I am speaking on behalf of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee as its convener. That point was not subject to any of the processes that we went through to reach our findings, so I am not in a position to comment on it.
More important, the evidence that we took stressed that facility time should be viewed not as a cost but rather as an investment in effective workplace management and as something that is essential to effective public sector delivery and reform. Shirley Rogers, who is the workforce director of NHS Scotland, said:
“Some years ago, we in the NHS took the view that we wanted to invest in co-production; we wanted to front-load our investment in facility time to allow us to have a better product rather than to spend our time in conflict resolution and dispute management.”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 7 January 2016; c 6.]
The witnesses before the committee raised a number of concerns about the check-off provisions, which ranged from concern about the bill’s placing of regulation-making powers in the hands of UK ministers to questions about how check-off provisions would apply to arm’s length bodies that are set up by local authorities.
“unnecessary and unjustified imposition, which could ultimately lead to more industrial unrest across Scotland.”—[Official Report, Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, 7 January 2016; c 5.]
Having reached that conclusion, the committee made a series of recommendations. First, the UK Government should refrain from proceeding with this unnecessary bill, which lacks any real evidence for its need in any part of the UK. Secondly, if the UK Government rejects that recommendation, the bill should be amended in the remaining stages in the House of Lords so that it does not apply to Scotland. Thirdly, if the UK Government is unwilling to make such amendments, the Scottish Government should seek to encourage such amendments by any means available to it.
Lastly, if all those recommendations are rejected, the committee recommends that, as a minimum, the regulation-making powers in relation to facility time and check-off should be conferred on the Scottish ministers. That might sound a bit technical, but without it the bill would, for instance, provide Jeremy Hunt with control over significant aspects of industrial relations in the NHS in Scotland. Given that 89.5 per cent of public sector workers in Scotland are accounted for by employment in the devolved public sector, the bill—if it extends to Scotland as passed—will fly directly in the face of the spirit of devolution.
I say to Parliament that such a situation is not acceptable and should be rejected. I commend the report to Parliament.