Rebuilding Local Government after Austerity – musings for Open Labour

Rebuilding Local Government After Austerity

I became a councillor in 2012 and every year since then I have been actively involved in setting our council budget. That has not been the experience I thought it might be when I first stood for election, for our budgeting has for the most part been about deciding which of the proposed cuts would be least damaging to the people and communities across our area. I don’t know any councillors – of any party – who stood for election to implement austerity.

In Scotland, Local Government’s revenue funding from theScottish Government has reduced from 34.7% in 2013/14 to just 33% in 2019/20. And overall, Local Government in Scotland has made over £2.1b in cash efficiencies since 2012. Of course, the cracks are starting to show, and communities are feeling the impact. These years of austerity not only mean fewer local jobs, but also more pressure on the staff left, with decreasing resource, to try to deliver services for which demand is increasing.

The cuts that councils have had to make have contributed to vacant shops and empty high streets; communities losing their sense of pride; greater social isolation as cuts have been made to community transport; reduced support for the people who need it most. These are things we all recognise and regret.

We cannot continue like this – our communities cannot continue like this. And perhaps it is the very challenges we are facing with Covid 19 which are giving us an opportunity to reboot, to look again, and put all our efforts into building the communities we would like to see.

In local authorities across the UK, our communities need to be able to rely on us in Local Government – in many places we are the biggest local employer as well as the key provider of essential services. We work with partners across the public and Third Sector to support communities and to promote well-being and inclusivity. Councils have a huge contribution to make in tackling climate change and addressing child poverty.

We have a responsibility to continue to innovate, to develop and to deliver.  To share our vision.

And we must not underestimate the potential that we do indeed have in Local Government to build thriving and empowered local communities, strengthened by inclusive economic growth, focussed on well-being and where fairness, social justice and opportunity are key.

Basically communities with our core socialist values at their heart.

I have been heartened this week to read of the work being done in North Ayrshire Council led by Cllr Joe Cullinane. There the Community Wealth Building Strategy is putting in place many of the steps needed to rebuild after austerity in a radical way. The mission is about enhancing local wealth and creating fair and meaningful jobs, while maximising the potential of all North Ayrshire’s places through working in partnership with communities and businesses. Land and assets are being looked at for the community and business benefit they can provide. The council is using its financial power to invest locally, with a huge range of business models being supported. And like other councils are also doing more and more, North Ayrshire is focusing its procurement spend on growing the local business base, and also supporting its net zero carbon ambitions.

This is about a council using the powers it has to build opportunities, to support stronger, more diverse and empowered communities.

It is not a way of thinking that is exclusive by any means to North Ayrshire, but it is a light to many others as we look to support the rebuilding of Local Government after austerity.

This whole process could be made more easy for us in Scottish councils however. And it is our communities who would be the key beneficiaries. We have, with increasing success, been developing the messaging that Local Government is a sphere of government, closer to local communities than others, and not a lower tier in our governance system. And we have been working on a Local Governance Review alongside the Scottish Government, to develop the local democracy and empowerment which is needed to strengthen this message – with varying degrees of success.

An effective, post-austerity, rebuilding of Local Government would involve a shared belief in three empowerments – community empowerment, whereby our communities have the agency, the confidence and the support to work on some of the priorities which local people have themselves identified; functional empowerment, whereby every part of the public sector, alongside local councils, knows that it has the authorityand adaptability to re-organise together and collaborate in an area in a way that meets local need; and, crucially, fiscal empowerment, so that local councils have the powers to raise additional local income to support projects which meet the priorities recognised in partnership with local residents, communities and businesses.

Here in Scotland, we are making progress towards community empowerment, with the development of participatory budgeting and community asset transfer, with a Scottish Government supportive of such projects in a post-austerity context. There is still a lot for us to do however to encourage the Government to work with us more on the journey to functional empowerment, and without fiscal empowerment, the vast potential of local councils to deliver the change we seek and to take hold of every opportunity, will not be fulfilled. For us in Scotland we urgently need a review of local taxation which would give councils more discretionary powers and also a system that would give longer term certainty in relation to budgets.

We often use the hashtag #councilscan. There is however still a big element of hashtag #councilscould and we all need to keep the pressure on the relevant governments to empower us to take every opportunity we see to support our communities, both economically and socially and in partnership with others, as we cope with the current challenges and beyond.

Aberdeenshire Labour 2017 Manifesto

Our Aberdeenshire Labour Manifesto 2017 CARING FOR SOCIETY

Aberdeenshire has a growing elderly population and more and more families are under increasing pressure to care for elderly relatives, with all the challenge that can bring. Without doubt the care sector is on the brink of crisis, as there is new demand on services which are under-resourced.

Financial cuts from the Scottish Government have made it difficult to help the most vulnerable.

The long council tax freeze crippled local government, depriving local services of vital funding. The 2017 local government settlement from the Scottish Government budget has cut another £170m from local government, putting further pressure on services to our communities.

The New Year started with news that 183 operations have been cancelled across the North East since November, due to shortage of nurses and other staff.

We hear that cuts across the region mean many people are having to travel to other centres in Scotland for scans and treatments which could be administered better in our own local hospitals.

We can’t let this continue.

Aberdeenshire Labour will keep up the campaign to increase awareness of this appalling situation and to end the Scottish Government’s underfunding of our health and social care services.

We will work with our parliamentary colleagues to improve staffing across NHS Grampian.

SOCIAL CARE

We believe it is right to invest in the social care necessary to deliver what people really need.

Our proposals to improve the sector are built on properly supporting staff and adopting in full the recommendations of UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter which will raise standards and reduce the turnover of staff.

We need to look after those who provide as well as receive care. We will ensure staff have time to care. Clients are not served well when staff are under pressure to fit in as many visits as possible. We will work towards longer care visits.

We will prioritise training for carer-workers and offer support to home-carers. And we will pay care workers a living wage.

Scottish Labour’s National Care Workers’ Guarantee will ensure that staff are paid for travel costs and travel time; that no staff are left on zero-hours contracts; and that proper training is given to all staff before they enter the workplace.
Better conditions for these vital workers, who look after our most vulnerable people, would mean lower turnover rates and so more consistency in care.

MENTAL HEALTH

We will ensure that mental health is given as much emphasis as physical health and acute services.

We will work positively with local providers and third sector groups to ensure there is support for mental health across our communities.

