Effective Public Services

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 8 May 2008.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None 2:15, 8 May 2008

The next item of business is a debate on motion S3M-1849, in the name of Bruce Crawford, on effective public services.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party 2:57, 8 May 2008

Scotland's public services have a vital role to play in achieving this Government's central purpose of a more successful Scotland with increased sustainable economic growth. We value the work that is done by the dedicated and hard-working staff in the public sector. I take the opportunity to make clear our commitment to the future of public services in Scotland—a commitment to deliver a public sector that is simpler in structure and organised in a way that eliminates complexity, duplication and overlap; that is integrated in its approach to delivering public services through a focus on shared strategic outcomes; that is trusted to deliver those outcomes in a way that benefits from flexibility in approach and makes best use of knowledge, specialism and expertise; and that operates within clearer governance and accountability arrangements, reflecting a strong and positive relationship between Government and its public bodies.

We will deliver effective public services that are easier and quicker for people and businesses to deal with, thereby improving outcomes for Scottish people, improving our country's competitiveness and producing substantial savings in the wider economy. If those changes can raise the productivity of Scotland's private sector by just 1 per cent, the increased benefit to Scotland's economy will be around £800 million.

In reforming Scotland's public bodies, our overall approach is first, to streamline decision making and increase transparency by extending our outcome-based approach to public bodies; secondly, to bring together organisations with similar skills, expertise and processes, and to deliver a 26 per cent reduction in the number of national public sector organisations by 2011; third, to stop activity that no longer contributes to the public purpose; and fourth, to apply much tougher tests to the creation of new bodies.

I will update the chamber on our progress since the First Minister's statement on 30 January, which set out the changes that we will progress to reshape and simplify the public service landscape. Making those long-overdue changes will produce the greater cohesion and integrated focus between public bodies that is much needed for the successful delivery of shared outcomes, and will open up opportunities and synergies to public service delivery. The package will also make a significant contribution to the efficient government efficiency gains of around £25 million that are required from the bodies that the changes affect directly. The savings will be made available to support improved services. Because we value the contribution and commitment of staff, we have guaranteed that there will be no compulsory redundancies.

What have we achieved so far? Last autumn, we published a comprehensive baseline of 199 public sector organisations. In April 2008, the list had already reduced to 168, which is a reduction of 31 organisations. Five of those are the first fruits of our simplification programme, which has delivered 10 per cent of our overall target reduction of 52 organisations by 2011. That is a significant start in reshaping our public services, but we have more to do.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

Will Bruce Crawford clarify whether 32 of the organisations that he just mentioned were the justice of the peace advisory committees?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Indeed they were. The Liberal Democrats suggested that they be abolished, but we have implemented the proposal and will do a lot more than the Liberal Democrats did. I will come to the Liberal Democrat position shortly.

We will report on our progress on reducing the number of public bodies as part of Scotland performs, which will be launched in the coming weeks and will report on Scotland's and the Government's performance against the purpose, outcomes and indicators that are clearly set out in the spending review.

We have been open about the task forces and other short-term groups that have been established to tackle specific issues. I am disappointed that some members have intentionally sought to confuse short-term groups—set up to involve and engage with stakeholders on specific issues—with appointed public boards and established public organisations that employ staff and deliver public services. [Interruption.] Andy Kerr was one of the worst culprits. Let me be clear: we are delivering simpler public services through slimmer Government structures with fewer departments, fewer ministers and fewer public organisations. Simpler structures will support the delivery of better outcomes for individuals when they access public services and for businesses that engage with public organisations.

The move towards outcomes represents a fundamental shift in the approach to the delivery of public services and demands new relationships across the public sector. We have put in place the historic concordat with local government—

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I know that Andy Kerr loves historic concordats.

The concordat is clearly focused on the delivery of agreed outcomes that are based on our strategic objectives.

We will now extend the approach to the wider public sector and build a relationship with our public bodies that is focused on delivering alignment in promoting the Government's agenda. There will be greater clarity that public bodies are directly accountable to the Scottish ministers for their work and the taxpayers' money they spend.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

I am with the minister on much of what he has said. However, he said that he would outline the progress that has been made since the statement in January, so will he be a bit more specific about it?

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I am more than happy to give Gavin Brown some updates, and I will come to them. In fact, why not do it right now?

The Scottish Building Standards Agency and Scottish Agricultural Science Agency were merged into the Scottish Government in April. Her Majesty's fire service inspectorate for Scotland was abolished in March. The creation of Skills Development Scotland brought together the Scottish University for Industry, Careers Scotland and most of the skills and training functions of the enterprise networks to provide a much more focused and integrated approach to delivering for Scotland.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

I am afraid that I have lots to say.

We also decided not to establish the Scottish civil enforcement commission that the previous Administration announced. We have abolished Communities Scotland as a separate agency and brought its main non-regulatory functions into the core Scottish Government. We have transformed the enterprise network and are delivering on the Government's housing and regeneration priorities to boot. We are doing plenty.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

No. I will turn to the Liberals' amendment before I give way again.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The Liberal amendment refers to the previous Administration's attempts to reduce waste and bureaucracy. The reality is that rather than reduce bureaucracy and duplication, it made an industry out of creating new bodies: 21 new non-departmental bodies, employing 8,000 staff and holding budgets totalling £380 million, were created between 1999 and 2000. A further eight new Scottish Government agencies were created in the same period. Taken together, those agencies have an administration budget of around £65 million, with around 1,200 staff and a total spending power of £2.2 million.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

Unfortunately, I am into my last minute.

I turn to the Labour amendment. Labour's hypocrisy knows no bounds. It votes for the Scottish Government's local government finance order in Parliament, but then does nothing but moan, groan, whinge and whine about the supposed impacts, which it has either imagined or is deliberately misleading people about. The reality is that any resourcing problems were caused by years of mismanagement by Labour in Scotland's councils and by in-fighting here between Labour and the Liberals in the previous Administration.

We will be judged on our results in delivering public services. Those results will be collected and made visible for the first time through the publication of our performance information. We will deliver better outcomes for the people of Scotland, Scotland's businesses and Scotland's economy, which will serve this Government's core purpose of increased sustainable growth.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes the opportunity to debate proposals to deliver better public services by reducing duplication, bureaucracy and overlaps in the public sector with the aim of achieving greater focus and alignment with the Purpose of Government and the outcomes set out in the national performance framework.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 3:06, 8 May 2008

I say to Mr Crawford that all Governments seek to reduce bureaucracy and overlaps in services and to ensure that services are integrated; it is not exclusive to the Scottish National Party Administration. One has a chequered view of the past if one does not acknowledge some of the great strides taken by the previous Administration.

Changing the way that we do things in public services is not about swallowing the Jim Mather lexicon of management speak but about working to generate a change in the culture in our public services. I worry that the methodical approach that the SNP is taking to balancing budgets in not just the Scottish Government but councils will not deliver any of the desired outcomes to which Mr Crawford referred. I will expand on that point in due course.

Mr Crawford accused me and others in the chamber of hypocrisy. That is ironic, coming from a member of an organisation that picks up the previous Administration's ideas, dresses them up as its own and then presents them to the Parliament as belonging exclusively to it.

Robert Brown was quite right to intervene on the point about abolishing the 32 justice of the peace advisory committees, which was the previous Government's policy. At First Minister's question time, the First Minister tried to take credit for the non-profit distributing model for public-private partnerships, which Falkirk Council and Argyll and Bute Council are now pursuing. That was utter nonsense, because I signed off the model many years ago. It is the SNP's hypocrisy that knows no bounds.

We will get to the concordat in a few minutes. The SNP has taken a motherhood-and-apple-pie approach in its motion. It will be meaningless to compare it against the performance framework and it will be difficult to ensure that the aims are delivered.

Through the modernising government fund, for example, the Administration of which I was part sought to ensure that our public services worked together. Providing such direct investment to support radical cultural change in our public services remains a far more effective approach than simply stacking up statistics in a document such as "Efficiency Delivery Plans 2008-2011", and sub-contracting £1 billion of savings to the national health service and £1 billion of savings to local government and saying, "Get on with it." As we know—[Interruption.] That ain't my phone. In communities throughout the country, the so-called efficiencies that are being made are, in fact, cuts in public services.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

On local authority efficiency savings, will Mr Kerr give credit where credit is due to the local authorities that, throughout the period of the efficient government programme under his Administration, exceeded expectations about the savings that could be made? Why were efficiency savings acceptable under his Administration but are somehow unacceptable under this Administration?

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

I think I started my speech by saying that it was the shared desire of all Governments and Administrations to ensure that efficiencies are delivered.

On the fiscal climate and the change made by the historic concordat—Mr Swinney features in many press cuttings about this—we are seeing cuts, not efficiencies, in local authorities.

Many years ago, I was involved in the Labour Party's development of best value to ensure that we got rid of the hated compulsory competitive tendering regime, which sought to denude local authorities of any decision-making powers. CCT was about the value of nothing and the price of everything in public services.

Best value has ensured that a substantial change has been made, which has allowed our local authorities to develop their current services. Whether we are in opposition or government, I am happy to reward and recognise the work of many local authorities, the national health service and public sector organisations—quangos and all—because they have tried to make efficiencies. As I said, that argument is not exclusively the property of the SNP.

The modernising Government fund resulted in some substantial differences—I am not sure whether it still exists under the new SNP Administration. The fund drove changes such as the smart card systems and other new technologies that were implemented. That resource was used to ensure that public services worked together. That is how to make changes in public services. The tick box, or the credit and debit sheet, that the SNP is adopting may be doomed to some degree of failure.

We must not forget the added value that public services bring to our communities, in terms of their economic and social impact as employers, and through providing education and training, recognising trade unions and providing nursery facilities. That must be acknowledged and understood in determining where the public sector can do better and develop beyond its service boundaries to make significant changes within each community it serves.

