Hugh Henry MSP

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Member of the Scottish Commission for Public Audit
Member of the Conveners Group

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Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Hugh Henry

No, thank you.

We need to make our minds up. Do we want local government to become more accountable to its electorate, as the committee report and other speakers have said, or do we simply want the Scottish Parliament to determine and dictate what the services and standards will be? There are contradictions and inconsistencies, and we need to make our minds up. Do we want a vibrant, healthy, functional, democratic, accountable series of local councils throughout Scotland or do we want, as Sarah Boyack suggested, organisations that simply administer and deliver what we, at the centre dictate? Until all of us, right across the parties, decide what the answer is and until we sort out our contradictions, we will make no advance on getting truly accountable, democratic local organisations.

15:18  

Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Hugh Henry

That is not necessarily the case. It suggests that the VAT system in Scotland would be constructed completely differently, but it is the existence of VAT that is the issue, not which body controls it.

There is another issue. I do not mean to be critical of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee or its individual members, including my Labour colleagues who sit on it, but there is a tension at the heart of all this. Earlier this week, in the debate on the Smith commission, Tavish Scott posed questions about the centralising approach of the Parliament in drawing more and more away from local communities. I remember the debate ahead of the foundation of the Parliament, in which assurances were given that the Parliament would not centralise or take powers and responsibilities away from local communities, yet the opposite has happened. I am not criticising the present Administration, as that has happened since the Parliament’s creation.

There is also a tension when individual members such as me complain about what we call the postcode lottery in the delivery of services. Avoiding a postcode lottery would inevitably mean the implementation of consistent service delivery throughout the country, which would fundamentally undermine what we are talking about—local communities and councils being responsible. In the debate yesterday and again today, members have talked about teacher numbers and class sizes. Neil Bibby reminded me that Labour talks about class sizes and staffing levels in secondary 1 and S2 for maths and English, yet, like what the SNP is doing in the early years, that is inevitably about taking power away from local authorities. Why should we not allow a successful local authority—for example, East Renfrewshire Council—to determine how best to deliver its services and be held accountable to its electorate if it fails to deliver a consistent, top-quality local service?



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Hugh Henry

That would be something to welcome, because there is confusion and clutter in that area.

The other organisations that I was going to mention are the arm’s-length bodies. There are good reasons why councils have set up such bodies. There are financial imperatives in tight times that require public bodies to make savings. However, as Willie Coffey and others who have sat on the Public Audit Committee know, there are concerns about the democratic accountability of arm’s-length external organisations, which are responsible for huge sums of money. Confusion is also caused by the fact that councillors who sit on the boards of those ALEOs are not quite clear whether their responsibility is to the council or to the ALEO. In fact, as the ALEO is a legally constituted and independent body, they must be responsible purely to the ALEO. However, they have a torn identity, which I think often causes confusion. We have to find ways of introducing a more democratic construction there, as well.



Meeting of the Parliament 11 December 2014 : Thursday, December 11, 2014
Hugh Henry (Renfrewshire South) (Lab)

I want to start with the point that Stewart Stevenson finished on, about variability of service delivery, which I think is at the heart of this debate.

One of the problems with what is before us today is that we are talking about flexibility and autonomy in local government rather than flexibility and autonomy in the delivery of local services. It is not just local government that is fundamental to the delivery of critical local services in local communities; we have a swathe of other public institutions and organisations that are beyond local accountability and local democracy, yet are as vital to communities as councils are. Health is but one example. Health boards are completely remote from the lives of the people they serve. They are accountable to the centre, yet they have to interact on a daily basis with councils that are accountable to local communities.



Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

It was useful that Nigel Don brought the whole debate back to the impact on ordinary people, including children, in communities throughout Scotland. Far too much of the debate takes place among bureaucrats and between politicians and bureaucrats, and it is in a language that no one can understand. It is passing the wider public by, and yet the significance of some community planning decisions is that they will fundamentally affect the way in which services are delivered to ordinary people the length and breadth of Scotland.