Every Academy will have access to a school counsellor to support young people’s mental health.

Young people will be able to take part in local groups and activities which improve their mental health.

TACKLING POVERTY AND INEQUALITY

The Warm Homes Act must be delivered. Too many households across Aberdeenshire are still living in fuel poverty.

We will encourage all organisations providing support services to people affected by unemployment and poverty across the region to work together to make sure that residents in our communities are not left behind. We will encourage a regular forum for groups from Social work and Advice Centres to GPs and schools to share ideas on how we can serve people in need better.

SUPPORTING PEOPLE TO LIVE IN OUR COMMUNITIES

Sheltered housing is in short supply considering our ageing population. Warden services at the complexes we already have are limited. We need to press the government to fund more sheltered housing and the support that goes with it.

In addition, we will look at schemes to help older people to stay in their own homes with support systems within the community. Helping older and disabled people to remain independent in this way, means less money spent on care homes and less unnecessary visits to hospitals.

Aberdeenshire Council has already started a great programme for making settlements Dementia Friendly, with particular advances in places like Portlethen. We need to build on this and encourage local communities and businesses to help us increase the number of dementia friendly villages and towns.

We will also continue to explore innovative ways in which adults with learning difficulties can be supported to play an active part in our communities

SUSTAINING OUR COMMUNITIES

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to prioritise the council’s carbon budget.

We will focus on reducing energy use in council buildings and will look to develop renewable energy.
It is essential that the council work to ensure that its fleet of vehicles is as environmentally friendly as possible.

Aberdeenshire Labour will keep business travel to a minimum and support the use of information technology to conduct meetings wherever possible.

We will encourage the reuse and recycling of waste materials and support the development of a bottle return scheme. We will seek to develop practices to further the circular economy.

Aberdeenshire Labour believes that the council should set an example in its day to day practices and encourage our local communities to consider the environmental impact of local activities.

LET CHILDREN FLOURISH

We want to give every young person across Aberdeenshire the best start in life. Everyone should have the chance to develop the skills and knowledge they need to compete for the jobs of the future. This is essential for both our young people themselves and to support the changing economy in our area.

We know the vital importance of a child’s early years to their ability to learn and make progress throughout childhood and to their happiness in later life.

Children need a secure, poverty free, safe, stimulating and caring environment in order to thrive. We will therefore support parents in every way to provide this essential start in life for their child.

We aim in Aberdeenshire to relieve the negative effects of early inequality.

Investment in good quality childcare and early year’s education is vital to help children achieve their full potential. We value learning through play and out-door activity as excellent preparation for later study.

Aberdeenshire Labour will support schools as they continue to develop excellence in learning and teaching.

We know that children learn best when they have the right support in the right place and at the right time for them and we will aim to deliver this.

We continue to value the contribution made by our pupil support assistants and will work to secure the appropriate provision of these assistants in our schools.

We respect the terms and conditions of all council staff. We believe that pupil support assistants who are graduates and who would like to become teachers should be supported to train for that new role.

Links with our local universities to develop teacher training opportunities will be enhanced, as we continue to tackle the problem of teacher recruitment.

We also believe that library services offer inspiration, knowledge and enrichment for the wider community.

 
We want to protect them and help them to modernise with new technology and web- based learning. We will ask schools to partner with the local library service to give every child a chance to find out what they offer.

We want our young people to be involved in the decision making processes which influence their learning. We will continue to support the work of the Scottish Youth Parliament and pupil forums across Aberdeenshire.

Young people have been contributing to the work of the Education Committee through their representatives on the Aberdeenshire Youth Council, and we will ensure that young people’s opinions are heard at all stages of decision making.

We will continue to work with Aberdeenshire’s Looked After Children to make sure that their needs are recognised and that they are given support from the authority as Corporate Parents. We will continue to support them into work experience, further training and work.

Young people are enriched by a variety of additional experiences. We will support music education and cultural experiences within our communities. People from across the generations will be enabled to come together to explore arts and heritage.

We will promote opportunities for sports and physical activity across Aberdeenshire which are accessible and affordable.

It is important that the best use is made of the school estate and we will ensure that communities can use school facilities out of school hours.

We recognise the importance of youth clubs in our communities as places where young people can meet. We will work with our young people to identify particular areas where clubs are needed and will support their development,

We are pleased to see a range of strategies coming forward to develop the young work- force and will continue to work to help all our young people to develop their workplace skills.

We will seek to engage more with parents and carers to support children’s learning and development.

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to campaign against the centralisation of education. Head teachers should be allowed to focus on their role as leaders of teachers and learning in their communities, supported with appropriate business services provided by the local authority.

Scottish Labour’s fairer tax policies would enable more money to be spent directly on education from nursery right through to higher education; investing in all-age, year- round, flexible and affordable childcare, increasing teacher numbers and classroom assistants, restoring bursaries for poorer students at university and fully-funding those for college students.

In the face of savage cuts, Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to prioritise and invest in our children and young people.
IMPROVING SERVICES, CREATING JOBS

Aberdeenshire has long been at the forefront of technological innovation and personal expertise in the Oil and Gas Industry. However, with the current experience of redundancies and closures, we need to build a sustainable and diverse future for Aberdeenshire.

This means supporting our life sciences, food and drink, agricultural and fishing, and tourism industries to encourage diversification of the economy and bring more people to visit some of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. This means working with Universities and Colleges in the North East to see how we can translate some of the greatest technological expertise in the country into new industrial opportunities.

We will work constructively with Opportunity North East and the private sector to maximise the economic potential of Aberdeenshire.

We have played an active part in delivering the City Region Deal across our area and we will continue to do so, while also contributing to the development of a second City Region Deal. We will ensure that support can be delivered not only to the Aberdeen Travel to Work Area, but also to all Aberdeenshire locations. We want to see the maximum local impact for money being brought into our region.

Aberdeenshire Labour has influenced the direction of Regeneration in our northern towns of Fraserburgh, Peterhead, Banff and Macduff, ensuring that jobs and economic growth are considered alongside social developments and education.

We have worked to establish a greater local voice in regeneration projects. We will continue to work with the local communities to develop effective and transformational regeneration projects.

We will also work to realise the benefits of ongoing economic development projects in the Energetica corridor.

We will support the development of locality planning in towns across Kincardine and Mearns, Marr and Garioch so that they are able to develop to meet the needs of the local communities.