When people in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and other areas throughout Scotland read the SNP motion, they will see a degree of self-congratulation on the part of the Government. Throughout Scotland, major service providers are having to cut their baselines to make their budgets balance. East Lothian Council has cut its baseline by £4.5 million and in Fife the baseline has been cut by £12.5 million—and it goes on. Those are not efficiencies and they are not due to removing duplication, bureaucracy or overlaps; they are cuts in services, and there are many examples of them. One need only look at the headlines from many papers: "Council orders £16m cutbacks", "Council cuts 'could cost lives'", "Unions fear major council budget cuts", "Edinburgh Council in Crisis", "Thousands join council cuts protest" and

"Edinburgh has seen massive cuts in services".

We are against the SNP motion because its self-congratulatory tone shows no understanding of what is really happening in our public services as a result of the financial settlements that the SNP Government has brought us. The people of Aberdeen and elsewhere will be uncomfortable with the motion. The elderly are paying more for their care, council house rents have increased at a rate greater than inflation and union leaders are demanding meetings to fight compulsory redundancies—the list goes on. There have been cuts to music tuition and increases in ferry fares. That is not about duplication, bureaucracy or overlaps, it is about cuts and increases in charges for those services.

Local government funding has increased by 1.5 per cent, compared with a 5.1 percent increase in the Scottish budget as a whole. That is why there are real problems. Mr Swinney and I recently attended a conference at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, where many of our voluntary sector organisations expressed extreme concern about the push and squeeze and the cuts that they are experiencing. We have heard about that from the Cyrenians in Aberdeen, from Quarriers and from organisations in other parts of the country. The speakers at the conference informed delegates of the serious financial position in which they find themselves as a result of the so-called historic concordat. As one director of social work said:

"these items are not efficiency savings that can be reinvested but are more traditional budget cuts".

That is what we are seeing: increases in charges and budget cuts.

The minister made a number of remarks in relation to quangos. The pledge is to cut quangos by 40 per cent, but 39 new quangos are being created—the minister calls them short-term groups. They are costing £800,000 of taxpayers' money—the Scottish Broadcasting Commission alone is costing £500,000. The Government should acknowledge that it is creating more non-parliamentary bodies. It might label them differently, but a quango is a quango, and the money is still being spent on behalf of the taxpayer to deliver them—for example, £30,000 is being spent on the Council of Economic Advisers. Let us not kid ourselves that major cuts are being made to quangos. The SNP Government has joined a few of them together and stolen some ideas from the previous Administration, but it is not delivering on its manifesto commitment, just as it has failed to deliver on so many other manifesto commitments.

We share the desire to make our services more efficient and to cut bureaucracy as much as possible, but we do not support the hypocrisy of the SNP's self-congratulatory motion, which can be compared with the real experience of people throughout Scotland.

I move amendment S3M-1849.2, to leave out from "with the aim" to end and insert:

"but recognises that public service cuts seen all over Scotland are undermining those very services and that the cuts being experienced are not the result of reducing duplication, bureaucracy and overlaps but rather a failure to invest by the Scottish Government."

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative 3:15, 8 May 2008

We heard a spirited defence of the previous Government's record from Mr Kerr. Perhaps we will hear more from the Liberal Democrats when they speak. That would be fitting, perhaps, from the people who put the government into efficient government.

The danger of a debate on effective public services is that it, above all others, is destined to descend rapidly into jargon. We heard some of that jargon from Mr Crawford in his speech, including talk of decluttering the landscape, aligning to the Government's purpose and reforming public services. Such phrases used to be considered vintage Matherisms—that is, until yesterday, when the man surpassed himself. Today, the Minister for Parliamentary Business revealed himself to be but a pale imitation of Mr Mather, who talked yesterday about "small acrobatic countries". There were some verbal gymnastics in Mr Crawford's speech, but we did not hear whether small acrobatic countries have good public services, lessons to teach us in culling quangos—

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

Or, indeed, small acrobats, as Robert Brown helpfully points out. We will simply never know.

As ever, I am trying to bring all parties together in a consensus. My amendment makes two important points—that there is always scope to improve public services, and that such improvements need not come at an additional financial cost. Who could possibly disagree with that? We will find out at 5 o'clock.

Public services should evolve over time. The public's expectations change, and what public services are capable of delivering also changes. It is only right and proper that public services are responsive to, and able to meet, changing needs. However, it is lazy and simplistic to assume that the answer to every problem is to spend more money or that services can be improved only by spending more money on them. Higher levels of spending are sometimes required, but they should not be the automatic first response of the Government—or, indeed, the Opposition—to every problem that confronts us.

No less a figure than the Prime Minister said that we are in an era of limited financial resources, but that view is not shared by the Scottish Labour Party, which demands more spending on local government come what may. Then again, not many of the Prime Minister's views are shared by the Scottish Labour Party, other than, perhaps, his view on the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

Does the member acknowledge that the Prime Minister and the Scottish Labour Party are as one in believing that David Cameron as Prime Minister would damage the country irrevocably?

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

I think that he will soon have the opportunity to prove that view wrong.

The Prime Minister is right to say that financial resources are limited. Money that is allocated to one area of spending must come from another area or from tax rises.

Labour's amendment mentions cuts. Most of the attention that has been paid to cuts is focused on proposals that have been made in local government. Sarah Boyack lodged a motion that blames all the cuts on the council tax freeze. Overall, however, local government received more money this year than last, and the council tax freeze was not just fully funded but overfunded.

Labour complains that there is

"a failure to invest by the Scottish Government."

A case can be made for more spending by local government, just as a case can be made for any area of public spending, but as the Minister for Parliamentary Business pointed out, Labour supported the local government finance order. In fact, it supported two of them.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

It is a statement of fact that local government received an increase of 1.5 per cent when the Scottish budget went up by 5.1 per cent. Local government's share of the Scottish budget under Labour was 35.5 per cent. Under the SNP it is 33.5 per cent. That is a reduction of 2 per cent.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

The proper comparison is with the year-on-year increase in spending, which shows an increase.

The Labour Party raised many concerns about the impact on vulnerable groups of removing ring fencing, but that is a fundamentally different issue. If councils choose to move spending from one area to another and they are wrong, they should be held to account for that in the council chamber, not here—not through direction or micromanagement from Holyrood.

Autonomy for local government is important because it concerns how we achieve better public services. Focusing services on local needs is best done locally. If councils can innovate and take different approaches to problems, that allows us to evaluate over time what works best and why. Just as devolution has allowed public services to evolve differently in the United Kingdom's constituent parts, local autonomy will allow councils to take a similar approach.

Mr Kerr mentioned efficiency targets. Some have said that the Government's efficiency targets cannot be achieved, but we have not said that. However, we wonder whether the political will exists to drive through the efficiency savings. Time will tell.

Mr Kerr made an interesting point about how the efficiency savings are delivered in the Scottish budget. The Government in Westminster is taking exactly the same approach—the 3 per cent targets from the Gershon review come straight off the baseline. The Labour Party's different approaches north and south of the border are interesting.

I hope that no serious politician would argue that scope does not exist to deliver better value for money and to improve public services. We should debate what we can deliver and how, rather than play the blame game that it looks like we will have today.

I move amendment S3M-1849.1, to insert at end:

"believes that there is scope for continuous improvement in the design and delivery of public services, and rejects the notion that improvements in public services can only be achieved by increased levels of public spending."

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 3:21, 8 May 2008

I was struck by Derek Brownlee's point about the changing face of government, whereby one sector has priority then another sector becomes a priority at a different time. Under the SNP Government, I presume that the parliamentary draftsmen who provide legislation for the Parliament do not have terribly good career prospects.

The debate is important and the Liberal Democrats have called for it ever since the Government published its plans to reduce the number of national public service organisations by what I thought was 25 per cent but which I now see is 26 per cent. The First Minister has talked about the subject and he was originally a bit wobbly about his start point. He included several bodies that the previous Government had planned to remove—not least the 32 children's panel advisory committees—and he claimed the 32 justice of the peace advisory committees that we abolished, which I mentioned.

Ministers' methods in relation to the sportscotland fiasco were instructive. They told us that they had consulted on the issue. They talked to people in the field, but they could not tell us precisely who they had talked to and they would not publish the responses.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The 32 justice of the peace advisory committees had been rationalised to six, which represents a reduction of 26 and not of 32, as the member claimed.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I accept that, but the substantial point is that the decision was made under the previous Government—that shows the continuity of Government policy.

It turned out that sportscotland was being dealt with on the model of the historic national concordat, whereby ministers said that one thing had been agreed and everybody else said another thing. The inevitable result was a U-turn that calmed but did not end months of total uncertainty and confusion in the sports sector in the vital months as we developed the plans for the Commonwealth games. That was rather less the "radical and far reaching" ideas to blow

"the fresh wind of democracy through Scotland's quango culture" that the First Minister trumpeted and more a self-imposed SNP Government humiliation for the hapless Stewart Maxwell that was—if anything—reminiscent of Tony Blair's cack-handed move to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor, which some of us recall.

Liberal Democrats do not demur from the objective of streamlining government. We supported the objective in government and we support it now. Indeed, retrenchment was one arm of the famous trinity of liberal themes as long ago as Gladstone, who famously got his staff to reuse pencils. He managed to run the empire with a part-time secretary, whereas the SNP cannot run Scotland effectively with a bagful of ministers, no legislation of worth and no less than 14 MSPs seconded as parliamentary liaison officers. So neutered is the SNP parliamentary group that only eight SNP members have not been appointed as ministers, committee conveners or liaison officers. I wonder what Glasgow has done to fall so out of grace with the boss that three of the remaining SNP back benchers should be from there.

What is the rationale for reducing the number of public bodies by 25 or even 26 per cent? Why not 20, 30 or 27.25 per cent? Twenty five per cent is a suspiciously round figure. It is claimed that the process will save £25 million over three years. We could perhaps have guessed that, as 25 appears to be the magic Scottish National Party number. That saving is already offset by the £16 million start-up costs of the new skills quango, Skills Development Scotland.

Liberal Democrats welcome the target of £25 million, but it is possibly the only clear figure in the SNP Government's programme. After all, as we saw this morning, there is total obscurity over the number of houses that it intends to build and how much they will cost and, as we saw at lunch time, over the number of schools, if any, that will materialise under the Scottish futures trust. We welcome the £25 million, but it is small pickings from the £2 billion efficiency savings postulated by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, which so far appear to be relatively unplanned, uncosted and unspecified.

