Friday, 3 April 2015

Key questions in The Public Services Election

In the third of a series of articles, UNISON Scottish Secretary Mike Kirby lays out UNISON's plan to get our members' issues at the centre of the election debates.

 "This is the Public Services Election. The outcome will have a huge impact upon UNISON members, their families, communities and the public services in which we work, to protect the disadvantaged and provide a better quality of life for all."

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.

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.

Last month we published a full scale poll undertaken by Survation, for UNISON Scotland, that asked Scottish voters to explain their priorities. They said that public services, welfare, jobs and pay were the most important issues for them in the coming general election.

Public services are the number one election issue for the majority of Scottish voters. They were also clear about their spending priorities. If the next government was to raise £2bn by cracking down on tax avoidance, 58% of respondents believe that the money should be spent on improving public services, compared to 19% who think it should be spent on reducing public borrowing, and 17% who think that it should be used on income tax cuts.

People provide the services. Our people and our jobs are at risk.

The latest workforce statistics for Scotland have been published. They cover the period up to December 2014.

The headline figure shows a massive 24,000 reduction in public sector staff last year. However, this is misleading as it includes a reclassification of mostly bank staff back to the private sector. The adjusted cut was 1,000 jobs; from 532,000 down to 531,000. This means a total of 62,000 jobs have been lost from the public sector in Scotland since the post-crash high point (2009 Q1), reducing public sector jobs as a proportion of the total workforce from 24% to 20.5%.

Last year, local government employment fell by a further 600 jobs from 247,100 to 246,500. 40,000 jobs have been lost in Scottish local government since the post-crash high point (2009 Q1). The largest percentage cut last year was in South Ayrshire at 6.4%.

Last year, health staff increased by 2,400; from 158,100 to 160,500.While that’s an increase of 809 jobs since 2009(Q1), it is a drop of 1091 jobs since the 2010(Q1) highpoint.

FE colleges recovered 300 jobs last year increasing from 13,600 to 13,900. That’s still 3,000 jobs lost since 2009.

Police and fire lost another 700 jobs last year taking the total cut since the national services were created to 1600.

The other public bodies group gained 600 jobs last year. However, they have still lost 2,900 jobs since 2009.

Wherever you work, it is vital that you start the conversation with colleagues, that you challenge candidates of all parties.

Suggested questions for members to ask candidates:

• What will be the consequences for public services of the Conservatives proposed job cuts?
• If elected as my MP, how will you protect these threatened jobs?
• How will you ensure my pay makes up lost ground in the next parliament?
• How would further cuts to public services help me and the local economy, exactly?
• Personal debt is rising again, how do you expect low-paid workers to make ends meet?
• How will you ensure rich individuals and corporations pay their taxes like the rest of us?
• How will you use further devolved powers to support and protect Scotland’s public services?

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