We will consider the business case for the decriminalisation of car parking to help support the economy in our towns and larger settlements.

Aberdeenshire Labour will support skills transition programmes to encourage those who have recently found themselves out of work to retrain and join new vocations. We value the opportunities provided through life-long learning, and Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to support it vigorously in all its forms.

And this means ensuring that young people joining the workforce have good quality apprenticeships and job opportunities. We will work with local partners to give young workers the best possible induction to the workforce.

We continue to work for equality within the workplace so that nobody feels discriminated against.
We have seen the impact of recent business rate revaluations across the North-East and have actively worked to develop a scheme through which the Council can give temporary relief to local businesses meeting agreed criteria.

We are lobbying for a proper reassessment of the system of business rates through the Barclay Review so that a long-term solution can be found to support our business sector.

Labour has worked actively in Aberdeenshire to protect local government jobs, despite Scottish Government budget cuts. We are committed to no compulsory redundancies for council employees.

We will also continue to work alongside trade unions to protect the terms and conditions of workers ensuring dignity and respect in the workplace.

We will campaign to ensure that the terms of the Construction Charter are implemented by Aberdeenshire.

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to fight for greater access to and rollout of broadband. This is crucial for both businesses and households in unlocking further economic potential.

The monopoly position which BT has here has led to poorer availability of business quality fibre optic cable. Businesses are suffering; often having to have office space in an area where there is poor or non-existent broadband connection.

Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are both in the top 5 areas in Scotland for uptake of fibre broadband services provided as a result of the current upgrade – indicating demand for fibre based services is there.

Aberdeenshire Labour will campaign in May to ensure businesses, schools and homes in Aberdeenshire can fully benefit from existing technology fully deployed elsewhere.

INVESTING IN COMMUNITIES

Developing the health and wellbeing of our communities is essential.

Encouraging participation in sport and physical active by everyone is a key part of this. It is part of the prevention agenda, by which we can reduce demands on NHS services.

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to work to make sports facilities more accessible to more people, by developing a charging policy which targets concessions where they are needed.

We appreciate the opportunities which sports clubs give to people to participate in sport at every level and encourage the council to work in partnership with them. We acknowledge the time and effort given by volunteers to ensure the smooth running of the clubs and the expert training available to them.

Aberdeenshire Labour will look creatively at ways to develop sport and physical activity, including in partnership with others.

 
We value the contribution that young people can make to sports development and we fully support the Young Sports Leader scheme.

We will work to ensure that residents across Aberdeenshire have access to good quality sports facilities.

COMMUNITY SAFETY

We will continue to work to prevent gender based violence in all its forms from our communities. We value partnership work with other public and voluntary organisations to achieve this.

We acknowledge that violence against women is a particular concern and we will contribute both to the prevention agenda and to the provision of support to those affected.

We will work to promote awareness of existing support groups for people affected by gender based violence.

We are aware of the growing dangers of internet crime and will work with the Police and others to develop programmes of awareness for our schools and wider community.

It is essential that road and water safety programmes continue to be prioritised.

We will develop the work done by the safe routes to school team to help pupils get to and from school in safety.

We support the Street Scape campaign to ensure that the streets in our towns are suitable for people of limited mobility or of visual impairment.

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to scrutinise the local police service to ensure that numbers of police officers are maintained and that those in place liaise with the local communities.

BUILDING HOMES

Labour believes that everyone deserves a safe, warm, comfortable, affordable home. A good home is key to our wellbeing and life chances; it can help to reduce the attainment gap, improve our health, support our mental health and help Scotland achieve a fairer society.

Public sector house building is key to supporting the construction industry, providing jobs for young people, and regenerating our towns and cities.

There are approximately 10,000 households on the waiting list for social housing in Aberdeenshire – because there is simply not enough housing for people to rent at affordable prices.

In 1999, almost half of people under the age of 34 owned their own home. Now the figure has dropped to around a quarter.
And without new homes our young people are locked into the private rental sector with ever increasing rents and house prices. Young people must be supported with housing that meets their needs.

Aberdeenshire Labour wants a co-ordinated national house building plan, setting out its own vision of how government working with councils like Aberdeenshire can tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.

We plan to extend the housing building programme for 2016-20 in Aberdeenshire. These will include a minimum number built to wheelchair accessibility standards

We will ensure that money from Government for affordable housing is spent appropriately in Aberdeenshire.

In Aberdeenshire there is a particular problem due to the relatively high house prices making it very difficult to recruit key workers on mid-range salaries.

We will work to ensure that there is availability of housing at affordable prices to rent or buy within Aberdeenshire, in order to support the recruitment of key workers in education, health and emergency services.

We will improve consultation and engagement over the local development plan. We will promote greater collaboration between local communities and developers. While respecting the planning process, we will promote and support projects to build new houses led and managed cooperatively within our local communities.

As well as improving the supply of houses for sale and appropriate support for first-time buyers, a fair housing market needs both a healthy private rented sector and a supportive social housing sector.

There are around 10,000 households in private rented accommodation in Aberdeenshire. The 2015 Scottish House Condition Survey found that over half of the properties in the private rented sector across Scotland failed the Scottish Housing Quality Standard, while 5 per cent of the stock is below the tolerable standard –

indicating that the property’s state is so bad that no one should be expected to live in it. We will promote a fair deal for tenants and landlords.

We support an extension of the Housing Charter and improved quality standards for tenants in the private rented sector also. Tenants should feel that their accommodation is their home. In addition we believe that private rents should be regulated to stop unscrupulous landlords increasing rents without good justification.

Scotland still faces the challenge of homelessness. In recent months, we’ve seen a rise in the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation and people sleeping rough. There were more than 1300 applications from households at risk of homelessness in Aberdeenshire in 2015. These included more than 500 children. Often there is a need for temporary accommodation for these families at risk.

We need to ensure that this accommodation is good quality and most of all, affordable, especially for working households, and that there is a clear plan for moving on from temporary accommodation for every household. Currently too many people are spending far too long in temporary accommodation.

 
The general homelessness services that are currently available cannot meet the needs of these clients in an effective way.

We will seek out innovative ways to improve our service to the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, working jointly with appropriate partner services and sharing best practice locally and nationally.

GETTING THE COUNTRY MOVING

Aberdeenshire Labour will campaign for the re-regulation of bus services – so they will serve the needs of local communities, not simply the private profit of a few wealthy individuals.