The faggots were being placed under Alex Salmond's blaze of the quangos while, in the six months to November 2007, 24 new public bodies were being set up. Perhaps the cabinet secretary might be kind enough to update those figures to May 2008 when he closes the debate.

My concern about the SNP's policy is that, although it appears to have been drawn up on the back of the proverbial matchbox, it is nevertheless presented as a decision made, rather than a proposal to be consulted on. That is why the Government got into a mess over sportscotland and why there is anger at the proposal to abolish the Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland, which means that the distinctive voice of disabled people will be lost and subsumed into the generic Public Transport Users Committee. I am not aware of a particular fuss about the scrapping of the Building Standards Advisory Committee, but a bland statement that

"expert advice on building standards will be obtained in other ways" hardly gives reassurance that plan B is viable and considered.

Some of those bodies were long fought for, do a vital job and should not be unceremoniously dumped without examination and consultation. There has been no cohesive examination of those proposals by sector and no consultation to flush out the pros and cons of the perfunctory decisions that have been made. The figures and percentages have been plucked out of a hat; it is not about what is good for the sector concerned.

I support the Government's direction of travel on tribunals. Lord Phillips is reviewing administrative justice and is due to report in August. The review will produce proposals, which I hope will be consulted on, and the consultation will lead to decisions. That is the right way to do it.

It is time for the SNP Government to bring coherence, order and principle to its programme. It should bring the most significant of its proposals to Parliament and, above all, I encourage it to get into the habit of consulting first and deciding later, rather than the other way round.

I move amendment S3M-1849.3, to leave out from "opportunity" to end and insert:

"commitment from successive Scottish administrations to reduce waste, bureaucracy and duplication in Scotland's public sector; notes with concern the current administration's superficial approach, which appears to be driven by numerical and financial targets alone rather than principles of good governance, and the failure of the Scottish Government to consult properly with the interests affected by key decisions, and regrets that these decisions were taken without parliamentary approval."

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party 3:27, 8 May 2008

In the course of any debate on the efficiency and effectiveness of public services, it is easy to forget about those who will be affected by the changes that will be introduced as a result of the Government's programmes: the employees. I had 10 years' experience in public service and I know that there are many dedicated public servants who are committed to their role in our public services. That factor should be kept in mind when we make any changes and debate the issue.

However, like many members, many complaints that I receive from constituents and local businessmen are about inefficiency, difficulties with public services, duplication, complications and the lack of responsiveness that they experience when they raise issues with public bodies. I even receive some complaints from those who work in public bodies about inefficiencies and the fact that their organisation is not modernising in the way that the employee believes that it could to achieve better outcomes. Anything that the Government can do to create a more efficient public service is in the interests of not only the public and the taxpayer, but public servants. People will be much more receptive to public servants when they are more effective.

There is a contrast between the way in which the Scottish Government has gone about the process compared to the London Government's approach to trying to achieve more effective or more efficient public services. The approach in London on the redundancy issue appears to be about the head count—the more people that we get out the door, the more effective our public services will be—whereas the approach up here, which involves no compulsory redundancies, is one that I believe will allow us to deliver effective public services.

Photo of Derek Brownlee Derek Brownlee Conservative

Is the member aware that there are about to be a number of redundancies in London that will significantly improve the efficiency of the public services?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

That comes as no surprise from a Conservative, but it is not always the best way to get the best out of our public services.

The Government has made significant steps in the past year with a 25 per cent reduction in the number of quangos and a reduction in the number of national public organisations to 120. As the minister said, by 2011 that will be the lowest number since the start of devolution. We have already heard Opposition members claiming credit for some of those things, but given that the focus is on outcomes, it is clear that the current Government is focused on delivering; the previous Government might just have talked about it in the past.

As we move from an output to an outcome approach that will deliver more transparent and effective public service, we must consider achieving more openness and transparency in our public services by changing their culture. When the Parliament was considering the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill, a key theme was how it would apply to public bodies. One of the issues that came up was that the biggest challenge to the effectiveness of a freedom of information regime was the culture of public bodies and the need to make them more open, engaged and transparent. One of the challenges for a Government trying to meet its efficiency targets and ensure that public services are more effective is to change the culture and behaviour of some of our public bodies.

Whether it is Scottish Natural Heritage, which thinks of itself as judge and jury when it comes to certain dealings with my constituents, or Scottish Water, which thinks nothing of spending four years putting off farmers over compensation, some public bodies think that they can do what they want without effectively engaging with the public or recognising the consequences of their inaction. That is a culture issue, and changing culture must underpin our ensuring more effective public services.

An example of the ineffectiveness of some public bodies is provided by what happened to a company in my constituency. In September last year it became apparent, from a bid made to the European Commission for European Social Fund moneys, that food was no longer going to be part of the ESF in Scotland. There were consequences for thousands of people employed in the bakery industry in Scotland, whose support and training were provided by ESF funding. The civil servants put up their hands and admitted that they had made a mistake when they made the application to the EU. However, since September last year, the bakery industry, which trains almost 1,000 people every year across Scotland, has had no response from the civil servants or the department on how they are going to rectify the problem.

That is not effective public service. The industry is important to our country and food policy is a priority for the Government. The civil servants have accepted that they made a mistake, but they have not engaged with the industry to find a solution and address the problem. That is an example of the type of public service inefficiency and ineffectiveness that frustrates people in industry.

In the course of creating a culture change in our public services, I hope that ministers will ensure that a big part of it is about being much more engaged. I also hope that public services will recognise that they are part of the solution to some of the difficulties experienced at times by the business sector and others.

Photo of Michael McMahon Michael McMahon Labour 3:34, 8 May 2008

If any student of the Parliament is looking for a case study of the different approaches to debates taken by the Government and the Opposition, today is a good example. This morning, we debated a detailed Labour Party motion on housing. In stark contrast, this afternoon the motion before us asks us to welcome

"the opportunity to debate proposals to deliver better public services", but it does so in the now traditional manner of the Government, because the rest of the motion consists of nothing more than prosy sentiments aimed at getting away with the perception that the Government is doing something substantial without telling us how it is going to do anything at all.

The motion asks us to support the reduction of

"duplication, bureaucracy and overlaps in the public sector".

Who would disagree with that aspiration? Unfortunately, we are then subjected to the usual Matheresque bunkum about

"the aim of achieving greater focus and alignment with the Purpose of Government".

The motion then goes on to ask us to look to

"the outcomes set out in the national performance framework" for the evidence of what the Government is about to do. Unfortunately, I am none the wiser for having done so. The "Scottish Budget Spending Review 2007", which contains the framework, presents us with buzz words, managementspeak and meaningless baloney, all aimed at telling us that the Government's economic strategy aims to do this or that. However, there is nothing in the framework that even hints at how those aspirations are to be met.

We are to have "high level Purpose targets" and

"Five Strategic Objectives support delivery of the Purpose".

We are informed that

"The whole of the public sector will, for the first time, be expected to contribute to one overarching Purpose".

However, nowhere are we let in on the secret of how the Government intends this so-called purpose ever to be achieved. Based on the Government's record up to now, we can conclude only that, in short, it intends to pass the buck. The historic concordat comes to the rescue again. It is dragged out every time the Government is asked how something will be achieved—"It's in the historic concordat," we are told. There is no need for any explanation of what exactly we are debating this afternoon, because it is not for this Government to explain anything.

The debate before us, therefore, amounts to a request for us to keep our fingers crossed, let the Government take the credit for what our public sector does right and blame the public sector for what might go wrong, even if it cannot admit, despite the growing evidence, that things are going wrong.

Quite simply, that is not good enough. Scotland's public services are crucial to the fabric of our country. Our people value services such as education, health care and public transport far too much to leave them to chance. Modern and efficient public services lie at the very heart of a productive and fair society, which is why Labour believes in our public services and the people who deliver them.

Yes, public services must improve their productivity, efficiency and performance. Service users and taxpayers have a right to expect that their hard-earned money is being spent on the right things and that public services are getting value for that money. Service users and taxpayers have to be confident that what is available is being used to best effect. What really counts is what people get for what is put in from the public purse. That is not a responsibility that this Government or any Government can abdicate, but, unfortunately, that is what this Government wants to do.

The Government needs to tell us how it will tackle the variations in performance across our public services and bring all services up to the standards that are presently achieved by the best. Differences in performance are too marked at present and could get worse if single outcome agreements are not tight enough.

No one should be against local flexibility, but wide variations and postcode lotteries are not acceptable either.

How will the Government address variations in the cost of services between authorities? What will the Government do to help us spread more effective and efficient practice throughout Government? The Government could have used this afternoon to answer those questions. Instead, we have had yet another insubstantial motion that tells us nothing and a debate that the Government hopes will allow it to skate around the issue. The motion confirms that the Government stands for spin over substance and perception over reality. It believes its own spin and has entered a delusional world if it thinks that the motion is good enough for the people of Scotland.

Unfortunately, if we look through the document for examples of what we could be debating this afternoon, we find, on biodiversity, that the Government is going to

"increase the index of abundance of terrestrial breeding birds".

I do not know whether that means that it will try to count penguins or explore the possibility of breeding in midair. We have to know exactly what that means. That is no more meaningful than the objective to

"Increase the proportion of adults making one or more visits to the outdoors per week", which leaves us with a vision of wardens going around our local communities, dragging people out into the street to ensure that that is what the Scotland of the future will be.

That is not efficient Government; it is baloney. It is not good enough. The Government should not pretend that that is what Scotland is looking for from the Parliament.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 3:39, 8 May 2008

As a local councillor and public servant for many years, I am pleased to participate in the debate. How we deliver effective public services is one of the key issues—perhaps the key issue—facing Parliament and inherited by the Scottish National Party Government.

The Government has been clear in its approach to public services and its agenda for change, as exemplified by the agreement with Scotland's local authorities. The amendments offered by the Liberal Democrats and Labour suggest that they have been surprised by the pace of change in the past year.

Far from being superficial, the changes being introduced are both wide-ranging and fundamental. The de-cluttering process that was referred to earlier has been widely welcomed and delivers on a promise that was not delivered by the previous Executive.

