Scotland's public service values: Deputy First Minister speech

Speech in the Scottish Parliament by Deputy First Minister Shona Robison.

Presiding Officer, people right across Scotland, including all of us in this chamber, rely on public services – whether that be: our children and young people getting high quality education and training; our loved ones accessing the right treatment and care when they are unwell; victims and witnesses of crime being supported through the justice system; or the most vulnerable members of our community being supported through our progressive social security system.

This government is determined to maintain and improve our public services despite the most challenging financial situation since devolution.

Our block grant funding, which is derived from UK Government spending, has fallen by 1.2% in real terms since 2022-23. And our capital spending power is due to contract by almost 10% in real terms over five years. Our approach to maintaining our public services is informed by our shared values as set out in Scotland’s National Performance Framework – to treat people with kindness, dignity and compassion.

These values, alongside our missions of equality, opportunity and community, guide everything we do.

We believe everyone in Scotland should experience high quality services that are delivered effectively and efficiently.

And where people need further support, for whatever reason, public services should be able to identify these needs early, build relationships with people to understand their needs, and work together to support them in whatever way they need.

Crucially, we also believe that those with the broadest shoulders are asked to contribute a little more. This is right and fair, and our progressive approach – our social contract – sets Scotland apart from the rest of the UK.  

Presiding Officer, as I have said many times now, the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement was a worst-case scenario for Scotland.

The fiscal settlement from the UK Government undermines the viability of public services in Scotland and indeed across the whole of the UK.

Responsibility for this situation lies with the UK Government, a decade of austerity, Brexit undermining living standards and the calamitous Liz Truss mini budget.

And, when faced with a choice in the Autumn Statement on how to use the £27 billion of fiscal headroom the Chancellor had available to him, he chose to cut taxes at the expense of public services. Indeed, there are real-terms cuts across a number of UK Government departments, including health.

Our values and missions are at the heart of the 2024/25 Scottish Budget and have informed all the choices we have made in response to an incredibly challenging economic environment.

Importantly Presiding Officer, we have not seen the UK Government similarly prioritise public services through its recent policy decisions. In fact, quite the reverse.

Within the constraints of the current devolution settlement, we are using all the powers available to us to maximise investment in our public services.

Indeed, the Scottish Fiscal Commission have estimated that our Income Tax policy choices since devolution will raise an additional £1.45 billion in 2024-25, compared to if we had matched UK Government policy.

These spending decisions build on our successful legacy of investing in our public services and delivering meaningful reform which has improved outcomes for many people across Scotland.

For example, the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 underpins the most significant public service reform since devolution which continues to deliver significant savings and improve outcomes.

Police Scotland is on track to deliver cumulative savings of over £2 billion by 2026 and the creation of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has removed around £482 million from the fire service cost base over the last ten years.

I think there is a lot of opportunity and scope for shared services, for public bodies working together and potentially in some cases merging. I think we just have to be careful in doing so that we keep the focus on delivery, rather than organisational change, because there is a danger that can sometimes happen.

In my letter, my 48-page letter to FPAC pre-Christmas, I laid out some of the detail of the extensive 10-year reform programme, but I am very happy to hear suggestions of how we can go further.  

In terms of the outcome for victims of serious crime, particularly sexual offences, rape and murder, if you look at the result that Police Scotland has now been able to deliver consistently across Scotland then that for me is the most important outcome from that reform.

We have also prioritised tackling poverty, particularly child poverty, and have made significant progress by working collaboratively and creatively with partners.

As a result of this government’s policy interventions – including the expansion of the Scottish Child Payment – it is estimated that 90,000 fewer children will live in relative and absolute poverty in 2023-24 and notably, poverty levels are lower in Scotland than in England.

And, Presiding Officer, for over 75 years, our National Health Service has been a universal public service, free for all at the point of need. We are resolutely committed to those founding principles and have a strong record of investing in our health and social care sector.

For example, we have invested £193 million in our National Treatment Centres programme. We opened two new centres in Fife and Highland in spring last year and two further centres will open or expand early this year. Together these centres are planning to deliver over 20,000 additional procedures by 2024/25 which will improve patient outcomes.

Presiding Officer, alongside mitigating the impacts of UK Government decisions, the scale of the current financial challenge means we must change the way that we deliver public services in Scotland.