We want to see democratic control of transport and municipal ownership of buses as happens in Edinburgh and the Lothians, reinvesting profits back into local services. We will re-regulate Scotland’s buses to give local communities and councils greater say over the services they need and want.

The number of people travelling by bus has fallen by 15 per cent in the last decade, there are fewer routes and yet bus fares have risen by almost a fifth. Stagecoach, however, made £165m profit before tax in 2015. Yet if you are a jobseeker in rural Aberdeenshire you could pay as much as £9 for a bus ticket for your compulsory journey to a job centre.

We think this is a disgrace – and we will campaign to enable Aberdeenshire to offer an alternative to help increase equality of services, improve community links between towns, and encourage tourism across the region.

We will also continue to support community transport provision, which is often the lifeblood of communities – providing vital support for those who need it. It is essential that we safeguard the quality of life for those who use these services, and protect them

We will invest more in active travel, not just to improve people’s transport choices, but to improve people’s health and wellbeing and make our communities safer. We will promote the development of more walking and cycling routes within and between our communities.

Aberdeenshire Labour understand the issues that motorists face – particularly potholes, common on the frequently traversed rural roads during the winter months. We will prioritise an emergency fund for repairing potholes for especially bad winters, saving motorists money by preventing costly repairs.

Aberdeenshire Labour will press for the speedy development of the Laurencekirk junction. We will work to ensure that new roads built in Aberdeenshire meet local needs – economic, social and environmental.

We will lobby Transport Scotland to ensure that they take responsibility for many of the Aberdeenshire roads damaged during the construction of the AWPR.

Aberdeenshire Labour will continue to campaign for better train services. We have demanded a fares freeze for passengers who have been dealing with overcrowded, delayed and cancelled trains.
We will continue to campaign for a publicly-owned not-for-profit company be established to run ScotRail in the interests of passengers rather than profits.

PAYING FOR GOOD PUBLIC SERVICES

Aberdeenshire Labour does not believe that Tory austerity has to be pushed down to local services by the SNP government. We can stop the cuts.

Because of the different, fairer decisions Scottish Labour would make on tax, spending on public services in Scotland would increase in real terms. A 50p top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 a year would ensure we can invest extra resources in our services, particularly social care to help the most vulnerable and elderly in our communities.

With new income tax powers coming to the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Labour is committed to, and will continue to campaign for, a basic rate of income tax one pence higher than that set by the Tory UK government – though no-one earning £20,000 or less will be affected.

And we will use that extra income to massively improve our education system from nursery right through to higher education.

In Scotland we can and should make fairer, more progressive, choices to protect our public services and those who work to deliver them.

It is time for the hated council tax to go.

We would introduce a fairer system which will mean 80 per cent of households across Scotland will pay less than they do today.

Tourism taxes, devolution of the Crown Estate, and a land value tax could unlock over £150m for councils, and spur on economic growth, creating jobs and improving services.

 

Brewdog did their thing today:

Brewdog have made a business based on attacking convention, so I suppose their PR campaign today shouldn’t have come as a surprise. They are using the unique style which made them who they are. And they are good at it.

Nevertheless, only half a story has been told. And those who stick to convention know that negotiations are best done in private.

For those who have asked today – yes of course economic development and jobs are important in Aberdeenshire. So too is creativity, enterprise and tourism.

But what matters too, is best value for the public purse and the necessary infrastructure to support our communities.

And an approach based on fairness to all with a business idea.

So the statement from Aberdeenshire today:

Chief Executive of Aberdeenshire Council Jim Savege said: “We are a proactive council with a commitment to working with local businesses. We also have a responsibility to ensure best value for public money.

“There are on-going protracted negotiations with BrewDog and this announcement appears to be intended to weaken the council’s position. We’re disappointed that the company has sought to break confidentiality during what we regarded as live and on-going discussions to achieve an agreement which is fair to both parties and which protects the interests of the local taxpayer, as well as creating opportunities for residents.

“The land that BrewDog wants has been already earmarked for the expansion of the local cemetery. We cannot sell land vastly below market value – the figure BrewDog has been asked to meet is what the land is worth right now. Their suggested land value is more representative of agricultural value than a site which has permission for an alternative use.

“Assisting local businesses to expand is a key objective of Aberdeenshire CounciI. If Brewdog remains committed to taking forward this development, then we remain committed – as always – to do everything that reasonably can be done to help the company achieve its ambition.”

The negotiations can continue.

Response to the Scottish Government’s Education Governance Review:

My Responses to the Scottish Government’s Excellence and Equity Education Governance Review Jan 2017.

“What is the question to which new governance arrangements are the answer??”

1. What are the strengths of the current governance arrangements of Scottish education?
The interests of children and young people are central to the current governance arrangements of Scottish education. These arrangements facilitate the essential interconnectivity of services supporting children and young people.
Head teachers and teachers are able to focus on the core job of learning and teaching, curriculum development and improving outcomes for each individual child and young person. They are able to work locally with the groups involved in children’s services to meet the needs of the pupils in their schools.
Head teachers and teachers are able to form working partnerships with the parent body to support the agreed development of their school. They can foster links with the wider community to enable the school to play a role in the local area, which in turn brings many benefits to the pupils. Schools can be responsive to the local economic and social environment.
Within the current arrangements, pupils can have a voice in the development of their own learning environment through a pupil forum or council. Empowering and involving young people at the school level in this way fosters a positive ethos and the co-operation needed for effective learning, while also developing the skills of the young people.
Local Authorities currently provide a key role in the support and challenge of schools. Schools continue to improve attainment and outcomes for pupils, and benefit from the quality assurance and improvement approaches offered by Local Authorities. Head Teachers appreciate the support provided by officers, including wider teams in Legal, Human Resources, Information Technology and Financial Services.
Local authorities are able to support collaboration where it is seen to meet local need and professional development, and where it drives improvement. This collaboration, based on trust and a commonly shared goal, is effective because it is established locally, is flexible and is adapted to meet local circumstance.
The ultimate purpose of the current governance arrangements is to support individual pupils and it does this effectively.