Instead of just talking about reductions in waste, bureaucracy and duplication, the Government is already acting by bringing in-house much of Communities Scotland, the Scottish Agricultural Science Agency, and the Building Standards Agency; revising and aligning the Scottish Enterprise and VisitScotland networks; and strengthening Skills Development Scotland. Proposals for reducing the number of public agencies have been published. Who in Scotland will lament the demise of the Fisheries (Electricity) Committee?

The agreement with local authorities opens up the prospect of a fundamental change in the delivery of public services. This, combined with the sweeping away of the micromanagement of local authorities, has been welcomed. For the first time in decades, local authorities will have real control over how to deliver for their communities.

There are regular attempts in the chamber to talk up a sense of cuts and crisis in local government. However, local authority leaders of all parties have embraced the settlement with the Government. That is by far a more reliable indicator of the views of those who really matter—our local authorities themselves.

The delivery of public services is not an end in itself. The services should be focused on delivering real and tangible outcomes for local communities. For too long, significant resources have been invested in poorly designed services that fail to deliver for communities. Today, Audit Scotland again drew attention to the increase in overcrowding in Scotland's jails. Although the Auditor General may be too diplomatic to say so, it is clear that this reflects the failure of previous policy.

The result of the failure is communities blighted by a high level of re-offending. For too many, life in prison has become preparation for a life in crime.

Last month, Audit Scotland highlighted declining participation in sport in Scotland—just as we are gearing up for the Commonwealth games in 2014. The key message in the report to the Audit Committee was clear and damning:

"There is no clear link between the national strategy for sport and councils' investment of money in facilities and services across Scotland."

Significant amounts of national funding have been targeted at increasing participation in sport, but targets for participation by young people are not being met and adult participation is actually declining. Clearly, as with the prisons, the previous approach to sport did not work.

The Government has made clear its long-term ambition and its strategy for Scotland's public services and for Scotland.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat

I accept the point; the Auditor General's report is interesting in that context. Will Mr Coffey indicate what would need to happen in order to make the connection between the inputs and the outcomes more effective, and how that would be monitored by Government?

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party

In order to define the outcomes we want to achieve, we will have to engage far more closely with the public. As someone who has been involved in local government for a long time, I accept that many outcomes are hard to measure. A lot of it is perception based. A way to overcome that to a great degree is to ask the public what they think of the service delivery. That is often a better indicator than specifically asking people whether we meet direct targets.

The strategic objectives underpinning the Government's activities are spelled out and are being used to drive forward policy and delivery. The efficient Government programme for 2008 to 2011 spells out how this will be achieved. Already, that has been translated into the efficiency delivery plan. Those documents provide the detail on where efficiency gains will be made and how they are to be used. What is important for service users is that the Government is clear that service levels must be maintained or improved. It is crucial that effectiveness is not overlooked in the drive for efficiency. People in Scotland are interested in the positive outcomes that are achieved—not just the programmes that are delivered or how much money gets spent.

The Government is reshaping Scotland's public services so as to make them more flexible, responsive and effective. The resources freed up by cutting bureaucracy and duplication can be used more productively to innovate and improve service delivery to communities throughout Scotland. The evidence from polls is that that approach is driving a growing confidence in the Government among the business community and beyond. In a recent poll of businessmen and women, over half of those contacted thought that the Government was doing a good or excellent job—hardly the message of doom and gloom that is being peddled around the chamber.

The Government will achieve its ambitions if Scotland's public services deliver their full value. The evidence from the Government's first year in office is that its approach is widely welcomed. It has engaged with local authorities, business and the wider community in delivering a step change in Scotland's performance. I am delighted to support the motion.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour 3:45, 8 May 2008

The Scottish Government's stated aspiration to have less bureaucratic public services is inseparable from the broader issues around the efficiency and, indeed, the funding of those services.

Some of the smoke generated by the Scottish Government thus far on its anti-bureaucratic course comes not so much from a bonfire of the quangos but a smoke-and-mirrors ploy by Alex Salmond, whose Administration has created around 39 new quangos in the past year.

Smoke also got in our eyes when we tried to get into the detail of the Scottish Government's first budget for Scotland. It was sad that as soon as John Swinney came to power, he abandoned his previously stated commitment to a more transparent budget process, but it was bad that he tried to make the current budget process less transparent by withholding key information from parliamentary committees—for which he was admonished by the Finance Committee convener, SNP member Andrew Welsh, on behalf of that committee and many others.

In preparing for the debate, I downloaded from the Scottish Government website the not-very-historic concordat between the Scottish Government and Scottish local government. I know that it is not very historic because, on the website, it is filed under "miscellaneous". It is true that the concordat might well assist in reducing bureaucracy through, for example, a stated joint approach to the important regulatory issues raised in the Crerar report. Overall, however, the concordat is mostly about money.

Although the language about outcome agreements might seem to take a light touch, we should bear in mind that Scotland's councils are the only part of our public services that have a statutory duty to seek best value in service delivery. We should bear in mind that John Swinney fettered the discretion of councils in setting their budgets by making some of their grant support dependent on a council tax freeze. We should bear in mind that the Scottish Government proposes what it calls a local income tax—it would in fact be set nationally—that would completely strip from elected councillors their ability to raise finance locally.

Therefore, the concordat is merely a prelude to a bonfire—not of the quangos but of local democracy. Why does the Scottish Government advocate independence for Scotland—although, as we have seen, not yet—but seek to turn Scotland's local government into mere local administration? Why does the Scottish Government seek fiscal autonomy to replace the block grant from Westminster but seek to remove councils' fiscal autonomy and replace it with a block grant?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

Will the member explain to me, from the perspective of someone who, like me, has a council background, why the Government's elimination of most of the ring-fenced funding somehow fetters what a local authority is required to do?

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

I am on the record in the Parliament time and again as opposing ring fencing, but when the member's party insists on a council tax freeze, de facto it partly fetters elected councillors' discretion. The member does not necessarily think that that is a bad outcome, but it is a fact that the councillors had their discretion fettered because they were told by the Government, "We are holding some of your grant back unless you agree to a council tax freeze," and facts are chiels that winna ding.

Photo of Charlie Gordon Charlie Gordon Labour

I am not going to take any more interventions because this is good stuff and I want to hear what I am going to say next.

Next spring, as the Scottish public realise what the Scottish Government's budget and the concordat did not deliver—because, in the best of all possible worlds, not everything can be delivered—the Scottish Government's treasurer, Mr Swinney, will become more unpopular. It is the unhappy fate of all treasurers, be they in bowling clubs, residents associations or Governments, to become unpopular as agreements that are accepted by colleagues in principle become unacceptable in practice. John Swinney has probably already found that one or two of his ministerial colleagues have, as they say, gone native, perhaps urged on by civil servants to defend their departments.

Apart from local government, the public sector has no best-value duty, although we have the efficient government programme and the Howat report. Mr Swinney published that report and then appeared to embrace most of its contents so, as we speak, several of Howat's proposals are being argued over behind the scenes. To name but two, there are proposals to reduce community pharmacy services and extend Scottish Police Services Authority procurement to the fire and ambulance services. Beneath all that, people ask me about the direction in which the Scottish Government is taking Scotland's public services—it is rightwards. The true direction is towards not a Scandinavian-style social democracy with generous public services, but an Irish model with low business taxes and centralised, moderately funded public services.

Photo of Alex Johnstone Alex Johnstone Conservative 3:51, 8 May 2008

I am inclined to agree with Michael McMahon's analysis that the motion is an unambitious little one that does not take us very far, but I welcome it in so far as it gives me the opportunity to introduce a host of ideas that only a Conservative is qualified to introduce in such a debate. I begin with the Conservative amendment, which mentions the notion that public services can be improved only by spending more money. I think that we are past that notion and I hope that Labour has learned from its mistakes when in government, particularly in the early days of the Scottish Parliament, when huge amounts of public money were ploughed into health services to no avail. Only last night, I congratulated Andy Kerr on tidying up that mess.

As we consider the expenditure of public money and what we get for it, we must consider efficiency. The motion is entitled "Effective Public Services", which is something that we should all pursue. However, although I forgive the Government for making the mistake of thinking that expenditure of public money is the same as improvement in public services, I cannot forgive Bruce Crawford for the persistent failure in his opening speech to realise that public services and the public sector are two different things and that the opportunity to exploit the private and voluntary sectors more effectively can deliver much-improved and more efficient public services.

I know that that idea exists in parts of the Government because, only two weeks ago, I attended a meeting of representatives from the north-east with the leader and deputy leader of Aberdeen City Council. At the meeting, John Swinney explained at great length where the council had gone wrong and how it might steer back from its difficult situation. He said that keeping too many services in-house and preserving the council's funding streams at the expense of the voluntary sector was one reason why the council had lost its way.

I have heard other Government ministers explain at great length how the private sector can deliver public services effectively. At the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee this week, I heard the Minister for Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change, Stewart Stevenson, explain at great length why the extension of the ScotRail franchise and the incentivisation of further development of services would actually deliver money back to the Scottish Government and to the Scottish transport user, rather than simply resulting in incentives disappearing and money being wasted. That represents another opportunity for the private sector to deliver.

Why does this Government refuse to realise that many more opportunities exist for private sector investment and ingenuity to deliver real improvements in public service? Why does the Government not take the opportunity to join the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and do something about Scottish Water, bringing about the efficiencies that are possible there? Why does the Government not join us in taking Scottish Water into a mutual model that will deliver real savings for the taxpayer? Why does the Government not take the opportunity to do something about providing effective public services? The Government could do those things by turning away from the dogma that public service and the public sector are synonymous.

During the debate, other points have been raised that concern me. Although we in the Conservatives understand why the Government has pursued efficiency savings without compulsory redundancies, we must never forget that public service is not a job-creation scheme. Effective and efficient public services can, in themselves, deliver the opportunity for improved private sector growth that can create as many jobs as the public sector, and can do so in such a way as to generate a return for the economy as a whole.

There are many opportunities that the Government has not taken up. Let us work together and move forward to a point at which public service can be delivered effectively and efficiently by all sectors—not just the public sector. Such a move, and such opportunities, will deliver the real efficiency savings that the Government has sought for so long. They can be delivered if the chance is taken.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party 3:57, 8 May 2008

Like my colleague William Coffey, I would like to take the opportunity to consider specific opportunities within the influence of local authorities to deliver better public services.

