Agenda 15 – Reprise

The Scottish Left Review has produced Agenda 15, a programme of action designed to aid transition from the current crisis in public policy towards a fairer, more sustainable and more effective Scottish society. It proposes a range of actions which can be taken in the Scottish Parliamentary term between 2011 and 2015.

Everything proposed is within the powers of the Scottish Parliament and its agencies and everything is a credible response to the social, economic and environmental problems caused by failed neoliberal policies.

The full Agenda 15 can be read in Issue 60: here – a summary follows

Too much of current political debate is based on rhetoric and sophistry rather than principles and ethics. Principles are important to guide policy and to ensure that we are moving in the right direction.

  • New understanding. We must be willing to accept that many current dogmas have failed and be open-minded about alternatives.
  • Universalism. We must support universalism in public services as a fundamental means of protecting citizens, creating social cohesion and preventing social fragmentation.
  • Convergence. We must narrow the unacceptably large variations in the experience of living in Scotland, including income and health inequality.
  • Freedom of expression, freedom of knowledge. We must ensure that people have real opportunities to express their views. We must equally ensure that they have easy access to the knowledge they need to inform those decisions properly.
  • Real security. We must put the aim of ensuring a safe and secure life for all at the heart of policy so no-one lacks access to an acceptable standard of life.
  • Accountable evidence. We must have access to all the information needed to judge whether progress is being made.
  • ’Recentring’ and pluralism. We must remove privileged access to influencing policy from the few and restore it to the many, and allow differing views to be heard.
  • Improvement. We should only take actions which improve Scotland and not ones which improve only profits.
  • Real diversity. We should ensure that diversity is supported and means more than a choice between a small number of commecical options.
  • Aesthetics matter. We must pay more attention to how public policy impacts on how our senses experience living in Scotland.
  • Universal human rights. We must defend universal human rights and reject ‘selective’ interpretations of what this means.
  • Morality. We should not be afraid to make morality and ethics an important question for public policy.

Money, work, wealth, equality
We need to begin the transition to a different type of economy based on values, the positive experience of work, equitable wealth distribution and sustainable, positive outputs. We must challenge the dominance of profiteering and consider diversification of ownership models.

  • The immediate economic priority must be to secure as many jobs as possible, and this means avoiding swingeing cuts in public sector employment – and ‘private-led’ growth theories must be challenged.
  • Economic development strategies must be changed to emphasise quality sustainable job growth and not economic growth in its own right. And this growth should be in the public interest if it is to receive public support. Blanket ‘incentivisation’ should not be pursued.
  • An explicit programme of economic diversification should be developed, putting less emphasis on fast-growth, more emphasis on quality, less reliance on a small number of high-profile sectors, and a wider range of economic ownership models should be encouraged.
  • Explore all policy options for the potential to redistribute wealth equitably through practices such as universal provision or the use of public procurement as a policy tool to redistribute.
  • Create a national strategy for jobs which will provide a road-map for how to move the experience of work in the right direction over coming years. This strategy must be based on national interest not vested self interest – the public sector should work hard to support any private enterprise which is likely to create positive work and have positive social impact. There should be no commitment to support private enterprise which does not.
  • If public agencies are pursuing strategies aimed at different objectives than these, reconstitute them or close them down.

An immediate policy of ‘pay convergence’ must

  • use a curve to move people progressively into a narrower spectrum of pay. In the immediate years ahead this should be used firstly to protect jobs and convergence may mean overall wage bills declining, but weighted so loss of salary is borne by those able to bear it.
  • The Scottish Parliament cannot put in place employment policies to promote pay convergence in the private sector, but it can use public expenditure to encourage it. Government contracts should be given only to companies which meet pay policies such as ‘living wage’ and ‘income ratios’.
  • A commission should be established to generate debate and identify what Scots themselves want from their work, in terms of pay, hours and engagement/involvement in decision-making. This should provide a landmark piece of work to guide future policy in this area.
  • The kinds of investment that have gone into promoting private profit generation should now be put into the development of other economic models such as cooperatives, mutuals, community-owned companies and other shared equity approaches.
  • More work should be put into ‘low growth’ strategies – ways of providing security and wealth that do not require unsustainable growth. This does not mean abandoning all current ‘economic development’ activity, but rather means balancing it with new types of activity which aim to achieve a different kind of development of the economy.

Real Security
We need to see ‘public services’ not as a private relationship between an individual and the state but part of the social cohesion of the nation. Only by seeing social provision as a connected programme designed to improve society will we ensure real life security for everyone in Scotland.

