High Time We Tackled High Pay

My comment piece from Saturday’s Evening News…

As I headed into parliament on the number 27 this week it struck me that whether it’s bankers or bus bosses the issue of high pay and inequality hasn‘t gone away.  Oxfam reports the wealthiest households are almost 300 times better off than the poorest.

For all its social justice rhetoric the current Scottish Government is pretty weak on this issue. Occasionally John Swinney writes a polite letter to CEOs of public bodies suggesting they might like to refuse a bonus, and unsurprisingly not all comply.
Money
We hear that if we don’t offer top dollar we won’t get the best man – and it is usually a man – but it‘s hard to find examples of organisations where standards have suffered because senior managers have left for more lucrative offers. Indeed, there’s an argument that if you offer megabucks you encourage the risk-taking that results in failure.

We should insist on publicly-owned organisations committing to wage ratios so we know there isn’t a disproportionate difference between those in the boardroom and those on the frontline.

In the States Congress has directed the authorities to require companies to disclose these ratios. For example, Starbucks’ CEO gets $28m while the average barista gets just $25,000.

Here in Britain the average ratio has shot up. Ten years ago chief executives earned 47 times the average wage; these days it’s 128 times. Tesco’s boss is paid 900 times as much as the average till assistant. Publicly-owned Scottish Water’s another good example. A frontline operative can expect wages of £14,000 a year yet the chief executive is on almost quarter of a million pounds.

Even without considering ratios there is the issue of low pay. There are still too many jobs going that pay more than the minimum wage but less than the Living Wage. We should use procurement rules to ensure any firms receiving public funds pay the Living Wage.

Pay across organisations should reflect what we value as a society. Will the government have the courage to wade in? I certainly hope so.

Alison

CONCERN AT PROSPECT OF 100 DAIRY DEPOT JOB LOSSES

I’m concerned at the decision by Muller to review the operation of its Whitburn dairy depot.

The prospect of over a hundred job losses in this West Lothian community is a huge concern, and I urge Muller to fully consult with the workforce. Muller say they’re under pressure from clients but let’s not lose sight of the fact that they make substantial profits and control almost a fifth of all UK milk production.

Farmers, small processors and local workers are suffering while big business makes a handsome profit. The dairy sector has suffered from the unfair buying power of supermarkets, and it seems this will play a part in Muller’s final decision.

West Lothian has already suffered from Vion deciding to abandon the Halls meat operation. There is clearly a wider issue here and the Scottish Government needs to address it.

“I would like to see more people move from spectator to participator…”

This week in the Holyrood chamber I spoke about the importance of helping our young people develop a passion for sport. Here’s what I had to say…
Tennis
It was an Austrian industrial manager, Johann Rosenzopf, who suggested that we should have a youth Olympics. That was a response to growing global concerns about childhood obesity and falling youth participation in sport. I will not repeat the many comments that colleagues have made about the health benefits of being active and about preventative spend. It is sheer common sense to invest in sport at this time.

It is important that we encourage a passion for sport among our young people, so we have to do all that we can to ensure that they have opportunities to find the sport that is right for them. If someone is passionate about a sport, it is more likely that they will exercise. They will want to practise and play the games that will make them better at their sport. They will be moving rather than sitting. Some sports require more running than others, but all require some level of activity.

Involvement in sport also encourages social interaction. Young people spend time developing relationships with team mates. They might meet people from different schools, different workplaces and different areas—people they might not come across otherwise. Young people learn to work together. Sport is fun, yet they have a goal. It stops our young people constantly telling us that they are bored. It gets them away from screens and gives them something positive to do. It teaches many life skills, too: time management; getting something such as their kit ready; and goal-oriented thinking. It lets them see that if they work and practise, they can achieve something. Those transferable skills can be applied to exams, learning skills in trades and so on.

Sport helps young people to de-stress. They can forget about school and the pressure of exams and they become mindful of what they are doing in the moment. If someone is learning the high jump, for example, they cannot be thinking about their homework or the other pressures in their life. That is healthy for our young people. Their self-esteem develops, too, through encouragement of and praise for their efforts. Whether they are experts or not, they learn that, if they strive, they can improve. That empowers them and develops a positive, healthy attitude.

As I have said before, it is important that we give children every opportunity to try out a wide variety of sports, whether that is free running, BMX or mountain biking—it might be something away from the main stream. I would like the Scottish Government to ask young people what they would like to see in the youth sport strategy and what the barriers and incentives are. Bob Doris spoke about the costs to families. Accessing an athletics track, buying some spikes and so on may be beyond some people’s incomes—although I know that my local club has a second-hand policy whereby people hand in gear, and we should encourage that. However, there are opportunities in our daily lives to encourage young people to be active. The bikeability scheme whereby every child in Scotland should learn to cycle is important, but we are still relying on volunteers to come forward; we are relying on parents. It is the same with coaching.

Last week, Edinburgh hosted its traditional annual interscholastics, but not every school in the city had a team. I would like to know why, because young people are being deprived of an opportunity. If schools are relying on one teacher who is simply unavailable on that day, we have to ensure that there is a fall-back. I would like a basic commitment from local authorities that all schools will compete in the interschool competitions in their area, and if they do not, we should ask why.

It is fair to say that we are a sports-mad country, but I would like to see more people move from spectator to participator. This year, we are sandwiched between the Olympics last year and the Commonwealth games next year. We have the world athletics championships in August, and I am sure that we will see some of our excellent young Scottish athletes, such as Eilidh Child, who has already won a gold and a silver medal at the European indoor championships earlier this year, and Lynsey Sharp, the European gold medallist. They will have a chance to develop and become household names before we all have an opportunity to see them in Glasgow next year. That will have an impact. Positive role models are part of the picture of encouraging more people to take part in sport.