2. What are the barriers within the current governance arrangements to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all?
The current governance arrangements have not created any barriers to achieving the vision of excellence and equity for all.
The barriers come rather from the difficulties of teacher recruitment due to a lack of effective work-force planning and from continued financial pressures due to cuts to the local government budget. Changing the system of governance would cause disruption and uncertainty, but would not address the real issues. It therefore would not improve excellence and equity for all.
Currently an effective balance is achieved between school decisions and Local Authority support in a number of ways including Devolved School Management (DSM). This allows decisions to be made at the appropriate level and to make the most effective use of resources which best suit local circumstances. Schools are empowered to make decisions about learning and teaching of an individual child and also about the overall school community in the design of Curriculum for Excellence.
Excellence and equity for all can be developed where multi-agency working with other services is supported as it is now. Interventions based on data and information can benefit individual children and families.

3. Should the key principles below underpin our approach to reform?
This question pre-supposes that reform to governance arrangements is needed to deliver excellence and equity for all. I do not agree with that view.
The current system is already based on meeting all but one of the principles above, and that should continue.
More clarity is however needed on the principle of “a simple and transparent funding system to ensure the maximum public benefit and best value for money.”
Transparency is of course important, but with our schools varying greatly in size, financial context and current condition, it is difficult to see how any funding system can be simple or indeed how one funding system could be adequate. Rural schools have a totally different context for delivering the curriculum than large city schools. Early learning and childcare presents particular challenges in rural areas. Giving pupils an opportunity to learn about the world of work creates different demands on rural schools away from centres of employment and at a distance from universities and colleges.
Some schools are currently centres of enhanced provision and others are not, creating different funding requirements.
The needs of looked after children and the responsibilities of corporate parenting could be given less prominence if there was just one simple funding system.
In addition, it is questionable whether one simple funding system would be able to deal adequately and fairly with staff costs.
By working with the Local Authority and with other partners schools can deliver better outcomes for children, young people and families and can ensure that the key principles of our education system are adhered to.

4. What changes to governance arrangements are required to support decisions about children’s learning and school life being taken at school level?
No changes in the law are required.

Head Teachers are already officers of the Local Authority, and take decisions at school level while also maintaining their Authority role. Local Authorities are well placed to devolve responsibilities and resources to schools whilst continuing to provide valuable support and challenge.
Devolving responsibilities for Initial Teacher Training and the related workforce planning for teachers to Local Authorities (or regions) would help address one of the current barriers to excellence and equity for all.
There are requirements to operate within national frameworks (e.g. terms and conditions of teachers are determined by Scottish Negotiating Committee for Teachers (SNCT), class size maxima, Schools (Consultation) (Scotland) Act 2010 ) which must be maintained.
Although the principle of parental involvement and involvement of children and young people in decision making is already followed and is positive, there is a danger that increasing the role of parents still further will create more inequalities, as some parents find it increasingly difficult to engage. It would be our most vulnerable pupils who would be most likely to suffer.

5. What services and support should be delivered by schools? What responsibilities should be devolved to teachers and head teachers to enable this? You may wish to provide examples of decisions currently taken by teachers or head teachers and decisions which cannot currently be made at school level.
Schools, through head teachers and teachers, currently have responsibility for leading teaching and learning to meet the needs of their individual pupils.
Head Teachers are already responsible for significant aspects of leadership and management including the overall implementation of Curriculum for Excellence in each school, as well as decisions regarding overall approaches to learning and teaching, management of devolved resources, approaches to raising attainment, self-evaluation, quality assurance and working with parents and partners.
Head teachers already work locally with GIRFEC (Getting It Right for Every Child) teams so that they can access the appropriate support for pupils in their schools.
The Head Teachers, with whom I have spoken, do not wish to be responsible for all financial accountability or for all aspects service delivery, rather they wish to focus on their professional skills in leading learning in schools.
The 2012 Devolved School Management Guidelines provide an excellent basis to informing which budget should and should not be devolved. This should be the starter for any change to devolving budgets and would be important to work with school representatives (and wider school community and Local Negotiating Committee for Teachers) to ensure appropriate support is in place.
There would be huge risks in creating further layers of bureaucracy or in devolving further unfamiliar responsibilities to teachers and head teachers. The focus for schools should be on prioritising teaching and learning and on creating the environment in which this can best happen.
6. How can children, parents, communities, employers, colleges, universities and others play a stronger role in school life? What actions should be taken to support this?
Many parents choose to play a strong role in school life and their contributions are valued. Local Authorities make strenuous efforts to effectively engage with all families, particularly those who have not traditionally contributed to such activities. There is a need to develop more creative approaches.
I have found no evidence that parents wish to be directly in control of schools.
Locally in Aberdeenshire, we are developing a Pupil Participation Forum which is giving pupils a stronger role in their schools. The next stage would be to develop this so that pupils also have a stronger role at local authority level.
In Aberdeenshire, there is already very good practice in engagement with universities, North East Scotland College, community groups and other partners. Curriculum for Excellence and Developing the Young Workforce has supported such developments, as has GIRFEC in providing both strategic and local planning approaches.
There would be benefits from allowing universities and local authorities to work together more on local work-force planning.
A new system of governance is not needed.
7. How can the governance arrangements support more community-led early learning and childcare provision particularly in remote and rural areas?
The challenges in providing early learning and childcare in remote and rural areas are that numbers of users accessing childcare provision are low and so the unit costs are higher. The communities in these areas are also smaller.
It is not therefore governance arrangements which prevent community-led initiatives, but basic capacity and finance.

8. How can effective collaboration amongst teachers and practitioners be further encouraged and incentivised?
Teachers and practitioners do not need to be encouraged and incentivised to collaborate.
Staff have for a long time taken opportunities to work across clusters on ideas to improve learning within all classrooms across the Local Authority.
If we could overcome the problems of teacher recruitment through developing local work-force planning, there would be more opportunities for effective collaboration as there would be more time available.