Something has got to give. We cannot go on with things as they are. We cannot have fine intentions that are not delivered because there is no means of delivering them. I apologise if, at times, our frustration seems to have been directed at the witnesses from Audit Scotland, who have provided a valuable service in bringing to us an analysis of what is—to be frank—failure across Scotland. Yes, there are one or two areas where there has been some success, but the overriding message is one of failure—failure to take responsibilities seriously, failure to implement and failure to deliver. There has to be some kind of change, and it is not Audit Scotland’s job to come up with the decisions that will change things for the better, but we value the evidence that you provide that helps us to encourage the debate that we hope those with the power will listen to when they make decisions.

It seems that the whole public sector landscape in what is a very small country is extremely cluttered. A number of members have talked about the fact that some of the big organisations—which Gil Paterson referred to as the big beasts—are remote from local communities. David Torrance talked about boundaries and areas of responsibility not being coterminous, with the result that one body or the other is unable to engage properly. I wonder whether, in looking at the best use of public resources and public money, Audit Scotland might at some point look at the public sector landscape and ask whether it is too cluttered and whether there is waste and inefficiency.

I do not expect you to come up with a solution that says that there must be fewer organisations or that there should be mergers. That is for politicians to decide, but surely at some point we need to reflect on the fact that what is happening now is a bureaucratic nightmare that, in many respects, stems from inefficiency. Unfortunately, those inefficiencies are obscuring the excellent work that is often being done at local level throughout Scotland. Somebody needs to put on the table an analysis that will draw politicians of all parties up short and make them think differently about what is being done.

I will leave you with that thought. Thank you for what has turned out to be a stimulating discussion on a subject that is probably dry and obscure to most people.

11:15 Meeting continued in private until 12:33.  

Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

We can pass that on to the Local Government and Regeneration Committee.



Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

Should the relevant committee and members look at strengthening that aspect of the legislation to ensure that the duty to contribute is fully understood and clear and that the mechanism for enforcing that contribution is stated in legislation? The last thing we want is to come back to this type of discussion in a few years when everybody has said that the intentions are good but there is no clarity about how the legislation is enforced.



Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

Colin Beattie raised a point about the costs. Mr Sinclair, you said that the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill will impose a duty on partners to contribute to the costs. In what way will they have to do that and how will it be enforced if it is a legal obligation?



Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

The frustration is not with the people who have produced the report; it is with the failure of those who are responsible for implementation.



Public Audit Committee 03 December 2014 : Wednesday, December 03, 2014
The Convener

Before I bring in Mary Scanlon, I have a final question. Which is the key organisation in starting to make happen what you say is necessary? Whose responsibility is it?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11901.3 Neil Findlay: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
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YesDefeated

S4M-11901.1 Mary Scanlon: Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce—As an amendment to motion S4M-11901
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11830.2 John Swinney: The Smith Commission—As an amendment to motion S4M-11830 in the name of Ru
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11830 Ruth Davidson: The Smith Commission—That the Parliament welcomes the publication of the Sm
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NoCarried

Amendment 6 moved by Dr Richard Simpson on motion S4M-11826 Maureen Watt: Food (Scotland) Bill—That
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YesDefeated

S4M-11825.3 Claire Baker: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
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YesDefeated

S4M-11825.2 Jamie McGrigor: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the
>> Show more
YesDefeated

S4M-11825.1 Tavish Scott: End of Year Fish Negotiations—As an amendment to motion S4M-11825 in the n
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AbstainDefeated

S4M-11825 Richard Lochhead: End of Year Fish Negotiations—That the Parliament welcomes the successfu
>> Show more
AbstainCarried

S4M-11763.3 Margaret Burgess: Private Sector Rent Reform—As an amendment to motion S4M-11763 in the
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NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Hugh Henry
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-11823: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/12/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11543: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 13/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11506: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 11/11/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-11369: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 30/10/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10941: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 08/09/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10547: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10544: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/07/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10419: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 20/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09647: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 04/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09621: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 03/04/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Hugh Henry
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4O-03861: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 15/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23619: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 10/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23562: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23563: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23565: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-23564: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 05/12/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4O-03532: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 16/09/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22497: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22499: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22501: Hugh Henry, Renfrewshire South, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 22/08/2014 Show Full Question >>

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