I am a new resident of the city of Aberdeen, and I would like to list some of the things that Aberdeen City Council has been up to in recent years. In particular, it has undertaken to transform the delivery of its services to the public. In recent months, it has approved a number of transformation strategies covering a range of areas including adult services, children's services, sport and leisure, and waste and the environment.

With regard to social care, the council is taking steps to move towards the in control system of social care delivery, in which people with care needs are given direct control over the services that they receive and are provided with funding to ensure that they are able to choose their own service providers and service. That is a step beyond the concept of direct payments.

The key principles behind the in control system are that people have a right to independent living, a right to an individual and flexible budget and a right to self-determination. The approach means that decision making will be made as close to the person as possible, to reflect their individual interests and preferences.

In children's services, the council is committed to active promotion of the placement of looked-after children within the local authority area. That has tangible benefits for the child and their family, as they are located close to each other. It also has benefits for the council in reducing the costs of placing children outside the city.

At the same time, the transformation programme is placing a particular emphasis on the principle of early intervention, which the Scottish Government is keen to promote. Early intervention, through partnership working, would undoubtedly help to reduce the numbers of looked-after children in the city.

The council is now taking steps to modernise and improve the sports and leisure service as a whole. It is moving towards trust status, which has proven successful in other local authorities. However, it is also important to focus on an improvement that highlights some of the long-standing problems faced by the city since 1996.

Believe it or not, the council's booking system is a throwback to the days before the creation of the unitary authorities—it harks back to the days of the regional and district councils. There are in effect two unsynchronised facilities booking systems, which leads to what can only be described as a bureaucratic mess, resulting in a poorer service to the public and impeding the council's efforts to modernise its working practices.

That anomaly, which has existed since the council's formation in 1996, is just one of many that have had to be rectified. I welcome the fact that the council has finally recognised the problem and is seeking to rectify it through the transformation strategies. Incidentally, I should point out that a computerised leisure booking system will automatically capture some of the data that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth will need if he is to find out how things have changed.

On waste and the environment, the council's commitment to ambitious recycling targets, which will run in tandem with our ambitious national policies on reduced landfill and increased recycling, is excellent news. Moreover, the recent news that kerbside recycling schemes are to be rolled out to tenement properties and multistorey properties is an extremely positive development and will undoubtedly help to improve recycling rates across the city. Moves to introduce commingled garden and food waste recycling will also boost recycling rates and reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfill.

We have to bear in mind the implications of the landfill tax, which will severely punish councils that do not actively reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. As a result, we must surely welcome the steps that Aberdeen City Council is taking in that respect.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

I will, but I should first make the point that refusing to recycle is a classic case of pouring money into a hole in the ground.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I absolutely agree. Does the member therefore understand the frustration felt at this end of the country, where Borders Council, the City of Edinburgh Council and the Lothian authorities had put together a joint funding bid for a joint waste minimisation project, only to have it cancelled by this Government? That means that there will have to be five separate waste minimisation projects. How efficient is that?

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

With respect, it is not my job to answer for the Government, particularly on an issue that I know nothing about. I am sure that the ministers will be willing to answer the member's question.

Photo of Nigel Don Nigel Don Scottish National Party

On Tuesday, Aberdeen City Council and the maritime and environmental organisation KIMO International launched a scheme to promote reusable bags as an alternative to plastic carrier bags. I know that people are concerned about the issue, but the scheme shows that it can be dealt with locally simply by encouraging the right people to do the right things.

I clearly have no time to expand on other issues that are set out in the draft single outcome agreement. However, I must point out the Aberdeen renewable energy group, in which the council has a stake, and its promotion of offshore wind power; plans to invest in healthy weight initiatives for seven to 13-year-olds—as convener of the cross-party group on obesity, I know that that is when such issues must be tackled; plans to increase the number of foster carers; and, finally, better controlled access to multistorey flats. It will be obvious to members how such moves will improve the safety, security, health and wellbeing of Aberdeen's residents.

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour 4:03, 8 May 2008

Efficient public services play a vital part in our society and provide cohesion, opportunities and a safety net for many of our citizens. I know from experience that a range of dedicated people deliver quality services every day; I also know from experience that, on far too many occasions, we make it damn hard for them to do so. If these services are vital today, they will become even more vital in the future.

However, in the relatively near future—say over the next 15 years—our relative economic position in the world and our society's demographics will change, our citizens' needs will increase and their expectations will grow dramatically. The question is how to sustain what we have and how to meet those growing expectations. Money alone will not do it. We can engage in as much rhetoric as we like, but the fact is there will be less money around. Irrespective of the actions of Government, our relative economic position will change and we will become less and less able to keep throwing money at inefficiently organised services.

If we are really serious about addressing the issue, we will have to put rhetoric to one side and face up to some hard facts. That will take Government action, some of which will be unpopular. Why do we need to do that? For a start, our society will become older and more dependent. Lifestyle choices that are made today will result in extremely expensive health care costs in the future. The world economic order will change; indeed, it has done so already. Some estimates suggest that China will take over from the United States as the world's most powerful economy within the next 10 years. As a result, it will become harder and harder for us to compete economically in a globalised economy.

In Scotland, as elsewhere, knowledge and intellectual property will be the drivers of future economic prosperity, so any country that uses its greatest asset—its people—to best effect will be best placed to provide a platform for success and a safety net against unacceptable decline through the provision of efficient and effective public services.

If we in Scotland are to do that, we will have to face up to some hard facts. Too many of our public services are poorly co-ordinated. Our use of our most precious asset—our people—is all too often focused on the needs of the producer rather than those of the consumer.

I will give an example. Strathclyde Police covers more than half of Scotland; another seven forces cover the rest of the country. Even instinctively, does that seem like a good or cost-effective arrangement? To his credit, the new chief constable of Strathclyde Police has established a long-needed review of management structures in an effort to get more front-line police officers on the street. At the very least, surely that exercise can be replicated across the country.

The protectionism that exists among senior managers in far too many public service organisations is costing us dear today and will deny people the public services that they need and deserve in the future.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I do not mean to put the member on the spot, but does he accept—I think that he has the imagination to do so—the corollary of what he said, which is that unemployment will rise at a time when we do not have the economic levers to hand to cope with it?

Photo of Tom McCabe Tom McCabe Labour

I in no way accept that proposition. I said that the issue is how we use our human capital. For many years, the fastest growing sector of our economy has been financial services. The industry might be in a bit of trouble at the moment but, as yet, there are no great signs that we in Scotland will be dramatically affected. The people whom we could release from inefficient public services would find their feet in that and other sectors, thereby adding to the dynamism of our economy and the prosperity of our nation. It is a counsel of despair to say that efficient public services will necessarily lead to unemployment in this country. That is simply not the case.

As the years go by, the consumption by our 32 councils, at horrendous expense, of huge numbers of well-educated and professionally trained individuals will be a severe constraint on our ability to afford quality public services. Frankly, we could spend all day citing examples not only of duplication, but of demarcation and protectionism.

As Minister for Finance and Public Service Reform, I engaged in an extensive consultation on the future of our public services. We spoke to service users and managers, among others, across a range of organisations. I tell the Parliament that, without a hint of a political agenda in their voices, people expressed their frustration with a system that hinders and prevents, and which makes it immeasurably more difficult to deliver the services to which they are so rightly committed.

There are dedicated professionals who work at the front line of our public services who are sick to the back teeth of the posturing and protectionism that they see in their own organisations and from politicians. If we are serious about tackling the issue, political courage and considerable up-front investment will be necessary, and there will need to be a willingness to engage with people who work in the public services to reassure and convince them that the changes that are made will be in the interests of everyone in our society. If the current Government is prepared to stand up to that challenge, I will be the first to give it the credit that it is due, but I will judge it by its actions rather than just its words.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 4:09, 8 May 2008

If the Government had started in the way that Tom McCabe so eloquently described, we would have a Government that designs the best method of delivering community public services and then introduces the area structures to match. However, when I read the first line of the Government's motion—

"That the Parliament welcomes the opportunity to debate proposals"—

I was frustrated, because decisions have already been taken and in many areas the position is now set.

Previously, the partners in the Borders—the council, NHS Borders, Scottish Enterprise Borders, the tourism agency, housing associations, the G division of the police force and local community groups—worked in a coterminous, effective and efficient way. The Borders approach was a genuine community partnership that was efficient in delivering public services in a joined-up way. Each agency and body is small compared with those in other parts of Scotland but, together, they had strength and an ability to be efficient for a population of just 108,000.

That was the context in which the Government decided to declutter the local landscape. Last autumn, without having a parliamentary debate or taking a vote on the issue, the Government began pulling the existing arrangement apart. The minister must understand that there is genuine concern in the Borders about the changes. The first change was to Scottish Enterprise Borders, which no longer exists; instead of a dedicated economic development body for the area, there is now a generic Scottish Enterprise across the south of Scotland. The threshold for support for businesses has increased to £1 million or more, which excludes a great number of businesses in the area from economic development support. Scottish Borders Council is now reluctantly responsible for the business gateway; we simply do not know how that will be configured in the future, but I do know that there is no longer a dedicated small business adviser for rural businesses.

The skills function of Scottish Enterprise, which was previously based in a local team in Galashiels that had local knowledge and contacts, is now part of a new national quango: Skills Development Scotland, an organisation with budgeted start-up costs alone of £16 million, as Robert Brown said. There is continuing uncertainty about the regional structure for this new quango. Either the Galashiels team will be based with a south of Scotland team and will shadow the enterprise structure, which makes little economic sense, given the area's links with the Edinburgh and Lothian economic and further and higher education markets that have developed over many years, or it will fit in with Lothian and will be out of sync with the south of Scotland enterprise body.

That is not just a bureaucratic process. As someone who provides work placements, I received a letter a few weeks ago from Careers Scotland in Galashiels that indicated that matters would no longer be co-ordinated from Galashiels in the Borders but would now be co-ordinated from Glasgow. Today, my office received a new, four-page form for me to fill in, although my information is already on the Careers Scotland database. I must fill in the form within a week to prepare for the beginning of the new academic term in June. All businesses on the database must do that for the organisation in Glasgow.

