Mike Kirby, Scottish Secretary: 'During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre of the political debate. UNISON priorities of an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services... by challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people.'
Four months of potential political campaigning away from a general election in May, UUNISON number one campaigning priority for the first half of the new year must be to ensure a change of government at Westminster.
It is not uncommon for election to be described as the most vital in a generation. However, given the Tory plans for public spending there can be little doubt that the outcome of this election will have a huge impact upon UNISON members, their families, communities and the public services in which we work.
In Scotland the 2015 general election marks the start of a three year programme of elections with the Scottish Parliament in 2016 and the Scottish local government elections in 2017.
While there has been a failure of late for politicians of the mainstream political parties to offer a compelling vision for the future, partly a consequence of a convergence to the centre, which makes it harder for voters to distinguish between them, even as they continue to knock lumps out of one another and their records. The Scottish Referendum campaign of 2014 saw a resurgence in political engagement, voter registration and activity which translated into a remarkable turn-out.
During the election campaign we will strive to keep UNISON policies and objectives fore and centre of the political debate. UNISON priorities of an end to Tory austerity, fair employment and trade union rights, pay and public services.
Most public services are devolved with the Scottish Parliament having responsibility for health, education, local government, police, fire & rescue and the community and voluntary sector. However, the decisions taken by the government at Westminster on public spending affect all nations of the UK.
If we needed any reminder of the impact on UNISON members of another Tory led government, the Autumn Statement made it clear that they plan to reduce public services to a level not seen since the 1930's. As the UK government's own Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) put it;
"Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, spending on public services, administration and grants by central government is projected to fall from 21.2 per cent to 12.6 per cent of GDP and from £5,650 to £3,880 per head in 2014-15 prices. Around 40 per cent of these cuts would have been delivered during this Parliament, with around 60 per cent to come during the next."”
The precise targets for these cuts have not been identified and therefore it is difficult to work out the Barnett consequentials in any detail. However, even if there is some protection for schools and health spending, the consequences for the already stretched Scottish budget will be hugely negative.
The UNISON Scotland Damage series has brought an important focus of the impact of austerity on the public services workforce and the quality of delivery of services to vulnerable communities. Our UNISON 'Worth It' pay campaign has brought an important focus on the impact upon members and the wider community of pay restraint, cuts in the real value of earnings. This has included contrasts with top pay and the impact of cost of living on members.
The OBR revised down its forecast for earnings growth for this year and next and the measure of real earnings in or forecast does not return to its pre-crisis level within the next five years. The OBR, while choosing its words carefully, is clearly sceptical that the Chancellor's post-election plans for further austerity.
This theme was picked up by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which poured scorn on the Chancellor in its assessment of the Autumn Statement:
"How do we get to this sunlit upland in which we have a budget surplus? Spending cuts on a colossal scale is how, taking total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the last war….it is surely incumbent on anyone set upon taking the size of the state to its smallest in many generations to tell us what that means. How will these cuts be implemented? What will local government, the defence force, the transport system look like in this world? Is this a fundamental redesigning of the role of the state?"
The role of the state, or the state's contract with the citizen.
That's what UNISON will continue to strive to protect by challenging all political parties on what they will do for our people.