  • Implement the findings of the Report of the Scottish Prisons Commission 2008 (the McLeish Report) on crime and punishment
  • Publish a statement of the minimum acceptable standard of life that a citizen should expect (base security) and assess whether collectively all layers of government are meeting this.
  • Do not assume blanket protection of NHS budgets but put in place a programme of ‘deprofitising’ and ‘demonetising’ to substantially reduce leakage from the NHS through profiteering by suppliers of goods and services – and pursue salary convergence.
  • Make ‘health equality’ a compulsory cross-cutting policy agenda and embed impact on health assessment in other policy decisions.
  • Create a system of sanctions to discourage private interests from influencing and coercing people into negative health choices.
  • Protect local authority services and reduce the pressure on the Scottish budget by removing the Council Tax freeze and urgently replacing it with a progressive local income and wealth tax to ensure equity.
  • Hold an architecture prize to create designs for future social housing which is cheap to build, efficient in performance and has a positive aesthetic impact.
  • Diversify models of home ownership and increase ‘shared equity’ schemes to bridge the social segregation of ‘owners’ and ‘non-owners’ and to reduce the use of housing as ‘equity’, and to open up alternative models of funding social new-build such as social enterprise models.
  • Establish a developers’ charter to require a more responsible national approach to the provision of housing.
  • Reform planning both to remove corruption, enforce the charter and prioritise social rather than commercial factors.
  • Implement a transport infrastructure utilisation strategy to encourage more use of off-peak public transport. Pursue a national pedestrianisation strategy for towns and cities.
  • Establish a programme of energy saving action and create the capacity to implement by putting pressure on energy suppliers to fund it.
  • Develop a Scottish National Food Security Strategy to create jobs, improve health, help the environment and reduce food poverty.

Freedom of knowledge
We need to recognise that citizens can only act as citizens if they are able not only to hold their own views and opinions but also to have access to the diverse range of information, experience and knowledge which should shape those different views.

  • The Curriculum for Excellence should be developed in a way which puts preparing pupils to be active, empowered citizens ahead of the interests of employers, and structures for ensuring the delivery of these aims on the ground should be reformed.
  • The attempt to fund universities for short-term return must be abandoned in favour of a commitment to fund them for broader purposes and for longer-term outcomes.
  • A proportion of the Scottish Government’s advertising and marketing budget should be used to establish a fund to encourage alternative media.
  • A feasibility study for the establishment of a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation should be started immediately, with a social and cultural remit, not just a commercial one.
  • A Scottish Media Commissioner should be created to monitor the public interest implications of newspaper news reporting, with the ability to apply sanctions where appropriate.
  • The Freedom of Information Act should be extended and strengthened. In particular, the commercial confidentiality exemption should be reformed.
  • Three codes of practice should be established to govern the interface between policy-makers and those seeking to influence them – one for individual policy-makers (elected or professional), one for governmental entities (including committees and inquiries) and one for lobby groups.

Looking after Scotland
We should think of Scotland both as a place and as an idea. Both are important and if we wish to create and sustain our nation we should pay careful attention to what we leave behind.

  • Existing policies on sustainable development and the environment must be properly enacted. To ensure this an independent annual report on progress should be produced and where progress is insufficient the reason for this should be reported.
  • A national policy of improving the build environment and landscaping should be put in place and Architecture and Design Scotland should be given the strength and independence to advise on and implement that policy.
  • Funding for the arts should be increased, even during the period of budget cuts.
  • In producing a feasibility study of a Scottish Broadcasting Corporation, the remit should contain a clear purpose of acting as a ‘patron of the arts’ in Scotland, chanelling funding towards a range of artistic disciplines.
  • An ‘arts utilisation strategy’ should be put in place to maximise the take-up of places at publicly-subsidised arts events. In particular, free access for schools to performances should be implemented and an entitlement of access to cultural activities given to pupils.
  • A Scottish version of the British Council (a Scotland International organisation) should be created by redirecting funding from some existing international promotional activity. The organisation should be free to fund or subsidise any initiatives which promotes a positive idea of Scotland overseas.
  • The Scottish Parliament should be explicit in its role to encourage debate about ethical values in Scotland. It should make the effort to create focal points for this debate (such as funding public service broadcasting, more emphasis in the school curriculum and events such as international conferences, lectures and debates).

Ways to provide
We must be realistic about the state in which neoliberal policies have left Scotland and its finances, but we do not need to accept another dose of neoliberal prescriptions. Stripping society bare is not the only response and we must look at different ways to get us out of this mess.

  • An immediate audit of all government expenditure should take place to identify where public expenditure is ‘leaking’ into private profit and this expenditure should be reformed urgently.
  • A ‘pay convergence curve’ should be used to manage pay costs in such a manner that reductions should be borne most by those most able to pay. Bonus and other non-salary, non-pension remuneration practices should be ended.
  • Funding cuts to public agencies and NDPBs should be targeted first at failing or non-essential activity. Under-performing organisations like Scottish Enterprise, Skills Development Scotland and VisitScotland should be reformed. Less should be spent on a failing prisons policy.
  • The freeze on Council Tax should be ended and immediate reforms begun to bring in a local income tax. This tax should be heavily ramped to spread the cost of dealing with budget cuts to those most able to pay.
  • The practice of outsourcing local authority services to ‘aleos’ should be ended.
  • Before any action is taken which would lead to large-scale losses of public sector jobs, an analysis should be made of whether job losses or a penny rise in income tax will have the lesser negative social and economic impact.
  • There should be a national culture change among senior public sector employees to stamp out costly pseudo-private sector practices with no direct benefit.
  • A longer-term approach to public budgets should see more emphasis put on sustained programmes which will reduce cost burdens in the long term – such as tackling health inequality, income inequality, crime, drug abuse and care provision.
  • More time should be devoted to developing ‘provisioning’ strategies designed to help communities deliver more of their own social services themselves on mutual and collective principles, but properly supported through training, education and funding.