Next week, a year after the SNP Government came to power, there will be a meeting on how Borders exporters will be supported. We do not know how Scottish Development International will link up at a local level. VisitScotland in the south of Scotland is now a generic body, too, with a focus simply on delivering a national agenda or local contracts to the local councils, which is questionable under state aid rules.

This is not simply about processes; it is about the effective management of local services. I am not scaremongering. The Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee has been taking evidence for our scrutiny of support for the creative industries and, in the Scottish Enterprise written submission, Jack Perry took pride in telling us:

"With the move of Business Gateway functions to Local Authorities we will no longer proactively support businesses that primarily service local markets."

How that fits with the Government's economic strategy, which singles out the Borders as needing specific support, is beyond me.

The essence of the previous approach may have been to consider efficient processes, but now the word "efficiencies" is the new euphemism for spending cuts. I am not scaremongering about this, either. Last week, the Headteachers Association of Scotland told me that a school that was removing three teachers had been instructed to call them "teachers who are surplus to requirements", rather than use the word "redundant". Therefore, we have teachers in Scotland who are surplus to requirements at the same time as the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is saying that she is putting record numbers of teachers into training and that there will be posts in schools for them. That simply is not a credible way of managing public services.

We have the bizarre situation, too, of the merger of the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen into the new creative Scotland agency. The Government estimates that there will be £1.4 million set-up costs for that, which will be taken out of the operating budget, so grants to small organisations will be affected. The cabinet secretary may not believe me and may question the validity of the information that was provided about that. However, the convener of the Finance Committee, describing the financial memorandum to the Creative Scotland Bill, said:

"It is the most unreliable estimate that I have seen in my life."

Alex Neil said:

"It seems as if you have stuck your thumb in the air and plucked out a figure ... I do not see how we can even consider the matter now, given the total lack of reliable information."

If that was not enough, the convener went on to say:

"It is one of the vaguest things that I have heard in my life."

Later, he said:

"I think that you can see that the committee is not at all happy. I hope that future financial memoranda will, when possible, be much more accurate, to allow Parliament to have accurate financial information before it."—[Official Report, Finance Committee, 22 April 2008; c 397, 398, 399, 400-1.]

Considering that that was an SNP convener speaking to an SNP Government official, a bit more humility in the Government motion would have been appropriate. If ministers do not listen to borderers or to me, they should at least listen to the SNP members of the Finance Committee. The Government has a long way to go before there is any credibility in its efficient government process.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party 4:15, 8 May 2008

I am lucky enough to have spent all my working life in one public service or another: first in the Royal Air Force, then in the national health service and finally in the Parliament. I can therefore be described as an enthusiast for public services in general, but that enthusiasm is not unqualified. The services that we offer the public—services that are paid for by the public—are not always of the highest standard. That is why I welcome the debate and the Government's commitment to raising standards and increasing efficiency.

Let us consider some of the problems that can arise in a great public service. There is the problem of size, with a corresponding lengthening of the lines of communication. That problem is magnified when those running the service not only make strategic decisions but insist on micromanaging relatively small areas of it. The result is that middle management becomes demoralised and fearful of making any decisions. An inevitable knock-on effect is that those on the shop floor—the doctors, nurses, teachers or whoever is actually providing the service to the public—also feel undervalued and powerless to effect change. The net consequence is low morale, and a service that is provided grudgingly and is often of a low standard.

I am therefore delighted that the Government is committed to measuring output rather than input—although that is a difficult job—to judging performance against the five strategic objectives rather than hundreds of centrally laid down targets, and to letting the public have access to objective evidence of how progress is being maintained. I recommend the adoption—perhaps with some modifications—of lessons that have emerged in recent years from the Toyota car factory in Japan. Whether all sections of every public service would benefit from a formal kaizen blitz is dubious, but—

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Such a programme is under way in the NHS, particularly in general practices.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I know that, and I know that there has been a successful kaizen blitz in NHS Lothian, for example in laboratory services, but it is by no means widespread throughout the public services. I suggest that that should be considered with more intensity in future.

The principle of involving all levels of staff in decisions affecting the efficiency of their work and then immediately implementing those decisions with the full backing of higher management could transform sections of many public services almost overnight. Initiatives such as kaizen blitzes and lean management can succeed only if the general strategy is sound. After all, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was spectacularly successful but strategically disastrous. I remember Sir Ken Calman, in the days when he was chief medical officer at the Scottish health department, under a Conservative Government, complaining about how difficult it was to provide a meaningful service when the politicians running the Scottish NHS, then based at Westminster, kept changing their strategic objectives. I do not wish to trespass too insensitively on private grief, but one is tempted to feel that he must be experiencing a certain sense of déjà vu these days as he contemplates the various and contradictory statements about an independence referendum made by the largest of the three unionist parties that are today his political masters. It is Government's function to set overall objectives, and senior management's to devise the strategies that will achieve those objectives. I am confident that this Government is well on the way to achieving that goal.

There is the question of the funding of public services. I make no apology for raising that matter because extravagant funding decisions reduce the amount of money that is available for other activities and hence have a deleterious effect.

The full extent of the disaster that is the private finance initiative is only now coming to light. There is not time to deal with that topic at length, but suffice it to say that the previous Government's slack commissioning procedures have allowed PFI bidders to levy an annual unitary charge that is based in part on the initial capital sum involved.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour

Will Ian McKee give way on that point?

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

No, sorry. I want to develop it.

PFI bidders have been allowed to do that despite the capital sum decreasing yearly. They have also been allowed to invest, and reap interest from, unused capital that the taxpayer has already paid for them to borrow and to postpone taking dividend payments on sums that they have invested in a project so that the outstanding debt on which they can claim interest rises dramatically.

Those and other stratagems have contributed to an obscene haemorrhage of money from services that desperately need it into the pockets of financial institutions that, in some cases, have invested no more than a few pounds of their own money in a project. That is not to mention the expensive car parks, undersized hospitals and school facilities being denied to local communities that are the aftermath of many a PFI project. How welcome it is to have the Government's reassurance that we are moving away from that discredited method of funding public services. I look forward to measuring the Government's progress as the months and years go by.

Photo of John Park John Park Labour 4:21, 8 May 2008

Few would argue about the important role that our public services play in Scotland. We have a strong sense of public service and a sense of pride among the people who work in the public sector. That is why I especially welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. The development of our public services is not only of great relevance throughout Scotland but of great interest.

In recent years, I have been increasingly frustrated by the notion that somehow the public sector is a dead hand on the private sector. No one will deny that there have been record levels of investment in the public sector over the past decade, but that was only to compensate for the many years of chronic underfunding that went before.

No one would deny that public services in Scotland need to improve and become more efficient. They are more widely used than ever and are probably as efficient as they have ever been but, understandably, the public want greater efficiencies. It is now accepted that we live in a 24/7 society, so the public sector must address the expectation that has been fostered by the internet and 24-hour shopping. That is a huge challenge. It will not be easy and will mean that our public services will be required to improve continuously.

From first-hand experience, I know that leadership will be vital in driving forward efficiencies in the public sector, but the role of the workforce in delivering change is also important. Without proper workforce involvement, change will be slower and not as far reaching or as relevant as it could be. Of course, engagement at a strategic level with organisations such as the Scottish Trades Union Congress would be welcome. However, if it is not more important, it is certainly more meaningful to ensure that there is engagement at workforce level and lower down, including with all trade unions and workforce representatives throughout the public sector.

I would be interested to hear what steps the Scottish Government is taking to ensure that the efficiency savings that have been highlighted today and earlier in the session can be achieved. For example, are the cabinet secretary and the minister convinced that the skills exist in the public sector to realise the potential efficiency savings? Will they highlight the work that has been undertaken to map out those skills or will the Government rely on capacity being built in the public sector as we move forward?

Skills Development Scotland came up earlier in the debate as an example of how three organisations have been brought together. I do not think that anyone would disagree with the single-agency approach, but stakeholders who are trying to engage with the organisation are concerned about a lack of focus and lack of coherence on its aims and objectives. That concern needs to be at the front of ministers' minds when they bring different organisations together.

The cabinet secretary will be aware that the previous Executive had regular meetings with trade unions to discuss issues of joint concern in the public services forum. The forum provided a useful place to discuss the strategic direction of Government on the public sector and ensured that wider issues were addressed collectively. As someone who sat on the other side of the table from the previous Executive in the forum meetings, I know that such meetings can provide a valuable exchange. The cabinet secretary is not here just now, but I would be interested to hear him confirm in his summing up whether the forum still exists in the same form or whether he intends to re-establish it in the near future.

Of course we want the Scottish Government and the public sector more widely to be an exemplar employer in Scotland. The public sector must strive to be the best for health and safety, employee relations and workforce development.

There have been guarantees about compulsory redundancies, but I hope that the minister and the cabinet secretary will confirm that internal budgets for workforce development and the nice-to-do things that organisations need to do, which can come under pressure, will not be under threat in a wider efficiency drive.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

If the member accepts the need for efficiency in the delivery of service, the corollary of which is that fewer people will be employed in delivering that service, does he agree with his colleague Mr McCabe that we should have no fear of that because the Scottish economy is capable of building more jobs?

Photo of John Park John Park Labour

I was just going to come on to that. I was going to talk about compulsory redundancies, but Margo MacDonald has made me think about redeployment. The key thing is effective redeployment. I worked in a workplace where there were 3,000 redundancies. Most of the people who were made redundant found other areas in which to work, whether in the same workplace or outside it, because effective redeployment was in place.

The redeployment of staff in the public sector will be crucial in reshaping the public sector. However, I have not seen any evidence of a single agency to do that in the Scottish Government's plans. I suggest that a central resource should be developed in the Scottish Government, in conjunction with the recognised trade unions, which can match individual employees with the jobs that fit their skills. People want to stay in the public sector, regardless of whether they are going to be there long term.

