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Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:58 pm on 25th March 2010.

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Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party 3:58 pm, 25th March 2010

It is my pleasure to open the stage 3 debate on the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill. For the purposes of rule 9.11 of standing orders, I advise the Parliament that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the bill, has consented to place her prerogative and interests, in so far as they are affected by the bill, at the disposal of the Parliament for the purposes of the bill.

The bill is important and wide ranging, and it forms part of the Government's wider public services reform agenda. The fact that we are debating it the day after the United Kingdom budget simply brings into even sharper focus the importance of moving further and faster down the road of public services reform. The bill will help us to do exactly that.

The public bodies landscape in Scotland has evolved over time and has for too long been allowed to grow in an ad hoc manner. In part, that is due to decisions to establish individual organisations being taken on a case-by-case basis without wider strategic consideration. The resulting overlap and duplication of functions across some bodies is clear to see, and changes are required. With that in mind, the purpose of the bill is to remove overlap and duplication, to provide greater clarity for service users and improve service delivery, to align with the Government's overarching purpose of sustainable economic growth, and to promote more effective use of resources and better value for money.

The simplification programme has been taken forward since it was announced by the First Minister in October 2007. We have already delivered a reduction from a baseline of 199 devolved bodies to 161. The bill, together with the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Bill and the Scottish Parliamentary Commissions and Commissioners etc Bill, will deliver a further reduction to around 120 by 2011, thus delivering in full the First Minister's commitment to a 25 per cent reduction in the number of devolved public bodies. That is a real achievement in simplifying and streamlining the public sector in Scotland.

Our simplification programme, including the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill, will deliver net financial savings of around £127 million over the period 2008 to 2013, and recurring annual savings of around £40 million thereafter. In the current financial climate, we need to accelerate the reform agenda and ensure that our public services are delivering the best possible value for money, as well as delivering efficient and high-quality services to the people of Scotland. It is therefore essential that the Parliament be able to respond more quickly to changing circumstances and to take advantage of opportunities to further streamline the public bodies landscape and improve the delivery of public services.

That is why the order-making powers in part 2 of the bill, subject to appropriate safeguards and parliamentary scrutiny, are important. They provide an alternative and more responsive parliamentary mechanism for making changes to the public bodies landscape more quickly, as and when opportunities arise. As I made clear in the debate this morning, the Government has listened to the committees that took evidence on the bill and to representations from a number of stakeholders who had particular concerns about how the order-making powers might affect them. We lodged a comprehensive series of amendments at stages 2 and 3 that were designed to address those concerns.

I believe that the bill, as amended, will provide effective order-making powers, accompanied by appropriate procedural and statutory safeguards. Part 2 of the bill, as amended, is balanced, proportionate and reasonable. I pay tribute to the work of the various committees that took evidence on the bill, particularly the Finance Committee, which acted as the lead committee, and the Subordinate Legislation Committee, both of which produced detailed and helpful proposals on the order-making powers in part 2 of the bill, which we have implemented in full. Indeed, no fewer than seven committees considered the bill, which might be a record.

Following this morning's debate, it is fair to say that we did not agree on every issue, but there has been a great deal of constructive debate at committee, and I believe that we have a better bill as a result.

The bill covers a range of different topics—my colleague, Fiona Hyslop, will deal with a number of them in more detail in her closing speech. The bill includes provisions to establish creative Scotland as a single unified national body for the arts and culture. It is now accepted on all sides that that is the right way forward, and that the sooner that the new body is fully up and running, the better.

Parts 4 and 5 pave the way for the reorganisation of some of our scrutiny and improvement bodies, with the establishment of social care and social work improvement Scotland and healthcare improvement Scotland. The statutory duties and functions of those bodies will enable them to give effect to the Crerar principles of public focus, independence, proportionality, transparency and accountability, while contributing to simplification of the scrutiny landscape.

Part 6 contains other provisions for scrutiny improvement and focuses on striking a balance between the need for independent external scrutiny and the ability of service providers to undertake robust self-assessment and self-improvement.

Finally, we have introduced a package of amendments that will improve the constitution and governance of the Mental Welfare Commission.

The bill is only one part of the Government's public service reform agenda and is by no means the end of the story. However, it represents a well thought through, coherent and effective package of proposals that will make a real difference to the quality, delivery and efficiency of public services in Scotland.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that the Public Services Reform (Scotland) Bill be passed.