which he invoked the spirit of John P Mackintosh. However, I am sad to say that Mackintosh's hope was false; the fact is that small works very well and small countries do well. I am encouraged by the fact that we will now be able to address Iain Gray's point about the importance of avoiding wasted potential by generating economic growth and that we will certainly try to deflate John Mackintosh's gloomy prediction.
After all, we now have a second wind. We will genuinely be able to put our economic argument to the people of Scotland with clarity and put before them a proper, honest, open and fair comparison with other small countries. We have the chance to open the doors and windows, let the fresh air in and allow the diaspora—the Scots Americans, the Scots Canadians and the Scots Australians—to give us a critique about what is happening in Scotland, which will allow us to compare and contrast what is happening here with
As for Jackie Baillie's comments about big, bad Westminster, we will look to Westminster to co-operate with us in Scotland's best interests. We have been pressing for such an approach for years. We look forward to that co-operation, and I hope only that it is matched by the same spirit at Westminster.
As Wendy Alexander and Des McNulty know, I have, like Jackie Baillie, been converted to outcomes. Such an approach is crucial, because it is the only way of keeping our finger on the pulse and knowing how we are doing. The key outcome is, of course, sustainable long-term economic growth.
As for involving people in all this, the fact is that we are compelled to do so. I will read the "Quality through Diversity" report that Jackie Baillie mentioned; indeed, I have already spoken to the voluntary sector in Argyll and Bute and involved them in an interesting little exercise that, because it worked, I will share with the chamber. We got 16 people, mainly from the voluntary sector, in a room and spent about an hour discussing Mull's objective, which, it was decided, should be having more people in compelling and rewarding work. We then spent an hour and a half looking at Mull's potential. That was a heady experience, and we found many positives to broadcast to the planet. Finally, we spent another hour and a half on the inhibitors and problems arising from that objective, not just for the voluntary sector but for Argyll and Isles Enterprise, Argyll and Bute Council, Caledonian MacBrayne and VisitScotland.
The exercise resulted in genuine, positive engagement. It motivated people and made them willing to re-engage in the long term. I want to make such an approach contagious and ensure that more and more self-starting communities take these matters on board, push things forward and make things happen. As Jackie Baillie said, we want to put people in the driving seat. That is where they belong—after all, we work for them—and I welcome any opportunity to ensure that that happens.
In an interesting speech, Alex Johnstone was adamant about the need to achieve efficiency. I totally agree with him in that respect, but he needs to go back and look at his arguments about Scottish Water. They simply do not stack up. It is wrong to accuse Mr Swinney of being pragmatic—I am sorry; I mean dogmatic—on this issue. [Laughter.]
Let me get this right: my boss was pragmatic, not dogmatic, because of the point that
As for PPPs, all I can say is: Skye bridge no more, Inverness airport no more. We also have to be very careful when we talk about the efficiencies associated with the privatisation of public services. The arguments are generally not matched by performance. For example, in Norway, where MRSA is non-existent, hospital cleaners are full-time employees and valued members of staff. Of course, that is not the case in Scotland. We need to keep this issue going and reach that point.
Although Robert Brown's speech was interesting, it was, I feel, somewhat short on the Prozac. There are positives to take from all this, and there is certainly no void at the centre of the Government. I hope that we have managed to convey the arguments that drive our commitment to Scottish Water and to maintaining the momentum behind renewables. Yesterday, I visited the all-energy exhibition in Aberdeen and I can tell the chamber that there is a fantastic story to tell, not least with regard to Orkney, where the European Marine Energy Centre and Scotrenewables are doing a fantastic job in building value and capability. Their work is wonderfully rooted and is here to stay; it will not go simply because of the stroke of a pen elsewhere. I share Liam McArthur's optimism on this issue, and I am keen to have a dialogue with renewables companies in his constituency and to include them with the rest of the renewables sector to get things going.
Yesterday was exciting. At the exhibition, I saw the equivalent of what I saw in 1986, when personal computers were first coming out and there were PC exhibitions from lots of vibrant companies. The difference was that the companies yesterday were better organised, better presented and, I suspect, better financed. They had more capability to deliver real value throughout Scotland rather than silicon glen or elsewhere. We are in very good shape.
We welcome the fact that the Howat report published today echoes many of the themes of our manifesto—a manifesto that had certain input to the Finance Committee, where we built our opinion to the fore. Those echoes should be no surprise, because we have constantly taken a commonsense approach that is in Scotland's interest. We now need consensual common sense to address the real issues facing Scotland and to cut through the complex and often convoluted and cluttered governance of Scotland. That will require the smaller, more focused and genuinely more efficient government that John Swinney has specified. It will need the Government to be accountable, open and closer to the people, and it
This is my last comment. We will require open adherence to the worthy, unifying goal of perpetually increasing sustainable growth for everyone in Scotland. I believe that we will get there and that we have started that journey today.