On the wider issue of public sector reform, there is something that annoys me about what is happening now. I have tried to contribute to the debate in a constructive way. At the most recent meeting of the Council of Economic Advisers, a body about which I believe there is cross-party consensus in the Parliament, the cost to the taxpayer of travel alone was £13,000. That is a ludicrous figure for a meeting that lasted not even a day. If the Government is serious about smaller, more efficient government, it should think carefully about how that type of expense is perceived throughout the public sector.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 4:27, 8 May 2008

The core of this debate has been whether Scotland's public services can be retained or developed without reducing staff—because staff are the budget. All Governments face that challenge. The SNP policy with which Mr Crawford began his speech was that there will be no redundancies. Michael Matheson made it clear that that position had to be retained. Mr Crawford went on to attack the record of my party. He claimed that, in previous years, 8,000 extra staff were brought in with new bodies. His Government's policy is that not one redundancy will be made out of those 8,000 staff—they will all be retained. That is one of many inconsistencies in the arguments that Mr Crawford made.

If Mr Swinney is to achieve the £2 billion of efficiency savings with no job losses, public services must either change or be cut, as Tom McCabe said. That is the challenge, and the reality, that the Government will face over the next four years.

The most striking aspect of the local government settlement is that, in 2008-09, cuts are now a reality. That is not scaremongering by any individual councillor or group throughout Scotland; it is the reality that has been presented to MSPs of all political parties. That is why Brian Adam and other SNP members joined Nicol Stephen and members of other parties in meeting the cabinet secretary last week to discuss the situation in Aberdeen.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Before Mr Scott completes his remarks about Aberdeen City Council, will he reflect on the issues that I raised at that meeting and in my letter to his party leader? The issues that are being confronted by Aberdeen City Council have grown up over a period of at least five years, during which the council has been living beyond its means. Therefore, they are nothing to do with this Government's local government settlement.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I will wait to see what comes out of the Audit Scotland inquiry into those matters. I am sure that Mr Swinney would expect me to rest on that independent body's independent advice to the Government and the Parliament in that regard. Members of all political persuasions will be interested to see that advice.

COSLA's assessment—not mine—is that the next two financial years will be very tight. In the context of Mr McCabe's remarks, it strikes me that the cabinet secretary and his colleagues in ministerial office cannot avoid—although they might try—the reality of what will happen over the next three years because of the choices that are being made at local level. People will recognise what those choices mean for their local services and link that to the settlements that the councils have received.

I understand and sympathise with the principles that Mr McCabe set out, and I recognise his consistency on this point. If I remember correctly, Mr Swinney—I am sure that he will correct me if I am wrong—made clear during his summer tour of local authorities last year that there would be no reform of local government. In that case, we will retain 32 heads of human resources, planning, social care and all the other areas that Mr McCabe described. Mr McCabe knows that to change that would be unpopular. Local government would, understandably, make representations about the nature of local democracy if the Government started to consider boundary changes and structural changes throughout Scotland.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I will just finish this point, as I am trying to develop a point in response to the one that Mr McCabe fairly posed to the chamber.

My contention is that, although Mr McCabe, or indeed the Parliament, might expect the Government to take unpopular decisions in that area, there is not much evidence to suggest that that will happen this year or in any of the next four years.

I am happy to give way to Mr Crawford on the point about unpopularity.

Photo of Bruce Crawford Bruce Crawford Scottish National Party

The member will know all about unpopularity when he sees his party's position in the polls right now—that is for sure.

As far as the issue of having 32 directors of human resources or directors of finance is concerned, is there any need to retain that number when they can share services, work together and combine a lot more effectively?

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I would have a lot more respect for Mr Crawford's position if he had outlined such thoughts in his opening speech, rather than delivering a petty, ill-informed rant attacking all the other parties. Not one of those ideas was in his speech. If he had made that point, I would have agreed with him; it is a good point for us to think about. If he had been thoughtful in preparing his speech, instead of using the usual political tactics, we would deal with him with considerably more respect.

I turn to what Willie Coffey said on outcome agreements. He made a serious point that we would do well to reflect on. He said—I hope I quote him correctly—that outcome agreements were "hard to measure"; I agree with him on that but, as he knows, his Government is introducing 32 of those outcome agreements across local government. I am not sure that we have any of those agreements yet—Parliament has not had an opportunity to scrutinise them. Could the cabinet secretary tell us when we will have them, as Parliament has a responsibility to examine them to ensure that they are right?

Mr Crawford said in regard to his record that it was all about abolition, and that everything was going well. My colleague Robert Brown made the point about £25 million being spent on creating more bodies. If it is all about abolition, why is he abolishing the fire service inspectorate but replacing it with a fire and rescue service advisory unit? Why is he abolishing the Scottish Building Standards Agency but replacing it with a new directorate for the built environment? Why is he merging the Rowett Research Institute with the University of Aberdeen but creating a new institute of nutrition and health? There is plenty about the record that we will be happy to reflect on over the next four years.

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative 4:33, 8 May 2008

The motion is relatively inoffensive. Indeed, one part of it verges on the fluffy. All members want to see better public services. We all agree that reductions in duplication, bureaucracy and overlaps are a good idea and that having a degree of focus and alignment is positive. I am grateful to Mr Crawford for outlining some of the progress that has been made since January, but he dedicated only about one minute of an eight-minute speech to it. I would be grateful if, in his longer summing-up speech, the cabinet secretary could address that matter and tell us a little more about what will happen during the next couple of months. It is important that we have that information.

The Conservatives' amendment highlights two things. First, talking about effective public services is not an event but a continual process. We must consider the matter all the time so that we get better every year. Secondly, we should not do what previous Administrations did and focus on inputs. It is important to consider end results rather than simply what we put in.

We broadly support the Government's attempts to produce more effective public services, but we are not yet convinced about a couple of aspects. First, what genuine savings will the Scottish taxpayer gain from the exercise? A couple of figures have been bandied about, but in the grand scheme of things they are not hugely significant. It does not appear that they will allow a huge amount of money to be ploughed into front-line services. Perhaps the Government will tell us more about the genuine savings that we can expect and how we can make greater savings, year on year, for the Scottish taxpayer.

Secondly, we need a greater commitment on the head count in the public sector in Scotland. I note that it increased from about 444,000 in 1999 to about 488,000 in 2007. If the changes to the so-called cluttered landscape are to be effective and meaningful, they must result in savings for the taxpayer. Ultimately, that means reducing the size of the public sector. If we do not do that, the 26 per cent reduction in the number of public bodies will be much less significant.

A point about whether we have something to fear from losing public sector jobs was well made by Margo MacDonald—and extremely well answered by Tom McCabe. Perhaps there is something to fear, but if we create a more dynamic, more mobile and fresher economy, we will have much greater economic growth as a whole. We should take that approach rather than have the stagnation that we have had for the past eight years or so.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I am grateful. The member mentioned the increase in the number of public sector jobs. He will be aware that the vast majority of the increase is due to employees in the prison service being counted as part of public sector. Does he believe that there should be more or fewer people in the prison service?

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

The 44,000 increase is not purely in the prison service. Mr Purvis has fallen into the age-old trap of being wrong on that score. The prison service merits an entire debate rather than just the snippet or soundbite that Mr Purvis is looking for. I understand that the Liberal Democrats are a little unhappy this week, given their shockingly bad results in last week's council elections, but they were extremely happy—

Photo of Gavin Brown Gavin Brown Conservative

Well, I notice that the Liberal Democrats smashed Plaid Cymru into fourth place, gaining two more council seats than Plaid Cymru, even though Plaid Cymru did not contest one seat across the whole of England. At least the London mayor election result means that we have one more police officer back on the beat.

We are not sure whether the Government is ambitious enough or whether its proposals will be effective. Opinion varies on the percentage of gross domestic product that the public sector represents. Reform Scotland said recently that it is 55 per cent, the Fraser of Allander institute said that it is 52 per cent, and the economic pocket databank from the office of the chief economic adviser said that it is 51 per cent. However, that databank no longer publishes the figure. As of July last year, it has been removed. If we are to consider the matter seriously, the figure must go back in.

We need to reduce the size of the public sector so that we can increase competitiveness and allow the economy to grow. We all want public services to be more effective, but questions remain about where the Government is going, and we need answers. Ultimately, we need to monitor progress. I note that June 2008 is the first date for monitoring, but perhaps the cabinet secretary will let us know how we are doing so far.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour 4:39, 8 May 2008

It is traditional to say that the debate has been interesting. That might slightly overstate the case, but it has certainly been a debate with different views. We and the Tories agreed only once all afternoon, when Alex Johnstone agreed with Michael McMahon that the SNP's motion is unambitious. Perhaps that is why we have heard from SNP members a fair bit of repetition of the same dubious claims of progress.

I exclude two SNP members from that statement. Michael Matheson talked about the need for culture change to improve public services—for more openness, transparency and engagement, instead of public bodies thinking that they can do what they want and ignore the consequences. I agree with that important point. However, I also agree with Charlie Gordon that the Scottish Government has failed to show those qualities: not only has it reduced the budget detail that is available to the Parliament and refused requests for more information, it has—as Robert Brown said—taken many decisions first and consulted after. The latest example of that is the extension of the ScotRail franchise well before it had to be done, without any consultation such as that on the original letting of the franchise.

Mr Don talked about how to improve front-line services for their users. He mentioned the in control system. That is an important and powerful concept in care that—as he said—builds on direct payments, which are not available widely enough in any case. Such moves should be supported.

The rest of us probably spent too much time arguing about how many quangos there are or are not, so I will carry on with that. Many members talked about the SNP's pledge to cut the number of quangos by 40 per cent, on which the SNP has claimed great progress, but not all of that progress bears examination. In several cases, the suspicion remains that two or more quangos have simply been merged and that they retain all their functions and costs. That might reduce quango names, but it hardly qualifies as streamlining. Derek Brownlee and other Tories have made that point eloquently in the past, but they did not get round to it today. I presume that that is because, once again, they held us to account and let the Government off the hook. Gavin Brown was in the final minute of summing up before he mentioned the SNP Government. The Tories really miss the point.