9. What services and support functions could be provided more effectively through clusters of schools working together with partners?
Clusters of schools already work together with partners to provide services and support functions.
Local authorities support this work.
No change in governance is needed.
10. What services or functions are best delivered at a regional level? This may include functions or services currently delivered at a local or a national level.
Aberdeenshire already works in an effective regional grouping. The Northern Alliance of Local Authorities has forged strong, collaborative links to support a wide range of developments where a more efficient and effective way of developing key priorities for mutual benefit has proved to be positive and continues to develop well. Areas around curriculum development for instance in literacy, professional learning of Head Teachers and central officers, a focus on workforce planning and early years development has demonstrated that Local Authorities can work in effective partnerships without changing governance arrangements.
Collaboration requires a flexible approach to ensure that positive outcomes for children and young people is the priority. This will increasingly include the partnership working within the wider children’s services, social work and health. Local Authorities will continue to have accountability and a statutory responsibility and regional working supports this duty. The approach taken by authorities in the north and north east is to work together collaboratively on areas which bring about Best Value and contribute to the functions of local authorities to provide the educational function in their area.
Imposing a one size fits all regional structure will not bring about collaboration. Regional structures should be allowed to evolve naturally, locally, and be based on existing relationships.
No change in governance is required

11. What factors should be considered when establishing new educational regions?
See response to Q.10.
New educational regions should not be established, but, rather, be allowed to grow.
Educational regions that do evolve need to include wider children’s services and further and higher education, if they are to effectively address excellence and equity for all. The structural organisation of local authorities is such that education cannot be singled out from the wider system.
The success of existing regional collaborations has been rooted in organic growth, flexibility and adaptability. This cannot be achieved by arbitrarily imposed regional borders or externally determined priorities.
Geographical collaboration is not the only model likely to be effective.
Being a member of one collaborative grouping should not mean that an authority cannot be a member of another.
Continued local accountability is essential. Collaborative partnerships must be accountable to local authorities who have the statutory responsibility for the delivery of services, as well as answerability to the electorate.
Increased collaboration requires resources to be considered in different ways. Funding being given to individual schools does not support regional collaboration.

12. What services or support functions should be delivered at a national level?
The services and support functions which should be delivered at national level are:
National qualifications, currently delivered through the SQA.
Support for the teaching profession and professional standards, delivered through the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS), although work-force planning should be delivered locally.
Inspection of education, through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education (HMIe).
Getting It Right For Every Child approaches require a national direction, but must be reflected in local community planning and locality developments to ensure that multi-disciplinary work reflects the needs of local communities.
Support functions like those currently operated through Education Scotland, could be more appropriate at regional level.
Developing the Young Workforce works well on a regional basis recognising local economic and employability contexts.
13. How should governance support teacher education and professional learning in order to build the professional capacity we need?
The current arrangements where Local Authorities can support the professional development and staff are important to reinforce. A comprehensive range of training and support is provided through a combination of Local Authority professional development programmes and strategies, as well as access to wider training and development which is delivered by national bodies and other organisations.
Whilst there is a professional benefit in having a qualification for Head Teachers, there is also the potential for some able staff to be dissuaded from becoming Head Teachers if the qualification is mandatory. In Aberdeenshire, it is already challenging to recruit quality Head Teachers and the imposition of a qualification of this nature could ironically be a deterrent.
Teacher education does not necessarily mean the brightest and best should take a management role. A system which allows our best teachers to influence at local and regional level would be ideal, but the present system of reward does not allow this to happen
14. Should the funding formula for schools be guided by the principles that it should support excellence and equity, be fair, simple, transparent, predictable and deliver value for money? Should other principles be used to inform the design of the formula?
One funding formula for schools across Scotland cannot be effective due to varying local circumstances and contexts.
There is a danger that this approach would result in significant effort considering inputs and impact on individual authorities/schools, to the detriment of improving outcomes.
Local authorities should allocate the education budget for which they are democratically accountable on the principles of supporting excellence and equity, being fair, transparent, predictable and delivering value for money, while acknowledging that this allocation cannot be simple.
Local authorities will need to be mindful of pupil roll and the need for appropriate adjustments to reflect deprivation, looked after children , the requirements of pupils with additional support needs and local circumstance.
There are dangers associated with micro management of Local Authority function as this may have unintended consequences in the context of wider excellence and equity ambitions.
15. What further controls over funding should be devolved to school level?
The DSM 2012 Guidelines provide the basis for considering which budgets should be devolved, not least by applying a key principle of subsidiarity. Head Teachers and communities in each area should be actively engaged in this discussion.
There should also be differentiation based on size of school e.g. while all staffing budgets, including supply, can be devolved in secondary schools this would not be appropriate in a small primary school, not least due to the risk associated with staff absence/vacancy management.
In practical terms, there is nothing to prevent most, if not all, budgets being devolved under existing arrangements.
There is no change in governance required.

16. How could the accountability arrangements for education be improved?
Local elected members are already responsible for scrutinising the work of the education authority and holding it to account and should remain so.

Encouraging political parties to increase the diversity of local candidates for election, to ensure a better representation across the community, could bring benefits to the scrutiny process.
Schools and Head Teachers currently are accountable to parents and local communities, with the support and challenge of Local Authorities providing a clear structure and quality assurance role.
Head Teachers are senior officers of the Local Authority and should remain so. More support should be given to the role that Local Authorities play in creating a strategic oversight of priorities which are developed in partnership with key professionals in schools and other services.

17. Is there anything else you would like to add regarding the governance of education in Scotland?
It does not answer the key challenges which Scottish education is currently facing, including the available budget and teacher recruitment.
It does not acknowledge the professionalism of teachers as leaders of teaching and learning.
It contains several leading questions which are not conducive to effective consultation.
By singling out education as a factor for review, it risks jeopardising the more holistic approach of education and children’s services that has developed over the last ten years, to the benefit of individual children and young people.
Children do not come to the classroom equal in opportunity. As much of 80% of a child’s performance is attributable to factors out of school such as the influence of parents (including parental expectation), the family and neighbourhood environments. A multi-agency, holistic approach which puts the child at the centre is needed to address all of the contributors to attainment. This governance review does not provide for that.
Local democratic accountability for education and children’s services is essential.

Women in public leadership – my experience. (Talk delivered to RGU Advanced Nursing Practice course)

Good morning,

I was invited along this morning as a “Woman in Leadership” and that is the perspective I am going to take in this talk this morning.

Even today, despite making up 52% of Scotland’s population, women only make up 36% of public boards, less than 35% of MSPs and 24% of Councillors. In addition, only 6 of the leaders of Scotland’s 32 council are women, and only one of those has held office since 2012.

The under-representation of women in local councils is despite the fact that Scotland has a system of proportional representation with single transferable voting, which was supposed to refresh politics and provide new opportunities for women to be selected and elected.

The current situation is not good enough, and it is estimated that unless radical change is pursued, it would take another 50 years for us to reach an equal parliament.

It also matters to every one of us here, because it means that a large proportion of the population. Is not adequately represented – that issues which many people want discussed, might not get air-time.

We need to use every opportunity to talk about women in public leadership in Scotland.

