Friday 29 August 2008
Participated in the annual Assist conference at St Andrews today. Its always a great opportunity to catch up with many friends who work in the FM sector in Scotland and sometimes from a bit further away.
I got roped in to an onstage debate with Fergus Chambers from Glasgow about the City Council's intention to set up a Limited Liability Partnership in the FM side of things. I was only given 45 minutes notice but sometimes that can work better in terms of making the debate more natural. Fergus spent ten minutes or so outlining the reasons behind the establishment of the LLP and then I was to question him. Fergus is a great character and it was great fun as the two of us verbally jousted on stage. Basically Fergus's case is because of the impact of equal pay it is impossible for his service to breakeven and the only way they can avoid the wrath of Audit Scotland is to put it at arms length.
There are a number of assumptions that I disagree with around the notion of the LLP approach. Firstly the right to award council contracts directly to an LLP without competition. Whilst I would accept that technically this may be possible at present if you can demonstrate that the Council owns and controls the company to the level of almost 100%, I would predict that within 3 years European case law around state aid will close this loophole and leave arms length vehicle high and dry if challenged. Even at present by definition an LLP involves another partner and is therefore challengable around state aid issues.
The second issue I would raise is with regards to equal pay, if an LLP is wholly owned by the Council for the purposes of awarding contracts how can it be far enough away to avoid being treated as an associated employer for the purposes of equal pay comparisons. This is a paradox that in my opinion is impossible to resolve.
For me the answer to the problem of the treatment of equal pay is much simpler, change the status of the service to that of a non significant trading operation and therefore avoid having to create an unnecessary and risky delivery vehicle.
When the debate was over Fergus and myself shook hands and I wished him and Glasgow best wishes with the strategy they appear committed too. The audience seemed to enjoy things and we got a lot of positive feedback. Having been asked to say grace at the dinner that evening I only just resisted throwing in a line about hoping contracts ain't challenged in future.
Sunday 24 August 2008
Got the opportunity to visit some of North Lanarkshire Councils new schools today and it was a really eye opener for me.
Our first stop was Airdrie Academy where we got a tour of the new school and got to see the Science, Music, P.E., Languages departments etc and the quality of the facilities were incredible. The school was really airy and the pupils and teachers are thriving in the new facilities. It would be hard for anyone to argue that educational attainment would not be enhanced in this setting. Whilst I would question whether PFI and PPP is the correct method of funding school building, what I cannot question is that it would be difficult to achieve such a vast building programme within a short period of time without impacting on government borrowing. I really hope these facilities last the test of time and don't become caught up in an economic straight jacket.
We moved on to see the joint school campus of St. Patricks and New Stevenson primaries. This has brought two separate schools together on one new site and has helped in bringing an often divided community in the past closer together. Again the new facilities were impressive and I even got a demonstration of how a smartboard works!
Our National Chair, Principal Advisor for Scotland and myself then went back to the Civic Centre where the Provost hosted a civic lunch for us, along with the Council Leader and the Leader of the Opposition. It was a humbling experience to see at first hand the excellent contribution that teachers and support staff make to preparing young people for the future, it was also great to see the area I grew up in making rapid progress towards regenerating itself.
Saturday 23 August 2008
Launched our Governance, Neighbourhoods and Service Delivery research in Scotland at a well attended APSE seminar at Hamilton Racecourse today. The conference room overlooked the winning post and I couldn't help myself from drawing the analogy with today's topic being vital to the hopes and dreams of the public in much the same way as a horse carries the hopes and dreams of the punters. Hopefully we will be more successful in this agenda than on my occasional failed attempts at predicting the winners of horse races.
The first session saw a fairly powerful line up of speakers with the President of CoSLA, Pat Watters opening up followed by research author Dr Steve Griggs and then Renfrewshire Council Leader Derek McKay. Derek started of by saying he disagreed with Steve's views on the issue of citizen engagement but actually made quite a compelling case to support some of the points that Steve had made about the Council having to lead the public in many areas where they are not that interested in being involved. Many authorities claim to have significant engagement with communities but in reality it can often be a one way process no matter how hard you try. Alex Linkston the Chief Executive of West Lothian acknowledged this very point in his address and his authority are recognised as one of the best about.
In the afternoon I chaired a workshop on community renewal and we had an excellent debate with Paul McColgan, the Director of Community Renewal,who had spoken of how is organisation work in many of the most deprived areas of the country attempting to reengage socially excluded people and generally build some social capital. Some, myself included, were initially sceptical about community workers being independent of wider public service resources, but I guess by the end I could see the benefits of this independence existing for initial engagement so long as it joined up and coordinated with local public sector agencies.
Having said all of the above it is still my believe that local democratically elected members are the key to neighbourhood / community cohesion and allowing all individuals and groups to access services to their maximum benefit.