As several members have said, in the past year, the Government has by our last count established 39 all-new consultative committees, groups, councils and other bodies. Mr Crawford seems to believe that giving those organisations a different name means that they do not count, which is a pretty strange way to operate. That is not an example of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. It was claimed that reorganising the enterprise network cut 21 local enterprise companies, but they have been replaced by 48 new national, regional and sub-regional organisations. I acknowledge the help of Tavish Scott in calculating that; he has pointed that out several times. That arrangement is not as streamlined as it was presented to be. As Jeremy Purvis eloquently showed, the system in the Borders is not more effective either, and other, similar, examples exist.

No one could argue with the principle of the Government's seeking greater focus on the outcomes that it wishes to achieve, but we are entitled to consider the effectiveness of its progress, which is central to the premise. Only yesterday, Mr Mather said in the chamber that he was told—in Canada, I think—that

"Cash may be king, but focus is queen."—[Official Report, 7 May 2008; c 8332.]

That is another inspiring slogan to go above the ministerial desk, but I fear that there is still no space on any ministerial desk for Truman's famous plaque that said, "The buck stops here." More of that later.

The Government's key instrument of focus is the national performance framework, in which we find five strategic objectives, one purpose, seven purpose targets, 15 national outcomes, 45 national indicators and targets and 11 local government spending priorities. On top of that we are promised 32 single outcome agreements.

Tavish Scott is right: we have hankered after a sighting of a single outcome agreement for a long time. After all, we signed off £11 billion on the promise of those agreements. I have before me the City of Edinburgh Council's single outcome agreement, which runs to 62 pages. If every council is equally assiduous, we can expect about 2,000 pages of single outcome agreements. After the famine will come the feast; we can be pretty sure that this is not really streamlining.

The motion mentions not only focus but alignment. It is certainly the case that there is not much point in having outcomes to aim for if efforts are not aligned with them. The inescapable fact is that investment is a major element of those efforts. The Tory amendment tries to bodyswerve that, but although its words are innocuous Derek Brownlee rather gave the game away when he claimed that councils have been overfunded. The amendment may be innocuous but it hides a harsher analysis that we will not support.

The City of Edinburgh Council agrees with my point about investment: the common theme that runs through its single outcome agreement is the lack of finance available to achieve the outcomes.

Photo of Iain Gray Iain Gray Labour

I am sorry, but I am struggling for time.

A particularly interesting example is:

"Class Size 18—additional funding for both accommodation ( ... £16m) and teachers ( ... £7.45m) is required to address the financial implications of meeting the national outcome."

That is a national outcome with no money to deliver it. The truth is that only the rhetoric of this Government is aligned with its outcomes—resources are not. That applies not only to local government, but across the piece.

We know, and we have heard, how some savings will be achieved. They will be achieved through measures such as those described by Mr Purvis. His experience mirrors mine in East Lothian, where headteachers are struggling to find savings in next year's budget and many are proposing teacher reductions, bigger classes and more compositing. East Lothian parents are pretty clear that their education service will be reduced. That is not an efficiency saving; it is a cut. There are two defences. One is the Lord Nelson defence, which was used by the Deputy First Minister last week when she put the telescope to her blind eye and said, "I see no cuts—they are not happening." The other is the Pontius Pilate defence, when hands are washed and we are told that it is a matter for councils and is nothing to do with the Government. Mr Crawford came up with a new one today—the Dr Who defence. Whenever a cut is found, they get in the TARDIS and go back through space and time until they find a Labour Administration that they can blame it on, no matter how long ago that was.

I mentioned the plaque on Truman's desk that stated, "The buck stops here." The other side, which faced Truman, said:

"I'm from Missouri—show me."

That must be this Parliament's approach to the Government's claims of effectiveness in public services: it has to show us, not just tell us.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 4:48, 8 May 2008

Iain Gray rather unfairly poked fun at the suggestion that this has been an interesting debate. I have found it interesting—which perhaps tells members a lot about how I spend my time these days—and informative.

I will address some of the issues that have been raised by members. Michael Matheson made an important point about the requirement for the whole process of the delivery of public services to be addressed within a framework of changing the culture of public service organisations.

Mr McCabe—to whose remarks I will come back later—reinforced the point about the importance of realising that public services exist to serve those who consume them rather than those who provide them. That point is sometimes missed when we consider delivery of public services, but it is one that we should always remember. I say to Mr Gray that the appropriate plaque for all public servants to have on their desks might state that they are there "to ensure that we deliver quality public services to members of the public." Mr Matheson mentioned problems that have been encountered by the bakery industry in connection with engagement with it on food service training. I will investigate the matter and reply to him, because it merits serious consideration.

In Michael McMahon's contribution on outcomes, he remarked that what matters is what people get from public services. I could not agree more. He then went on to criticise the Government's shift to focus on outcomes. I will focus on Mr McMahon's criticism of the Government's performance framework in which we have an outcome of increasing the proportion of adults who make one or more visits to the outdoors every week. We could have said that the measure of progress will be the number of footpaths that the Government creates through woodland areas, but that would not tell us whether people are exercising, as our outcome indicator is designed to do in order to demonstrate that we are changing people's behaviour so that they live healthier lives. Willie Coffey's contribution was much more thoughtful—it acknowledged that we must change the emphasis from inputs to outcomes so that we know what we are achieving on behalf of individuals in our society.

The focus on outcomes has been criticised in this debate and on other occasions. One of the criticisms is that the Government has delivered the change in focus at an accelerated pace, but we have implemented it quickly to ensure that we make progress. I make no apology for accelerating the pace of change—there has been persistent dithering on the issue for many years.

Last night, I spoke at a public sector event at the University of Stirling that was attended by many public servants who have managerial and operational responsibilities for delivery of our public services. Every one of them said to me that they appreciate and welcome the Government's shift to outcomes because it liberates them to design services that meet needs. Certainly, they are having to do that quickly and in a fashion that meets the expectations of the public.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Talking of outcomes, there is agreement that the Government is tackling the issue in a new and fresh way. However, we must not forget that resources are required to service those outcomes successfully. I have not heard much about the alleged shortfall in resources that the Government might have expected and, perhaps, did expect when it drew up its proposed outcomes.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

As Margo MacDonald will understand from the budget process that we went through some months ago, the financial settlement means that the Scottish Government has received the lowest increase in its budget since devolution. We are clearly operating in a much more constrained financial situation, while there have been increases in the demands on public services and changes in demography into the bargain, as Mr McCabe said. Resources are constrained because we live within the financial framework that was established by the United Kingdom Government.

There are other questions—for example, on the lack of payment of Barnett consequentials for expenditure on the regeneration elements of the Olympic games, and for expenditure on the Carter review of prisons provision in England, for which there is direct comparability in Scotland. Those are significant issues that mean that we have not had at our disposal the resources to invest in the fashion that we would like.

My final point about the outcomes approach relates to a point that Mr Purvis made about the way in which organisations have historically come together in the Borders to work effectively. I have read the single outcome agreement that has been proposed by Scottish Borders Council, except that it was not actually proposed by the council. It was proposed in an imaginative fashion by a collection of organisations in the Borders that are working together to focus on translating the Borders contribution to the national outcomes that the Government seeks. That is a desirable approach and I compliment Scottish Borders Council on its submission. It was a very interesting read.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat

I, too, have read that single outcome agreement. The cabinet secretary will have noticed that there is nothing in it about the class sizes promise. Scottish Borders Council and some other partners have said that there is no funding to deliver it. Did the cabinet secretary notice that there is nothing on class sizes in that single outcome agreement?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

Again, Mr Purvis displays the truly miserable approach that he takes in all such debates. Quite clearly, discussions are going on between the Government and local government about implementation of the commitments in the concordat. That is the right and proper place for that discussion to take place if we are to realise the year-on-year reductions in class sizes that the concordat talks about. If Mr Purvis were more generous, he would look at the substance of the single outcome agreement, rather than criticise it as he does.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

No—I have given way already.

On the point that Mr Johnstone raised, one of the visions of this Government is to ensure that, as part of the outcomes approach, we focus public bodies' efforts towards working with local government, the third sector and the private sector in order to deliver shared outcomes as part of the Government's overall approach.

I want to spend some time talking about Mr McCabe's speech. Mr McCabe knows that I wish him no ill, so I hope that he understands that I do not want to destroy his prospects for the future with what I am about to say. Not for the first time, Mr McCabe made one of the most thoughtful contributions to a debate when he set out some of the challenges that the Government has to address in relation to public service provision. I say gently, however, that it would have had more substance had it come from his party's front bench.

Mr McCabe talked about the experience of public servants who are trying their best to deliver public services, but are presented with a difficult and challenging task because of the obstacles, barriers and impediments that bureaucracy and certain organisational arrangements have put in place and which prevent them from achieving what they want to achieve. He also made the fair point that the protectionism of senior managers in public services has been an obstacle to development. That is also something that the Government is not prepared to tolerate. I assure Mr McCabe that the Government is prepared to confront that culture of protectionism within senior management.

On that point, one of the arguments that Tavish Scott marshalled was that unless we undertake local government reorganisation, we cannot simplify and clarify the structures of management in local authorities. That is a totally inappropriate black-and-white view of the world. We have to ensure that we create a culture in our public organisations in which senior management and the elected leadership of local authorities work to make it easier for public servants to deliver our public services through simpler structures. That does not require the cumbersome process of local government reorganisation.

My final remark—it applies to many other member's speeches—about Mr McCabe's speech is that this Government must of course be judged by its results. That is why the Government is putting in place mechanisms for judging our performance in delivering our efficient government programme, and why we are putting in place the measures that are designed to assess how the Government has progressed in relation to the national performance framework. We will report openly to Parliament on those.

Gavin Brown raised the issue of single outcome agreements. The Government is in discussion with local authorities on the contents of those single outcome agreements, which will be finalised by June. Obviously, Parliament will be able to express its view on them.

The Government has made formidable progress in addressing the agenda of reducing the number of public organisations—the process of simplification is advancing week by week and we will be delighted to report to Parliament on our progress. That is part of this Government's agenda to ensure that we align all elements of our public services to a simple and efficient approach that is focused on supporting the Government's purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth. We have started with an imaginative pace of activity, and we will be judged on the results that we deliver.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I must reluctantly suspend for half a minute, until decision time at 5 o'clock.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—