What then stops women standing as councillors and becoming leaders?

Looking across our communities, I’m sure we can all name women who are contributing to civic life – perhaps running parent councils, allotment groups, community buses, local charities. Yet only a small proportion of these ever considering standing for election.

Why?
The reasons given by academics Johnston and Elliot from Glasgow, include the conflict between home life and political duties. Now, I appreciate that I am talking to a room of people for whom long hours and weekend working are very familiar – but they are a barrier for many, as Johnston and Elliot found in a survey they conducted.

Despite more men taking on domestic and caring responsibilities in the home, we have a long way to go until society accepts this change.

As Brenda Trenowden, the Global Chair of the 30% Club said, it is usual to hear the question “are you a working mother?” asked, but very rare to hear the question “are you a working father?”

There are also cultural barriers to women standing as councillors.

There is still a perception that politics is for men. The image of the confrontational nature of the political arena, the reality of continual competition, and the existence of an “old boys network” in political parties, does not inspire many women to enter the fray.

Perhaps women also have a natural tendency to trust, which can soon turn to disillusionment in the political world.

There is also unfortunately a practice for people not to accept women as elected representatives: I have indeed had to insist on doorsteps and at meetings that yes, I am the councillor in a way that I have not seen male colleagues having to do.

It reminds me of my grandfather years ago not wanting to be treated by a female doctor – in his words, she can’t be properly qualified can she???

The media too reinforces these barriers – who remembers the image of Nicola Sturgeon swinging from a chain clad in a tartan bikini used by The Sun before the 2015 election? Or the description in The Daily Mail in 2016 of “The Iron Lassie. Kickboxing lesbian Ruth Davidson? Or the debate about whether the fact Theresa May did not have children weakened her case as a party leader? How often do we see similar portrayals of male politicians?

As Talat Yaqoob of the Women 50:50 campaign said, “When you have media critiquing women leaders or potential leaders not for their policy stances, but what they wear, their haircuts, their personal lives and the pitch of their voices, it is not surprising that fewer women than men come forward to take on these roles. Who would put themselves under that level of cruel scrutiny? It is old, it is tired, it is time for it to stop.”

But I stood for election in 2012 and became co-leader of Aberdeenshire Council this year.
What made me cross these barriers?

Firstly:
I had an issue for which to fight.
As a teacher and a parent, I could see things happening in education which I did not feel comfortable with. I could sit and moan, or I could do something.
I took inspiration from Barack Obama’s Chicago speech of February 5 2008 :

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. ”

In terms of leadership – I had an aim.

Secondly:
I have three daughters.
We know that women in Scotland have played a central role in securing social and economic progress – among them the women who joined Mary Barbour’s army to fight against rent rises and the trade union women who campaigned to secure fair representation in the first Scottish Parliament.
But progress for women seems to have slowed – the glass ceiling is still there.
I want the world which my daughters and their peers enter on leaving education to be different from the one I entered.

In terms of leadership – I had a vision.

Thirdly:
I was willing to take a risk.
In 2011 I had a permanent teaching job in Mearns Academy in Laurencekirk – a job which Ioved. I had to give this job up to stand for election – with no certainty of electoral success.
Sometimes in life, being willing to take a risk is the only way.

In terms of leadership – I saw an opportunity and went for it.

And what makes it work?
This is Aberdeenshire – we do things differently here!
We believe that flexible working can bring benefits not only to individuals but also to the organisation.

In Aberdeenshire, in 2014/15 61.1% of the top 5% of earners were female – the best ranking in Scotland. We are developing Work Smart practices for staff – using technology to enable flexible working practices that make it easier for everyone – male and female – to work at times and in places that suit them.

And we have a unique council leadership too – in that we have a job-share arrangement in place
We are the only council in Scotland, perhaps anywhere, with this modern arrangement.
It means that my co-leader Richard Thomson and I can specialise in the areas most closely associated with our own particular experience and expertise.

It means that we can acknowledge the family and caring commitments each other has and support each other to achieve balance while also undertaking all council duties.

It means we can bring together a wider group of councillors in work in co-operation to deliver for Aberdeenshire.

We have a leadership developed for the circumstance and designed to work.

But what difference does a female co-leader make?

Firstly – leadership style:

Looking at the male environment in which I now find myself, I would say that my natural style is more about co-operation, about partnership and working together to make things happen. I see potential in others, and seek to help them develop it. I am more willing to identify common goals and to work towards them through regular communication.

And coffee!
I’ve never drunk so much coffee!

It’s about bringing people together as teams.

I always thought that my particular style of working had evolved from my experience working in schools.
In my experience in schools, the collegiate has always shone through – all staff, whether teachers, support staff, clerical or janitorial staff, have worked together for the common goal of the best teaching and learning possible for the pupils. And whatever the formal hierarchy, there has always been a spirit of respect for each other and the skills they bring.

But now I read in work by Bryan Krinzman that my style is actually a female leadership model.
Women, he says, lead and create flat organisational structures that allow for a more collegial atmosphere. Female leaders typically promote cooperation and collaboration amongst team members. And place emphasis on mentoring and training colleagues.

I recognise myself in this.

Secondly: the issues which now have prominence:

I do believe that I have contributed a particular view to the workings of Aberdeenshire.

Yes, my colleagues in Administration do share a concern to deliver the best to our residents and communities across Aberdeenshire.

But as we are in the middle of the Sixteen Days of Action against Gender Based Violence, it is appropriate to reflect that it is me as a female leader who has given high priority to tackling gender based violence in our communities.
As we look back on the successful St Andrews Day March in Aberdeen at the weekend to celebrate diversity and combat racism, in which I marched alongside our Aberdeenshire Syrian New Scots, we can see how far we have come since I put my motion to Full Council to accept Syrian refugee families. Family groupings of refugees.

And the work in Aberdeenshire to support looked after children is championed by female councillors.

And it is female politicians across Scotland who have led the campaign to combat period poverty – to give all the girls in our schools the ability to focus on their studies rather than worry about personal hygiene and thus the confidence to achieve and contribute to breaking down that attainment gap.

So, to conclude, what can we draw out from this as reflections on leadership:
We need to continue the work for equality between men and women in councils and public bodies so more of the population can be fairly represented.

In my experience, once in office, it is developing a sense of purpose that will motivate these women to step forward and lead.

