UNISON warns of risks from planning and regulation cuts

Date: Wed 12 June 2013

Severe cuts in council planning departments are leading to potential safety risks for the public, reducing the quality of the service delivered and worsening inequalities, a survey of UNISON members has revealed today.

And the union argues that the essential protections needed to “protect the public from unscrupulous and dangerous practices” – and to ensure that Scotland is a safe place to live and work – will be weakened in the Scottish government’s new Regulation Bill.

Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, said:
“We have surveyed our members at the sharp end of planning – and they describe a variety of serious problems, including some potential public safety risks. One authority was reported as having effectively abandoned its asbestos register. And there were reports of increasing numbers of properties having either out of date electrical certificates or no certificate at all.

“The vast majority believe the service provided to the public is being adversely affected by cuts – mostly due to decreasing staff numbers – either through redundancy or leaving vacancies unfilled. Almost 60% described the level of cuts already as ‘major’ or ‘severe’ and most believe there are further major or severe cuts still to come.“

The survey results were published today, as UNISON gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism on the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Bill.

Dave Watson said:
“Regulations don’t just protect the public from unscrupulous and dangerous practices. They protect other businesses as well. Companies who don’t follow the rules can offer a cheaper or faster service. This makes it difficult for those who do the right thing to compete. Fly tippers can charge a lot less than those who pay to have their waste disposed of or recycled. This drives down profit margins and increases costs for taxpayers who have to pay to have streets cleaned.

“But this Bill places regulatory reform in terms of economic growth – rather than protecting the public.

Dave Watson added:
“The proposal by ministers to link planning fees to performance is without doubt an unwarranted interference in local democracy. This kind of top down performance management framework has been a dismal failure everywhere else it has been tried. System thinkers have been highlighting this for a decade or more. All the evidence – for example on hospital waiting times – shows that other services suffer and staff are forced under pressure from above to ‘game’ the system.”


For information please contact:
Dave Watson, Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, 07958 122 409
Malcolm Burns, Communications Officer, 07876 566 978
Fiona Montgomery, Communications Officer, 0141 342 2877 or 07508 877 000

Notes to editors:

1. UNISON is Scotland’s largest public services trade union. We represent 160,000 members working to deliver a wide range of services across Scotland in the public, community and private sector. Our members in planning departments include planners, architects, archaeologists, clerks of works, building standards officers, pest control officers, and others who perform key regulatory roles in local authorities and Non Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs).

2. ‘Effects of Cuts in Local Authority Planning Departments’ – UNISON Scotland Briefing No 35 June 2013 is published today. The document reports the results of a survey of UNISON members in planning. It is now available online athttps://unison-scotland.org.uk/briefings/b035_BargainingBrief_CutsInPlanning_Jun2013.pdf

• Cuts are having a major impact on staffing levels in planning departments across Scotland.
• Cuts are having a major or serious impact across all aspects of the planning service.
• Safety to the public is being compromised due to the cuts
• Development opportunities are being missed
• Staff are suffering from low morale and increased stress

3. UNISON Scotland’s written evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee on the Regulatory Reform (Scotland) Bill is available online here:
https://unison-scotland.org.uk/response/RegulatoryReformBill_ EvidencetoSPEconomyEnergyTourismCmtte_Jun2013.pdf

Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland Head of Bargaining and Campaigns, presented this evidence at a session of the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee on Wednesday 12 June 2013. Committee evidence is normally available online to view in the Scottish Parliament TV archive after the sessions.