We know that in the short-term we need to reduce costs and improve effectiveness further.

However, as we look at the demographic projections for Scotland, made worse by Brexit and the UK Government’s approach to immigration, combined with the anticipated level of demand on public services, we know we must change the way we deliver services in the long-term to fundamentally improve peoples’ lives, and reduce their need for ongoing support.

If you look at migration in terms of migration from the rest of the UK, then we have a situation where at least 10,000 people are moving from the rest of the UK who may come from various parts of the world before that; they come from the rest of the UK to Scotland and 7000 of those each year are of working age population and I would have thought that was something the Scottish Conservatives would welcome – clearly not.  

In December, I provided the Finance and Public Audit committee with a detailed update that set out this government’s aims and principles for an ambitious 10-year programme of public service reform.

This update included the actions we need to take over the next two years to bring together a common approach for reform, to further align our policies and reform programmes, and to enable and empower our partners to act.

In short, Presiding Officer, this government’s vision is for all our public services to be:

Person-centred and designed around the unique needs of individuals; Focused on prevention and prioritising early intervention and support to reduce the need for crisis intervention in the future; Place-based and designed in ways that best meet the distinctive needs of communities across Scotland; and built on partnership and creative collaboration with partners.

Achieving this vision will not be easy, and the Scottish Government cannot do this alone. We will build a consensus around these new ways of working with local government, as well as our partners in the third sector and business.

Presiding Officer, this government has a clear plan to deliver reform.

We are working with local government and the public to take forward reforms that enable us to change how services are delivered at a local level.

We remain committed to delivering the Local Governance Review and Democracy Matters alongside COSLA, exploring Single Authority Models, and to delivering on commitments to reform, funding and accountability in the Verity House Agreement.

We are aligning all of our major policy reforms and investments around our shared vision for public services.

Across our education and skills sector, we are reforming to make sure that everyone in Scotland is supported to fulfil their potential. We will continue to support schools and local authorities to improve the attainment of children and young people impacted by poverty and this is underpinned by £1 billion of investment in the School Attainment Challenge this parliamentary term.

In our justice system, we are continuing to reform our justice system to prioritise victims and witnesses, protect frontline services, make better use of digital approaches and support greater collaboration between partners to keep communities safe.

In health and social care, the development of the National Care Service is building on our strong commitment to high quality, consistent and fair public services. Our programme of co-design is making sure that people are at the heart of these developments and human rights principles are embedded as we deliver for the more than 230,000 people in Scotland who receive social care support.

Presiding Officer, we are also driving innovation and making public services more efficient, as set out in the Resource Spending Review.

Our Single Scottish Estate programme has already reduced the size, cost and emissions of the public sector estate. This has delivered savings in excess of £4 million through the co-location of services and closure of surplus offices in Edinburgh and Dundee.

Work is underway to consolidate the public sector estate in Glasgow from five premises into one new net zero carbon property to deliver associated carbon reductions alongside anticipated revenue savings in excess of £3 million per year from 2028/29.

We are expanding the use of National Collaborative Procurement. This approach has the potential to deliver significant efficiencies: for every £1 invested in Scottish Government-led collaborative procurement, over £40 is returned in financial benefits. In 2022/2023, over £130 million was saved through this approach.

Digital technology and infrastructure is also a key enabler of public service reform. For example, we invested £1.8 million in a new Digital Dermatology service in 2023. This programme has the potential to reduce demand for outpatient appointments by up to 50% and will lead to a better and quicker service for patients as well as reduce pressure on our workforce.

The Scottish Government is continuing to carefully review its own workforce numbers to ensure we are delivering for the people of Scotland as effectively and efficiently as possible. From March 2022 to the end of September 2023, the size of our contingent workforce has reduced by 27% thereby reducing reliance on temporary staff and contractors.

Presiding Officer, I have been clear that Scottish Government cannot do this alone. Collaboration is central to how we will deliver ambitious reform across the public sector.

In the last year, we have strengthened our collaboration with local government, public bodies, business and the third sector. We have worked effectively with the Scottish Green Party through the Bute House Agreement, and I welcome continued collaboration across this chamber as we seek to deliver collectively for the people of Scotland.

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