That once they do so, the working practices in the organisations they lead, will become more inclusive, more focussed on co-operation than confrontation. And the issues that are scrutinised will reflect more accurately those experienced across our communities.

The work for equality in the leadership of public bodies is something to which we can all contribute.

To finish – the words of Hillary Clinton:
“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. Never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.”

What it is all about:

I entered politics, becoming a North Kincardine councillor in 2012, to make a difference. As a teacher and a parent, I could see that we need to change our education system so that all children can have every opportunity to achieve at school and then in their individual path through Further or Higher Education. Many children currently experience barriers to effective learning and Labour’s Fair Start Fund will help to pull these down. I recognise the importance of supporting families with affordable and accessible child-care and the need to value the staff who provide this.

Along with Labour colleagues in the North-East, I will work for a fair deal for NHS Grampian so that the current recruitment problems can be overcome and the best service, including a Trauma Centre, can be delivered to residents. Labour is committed to properly supporting our health and social care employees, including all those who work as home carers.

The crisis in oil and gas is creating huge local challenges, and I want to contribute to a government which recognises the importance of using creative solutions to support a full range of jobs in the North-East. These must be jobs which respect and develop the work-force and which see the end to the exploitative zero-hours contracts which many people, including young workers, currently suffer.

I know our region is crying out for a bold plan to tackle the housing crisis: Labour has listened and, given your support, will act.

Letter to first – time voters:

Hello!

I am writing to you as one of the new voters in this Scottish Election.

Three of my four children (aged 16, 18 and 21) have their first
opportunity to vote in MSPs to the Scottish Parliament this year,
and I have been listening to the issues which matter to them and
their friends. Educational opportunity, the end to the exploitation
of young part-time workers, equality and fairness, better public
transport, decent flats which they can afford to rent – these are
all important to the young people I meet.

This election is more important than ever, because the people you elect will have more power to act on these issues, and on many others, than Scottish MSPs have had before.

The big choice is whether we elect people who will actually use the new powers to do things differently and change things.

Faced with the choice between using the powers or continuing to cut into Scotland’s future, Labour’s choice is to use the powers.

Labour will use the powers firstly to invest in education. To give every young person opportunity in life we need to make sure our schools, colleges and universities are properly funded. After nearly 10 years in charge, the SNP Government has cut education and training by 10%, decimated college places, and slashed support for poorer students. That’s not the way to support young people or to grow our economy in the future.

Labour would ask the top 1% to pay a new 50p rate of tax. Instead of making excuses about avoiding tax, it is time that those at the top paid their taxes like the rest of us.

In the Scottish Parliament, we also want to stand up for the issues that matter–

• To save you money we’ll bring in a single contactless ticket you can use on buses, trains, underground or trams
We’ll take on bad landlords and stop rip-off rent rises
We’ll help to double the mortgage deposits of first time buyers
We’ll keep tuition free and reverse the cuts to Higher Education bursaries for the poorest students
We’ll guarantee financial support for Further Education students.

We will also continue our work to stop zero hour contracts.
We will work towards realising our vision of a Scotland based on equality and fairness.

You have two votes in this election – a constituency vote and a party vote. Please consider using at least one to make sure there are Labour MSPs like me who want to use the new powers to stop cuts and change things.

With best wishes,

Alison

Education: the most important economic policy

All our children should be given every opportunity to achieve thee best they can. All our children should be able to read and write when they leave primary school.

This is the most effective way to prepare them for their future within this evolving world of work. It is also the best way to strengthen the economy of our country by ensuring we have a top quality, highly -skilled and adaptable work-force.

Sadly, our education service is not allowing this to happen at the moment.

6000 children leave primary school in Scotland unable to read.

1500 schools in Scotland get no extra support from the SNP Government to cut the attainment gap, despite having children from poorer backgrounds who are under-achieving.

Recent cuts to local government budgets from the SNP Government have put important provisions such as pupil support assistants and local libraries at risk.

If we fail to invest properly in education, and if we fail to support all our children with the resources they need, we will be failing to provide the skills and knowledge needed to build a strong economy in an increasingly competitive global environment.

Scottish Labour will use our income tax powers to stop all cuts to education. We will bring back the 50p top rate for those earning over £150,000 a year. We will use the money this provides to help our teachers to reduce the attainment gap and give all our children the opportunity to achieve.

 

 

 

Supporting active travel:

 

In response to an email about supporting active travel:

I have been supporting various walking and cycling groups since I became a councillor.

There is a huge local demand for investment in both cycling and walking and government, both national and local, should do all it can to fulfil this.

We need to do more to promote the fact that not only is active travel better for the environment, but it is also good for both physical health and mental well-being.

In particular, we need to promote a greater interest in active travel amongst young people, so that they develop habits which will influence their choices in future years. Active travel therefore needs to be easy, safe and fun – we need to break down barriers.

It will therefore be necessary to invest a greater proportion of the transport budget into promoting cycling and walking infrastructure and to making our road network as a whole safer. These are things I support.

To the Polish community:

My response to an email from the Polish community of Aberdeen:

I lived in Germany with my family for six years, in an area where there were no other British families and my English-speaking children went to the local German school. I therefore have direct experience of being a migrant within the European Union and can appreciate many of the issues which have to be faced.

For several years I worked with the Migrant Support Group in the Mearns, which offered help to people from Europe who were living in the rural area.

When I was a teacher, I also led several school visits to Poland, including an exchange to Gliwice, where Aberdeenshire students stayed in the homes of Polish families. I myself stayed in the home of the Polish teacher and she stayed in my home when she brought her students to Scotland. That was a really great learning experience for everyone.

I therefore feel that I have the empathy needed to be an effective representative of the Polish community.

I am currently an Equalities Champion within Aberdeenshire Council and so am already working to ensure that the terms of the equalities legislation are fully implemented.

We do need to do more to help the process of integration – I think that comes from greater understanding of different cultural traditions and a greater willingness to share the key events of each community. We need to break down the barriers which discourage participation and open communication.
We need to ensure that local information is available to everyone, and not allow language to be another barrier.

We also need to put more emphasis on the teaching of English to children and families with English as a second language, while also helping the children maintain their mother tongue. I know that there is a lot of evidence that children do better at school if they are able to process complex matters in their mother tongue. Ie – if we promote Polish language in our schools we should see Polish speaking children attaining more and hence able to contribute more to our society in the longer term.

I would therefore support the introduction of Polish language into our schools, as part of the Modern Language initiative.