Katy Gordon: Empower Public Sector Workers

Proposing a motion about empowering public sector workers at the Scottish Liberal Democrat Spring Conference, Katy Gordon, Lead List Candidiate for West Scotland, said:

How many respected bodies raising the alarm does it take to get ministers to listen?

When we have had professional bodies representing teachers, the police and health professionals all highlighting the negative impact of the SNP government's target culture and obsessive centralisation, a reasonable person might expect the Scottish Government to start to listen.

But that is not the way of the SNP, who see all criticism as disloyal (even amongst their own members) and who tried but failed to win the independence referendum by labelling those who disagreed with them as talking Scotland down.

Well what we can see in Scotland's public services after 9 years of this government is that the SNP are doing Scotland's public services down.

But don't just take my word for it. As I have criss-crossed West Scotland region talking to voters, I have met countless worried doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers, who can see the damage the SNP is doing to their services and how it is affecting the public.

I've listened to a community nurse in Kirkintilloch, who described the frustration of seeing short-term funding decisions being made with no reference to the impact on the provision of local mental health services and the vulnerable adults she works with.

I've listened to a teacher in Paisley who was so concerned by the proposed introduction of standardised testing and the reduction of teaching time for her pupils that she was determined to vote for anyone who could stop the SNP.

With 20 years experience working in the public sector, I know how important it is to listen to front line staff when any changes are proposed.

They know their jobs. They have the best interests of their patients, pupils of clients at heart. They can point out the pitfalls of new ideas as well as the benefits.

This is not a recipe for no change. It is a prescription for well thought out ideas, implemented carefully, with the support of the stuff who have to make them work.

SNP ministers have thrown this tried and tested method out of the window, and operated with a top-down style of governing that completely ignores the knowledge and experience of front line staff.

Much of the crisis around Police Scotland could have been avoided if the SNP had just listened to the concerns of police officers.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats warned that centralising the police under the authority of a single Chief Constable could seriously damage the culture of Scottish policing. The SNP went ahead anyway and we ended up with policies that were completely disconnected from reality on the ground.

The SNP's attitude has dealt a serious blow to officer morale and the relationship between police and the communities they serve has suffered.

This motion sets out the path back to a common sense approach. It recognises that ministers do not always know best and that good policy is not dreamt up in a darkened room, where all voices raised in opposition are shouted down.

Scottish Liberal Democrats have always believed in localism. Now we want to establish empowerment as a guiding principle of government.

Many of you will know of the famous example of Toyota, the Japanese car company who had the revolutionary idea at the time of listening to its workforce. Their philosophy was based on the principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. By giving power to assembly line workers making their cars, the company spotted and resolved problems earlier and earned a reputation for high quality customer care. Despite recent challenges, the Toyota Way remains a byword for how to empower and harness your workforce for the greater good.

The private sector has known the value of empowerment for years. But it seems the SNP need to go back to school to learn this basic lesson.

So our first lesson to ministers is: if in a hole then stop digging. We want to see the cancellation of the standardised testing plan that will take time away from real teaching and mean pupils have less time for learning.

Instead we want a Pupil Premium that gives power to head teachers to decide what will work best for their schools. That's true empowerment.

If only the SNP were willing to learn, they could see the success of the Pupil Premium we introduced in England, where it has closed the attainment gap by 5% already in primary schools.

The second lesson is in leadership. We want the next Scottish Government to lead a reversal of the excessive centralisation of decision-making and start to trust front line professionals again.

It takes 10 years to train a GP, 4 years to train a nurse of teachers, 2 years to train a police officer. So it is arrogant beyond belief for ministers to believe that they always know best.

Thirdly we want to end the target culture, where it distorts priorities and leads to a poorer service to the public.

We can't ignore concerns expressed by police officers that excessive stop and search was driven by targets. Or cancer specialists who warn political targets imposed on the NHS are distorting clinical priorities.

We need a new style of government in Scotland. One that trusts front line staff to know what works and more crucially what will damage existing services.

The Liberal Democrats have put the restoration of our vital public services at the heart of our manifesto for this election. We are clear about what needs to be done to give Scotland the best schools, hospital and police service we can.

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