I welcome Glasgow’s bid for the youth Olympics. It has certainly been well received in the press, and rightly so. I state also my support for Edinburgh’s bid to become the site of the national performance centre. The bid has much to commend it: the site would be close to some of the less affluent city sights, which would be very welcome.

I also support Bob Doris’s call for Glasgow to host the 2021 world masters games. If the bid is successful, I will ensure that I am fit to participate—no pressure there!

The amendments have much to commend them. Two hours of PE in primary school is the bare minimum that we should be considering; and high school pupils need more than two periods. High school is the point at which PE traditionally loses young people, particularly young women. I would like there to be a focus on having much more time than that. I believe that the minister realises that two periods is not sufficient.

I welcome the minister’s comments on play. If we encourage play, we encourage physical literacy and self-confidence and we make it more likely that our young people will go into sport.

On the youth sports strategy, I would like us to ensure that Government bodies have funding for coaches. We are still too short of them. There should be a voucher system to enable young people to try different sports—I recommend that members consider the club golf model and the work that Triathlon Scotland is doing. I would like the Government to make a commitment to ensure that every child in Scotland learns to swim by a certain age—I am not an expert, so I will not suggest an age, but we should find out the optimal age by which a child should learn to swim. We would not want our children to leave school without being able to read and write; let us make it the same for swimming.

I suggest that we organise a cross-sports coaching conference at which we can hear from the people—volunteers, largely—who support our athletes. Finally, there should also be a basic commitment from local authorities.

EDINBURGH SHOULD VALUE ITS GREENBELT

I’m urging Edinburgh residents concerned at the proposed Local Development Plan to have their say before the city council’s consultation closes later this week (14 June).

A number of constituents have contacted me in recent weeks concerned that the plan will steer house builders towards greenbelt land.
Edinburgh
Edinburgh needs housing but I’m concerned the council’s plan relies too much on greenbelt land. People at Cammo near the airport and in south-eastern districts like Gilmerton and Broomhills are rightly questioning what’s going on.

It’s incredibly important that local people are involved in these plans, and I urge the council to consult fully with residents about the scale and location of any proposed developments. It seems to me there are plenty of brownfield sites and other areas of land that developers have banked but not built on that we could be prioritising.

We need to retain green spaces for leisure and health, and farmland for growing food. We must ensure developments are sustainable both in terms of the efficiency of the buildings and in terms of making it easy to walk, cycle or catch a bus to work, school and shops.

Alison

Representations can be made on the Proposed Local Development Plan by 14 June

Too often jobs on offer are low-skilled and low-waged with limited security

Today the Scottish Parliament debates the findings of the report into “underemployment” we carried out on the economy committee. It’s an incredibly serious issue, and I look forward to contributing to the debate.

The latest edition of Greenprint magazine features my thoughts on the subject. You can read them below.

Alison

Jobs

A new UN report says there will be 73 million young people out of work this year.

Scotland isn’t suffering to the same extent as our European neighbours, but there is no room for complacency as unemployment among 16-25 year olds is twice as high as among older adults.

Some commentators have expressed surprise that the unemployment numbers aren’t even higher. One reason for this is the growth in the number of people who are underemployed.

Holyrood’s Economy Committee – of which I am a member – recently carried out an inquiry into the issue.

Giving evidence the STUC expressed concern that a narrow focus on headline levels might disguise worrying labour market trends that may have potentially significant consequences for workers and communities across the country.  They rightly highlighted the fact that unemployment and employment figures show only one side of the story, and in communities across the country many people are struggling to make ends meet on a low income, as opposed to having no income altogether.

It also means many skilled young people and graduates aren’t able to fully utilise their knowledge and abilities.

Underemployment is increasing and is affecting women particularly badly, especially those working in the social care, retail and tourism sectors.

Many people who previously held full time posts have accepted reduced hours rather than lose their jobs entirely.

The need to supplement earnings with Working Tax Credits is increasingly common.  However, welfare reforms mean eligibility criteria are harder to meet.  Evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland reported increased demand for their expertise and a growing number of individuals and families in crisis.

Too often the jobs on offer are low-skilled, low waged and with limited job security.  There is a worrying increase in zero hour contracts, where employees don’t have ‘traditional’ rights and may have no idea how many, if any, hours an employer will be able to offer on a week-to-week basis.

In Parliament Scottish Greens have called on the Scottish Government to use the Public Procurement Reform Bill to ensure that companies receiving public money don’t use zero hour contracts.  We have questioned the massive subsidies received by multinationals like Amazon, while dodging tax.

Let’s focus instead on supporting the small and medium enterprises that provide sustainable employment.  Micro-businesses, those with fewer than 10 employees, make up nearly 94% of Scottish business.  Over 48% of unemployed people who find work in the private sector go to work in a micro-business.

Scottish Greens have called upon the Government to reverse cuts to college funding, asked for research into Scotland’s childcare costs, amongst the very highest in Europe, and into the implications of internships as we took evidence from graduates who were unable to gain work experience due to a “back-log” of graduates from previous years.

Employers are less likely to recruit staff at entry level when a steady supply of willing interns, desperate for work experience, is available to carry out many duties.

There is cross party support for job creation programmes, education and training, and increased awareness of the opportunities of properly supported entrepreneurship and the importance of labour rights in such a tight market.

Scottish Greens will continue to focus on opportunities like the Third Sector Internship scheme and the Community Jobs Scotland scheme.  These are well regarded and provide high quality, work based training.