Monday, March 14, 2011

Why is future of public services being discussed by a Commission with only 30% women?

I know I'm coming late to this one, given that the Commission on the Future Delivery of Public Services in Scotland was established nearly 4 months ago. What sparked my interest is that they are coming to West Lothian next week.

I've copied the Commission's full remit below so you can see what they're about. It certainly seems sensible that we look at how best to deliver our public services in the future, given the fact that we have an aging population and shrinking budget.

What annoyed me was seeing that the 10 person commission is made up of 7 men and only 3 women. Does nobody ever think that these things matter? How can a Commission with a majority of men on it adequately understand and represent women's views and needs? And, more importantly, how can women in Scotland have confidence that it will?

It frustrates me that people don't think of the message that they're sending out when they present an image that's all white middle aged men in suits. It's not the same thing but yesterday The Burd observed on Twitter that Nicola Sturgeon was the only women on the stage when she gave her speech at SNP Conference. Not that I think for a moment that my own party is blameless on this. I had a similar thought on several occasions during our Conference in Perth.

Both The Burd and The Shoogly Peg have written of their concerns, which I share, about the fact that we're actually going backwards on women's representation at Holyrood. This is something that we have to tackle, I think, on a cross party/no party basis as we did in the run up to 1999.

Until we do, we'll be stuck with male dominated parliaments, leading to male dominated governments who appoint male dominated Commissions to decide fundamentals like the long term development of our public services. I have absolutely no doubt that they could easily have balanced the Commission. There are plenty women out there who could have brought their expertise to that body.

It depresses me that we are still having the same arguments regarding equality as we did when I first came into politics. I really don't want it to be the same for my daughter's generation.

The remit of the Commission is as follows:

Facing the most serious budget reductions for at least a generation, there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainability of Scotland's public services. At the same time we must continue to improve outcomes for the people of Scotland: by driving up the quality of services (so the average meet the standards of the best); and by redesigning services around the needs of citizens, tackling the underlying causes of those needs as well as the symptoms.
We are ambitious for Scotland's public services and wish to take them from good to excellent in every facet and in every place. We have a vision of Scotland's publicservices that:
  • are innovative, seamless and responsive, designed around users' needs, continuously improving
  • are democratically accountable to the people of Scotland at both national and local levels
  • are delivered in partnership, involving local communities, their democratic representatives, and the third sector
  • tackle causes as well as symptoms
  • support a fair and equal society
  • protect the most vulnerable in our society
  • are person-centred, reliable and consistent
  • are easy to navigate and access
  • are appropriate to local circumstances, without inexplicable variation
  • are designed and delivered close to the customer wherever possible, always high quality
  • respond effectively to increasing demographic pressures
  • include accessible digital services, that are easy to use and meet current best practice in the digital economy
  • have governance structures that are accountable, transparent, cost-effective, streamlined and efficient
The Commission is therefore asked to identify the opportunities and obstacles that will help or hinder progress towards this vision and make recommendations for change that will deliver us to our destination. In particular the Commission is asked to:
  • address the role of public services in improving outcomes, what impact they make, and whether this can be done more effectively
  • examine structures, functions and roles, to improve the quality of public servicedelivery and reduce demand through, for example, early intervention
  • consider the role of a public service ethos, along with cultural change, engagingpublic sector workers, users and stakeholders
The Commission should take a long term view and not be constrained by the current pattern of public service delivery, but should recognise the importance of local communities and the geography and ethos of Scotland as well as the significant direct and indirect contribution the delivery of public services make to Scotland's economy.
It should have clear regard to joint work already underway to take forward the increasing integration of health and social care and to develop sustainable police and fire services for the future. Updates on work in both areas are expected to be available to the Commission in good time for it to take into account in its recommendations.


Douglas McLellan said...

Can you point me in a direction to find research that shows how gender balance on a Commission such as this comes up with better outcomes due to having gender balance. Or even a liberal democratic Parliament acting in a different way for being balanced? Do men automatically reject the evidence of women? Or the research showing what outcomes are needed to improve the lives of women?

The issue about not enough women getting elected is a complex one. It starts with the entire selection process. How much time is required to get selected? How much effort? How much money? I know, due to my own caring duties, that I dont have the time to even think about a selection process for a seat where there is no chance of winning, never mind the effort needed to get a winnable seat.

And once selected, then campaigning is a 6/7 day a week task in a winnable seat. Again, that costs time and money. So selection and election is a full-time job for two years.

If not enough women are not coming through that process then how do you fix it? Make it easier for one gender but not the other?

And what expectations do we have of MSPs when they are elected? And why do some women step down after a few terms but most men go on until retirement?

Mr Eugenides said...

Oh for goodness' sake, Caron. It's not "all white middle aged men in suits".

Are you really telling me that 3 women on a commission of 10 is some sort of democratic outrage? Would four out of ten satisfy you? Would I be justified in complaining if six out of ten were women? Perhaps we should count the number of teuchters as well, while we're at it...

I agree that it's important to get women's views on issues like these, but facile tokenism would do no-one any favours either.

Caron said...

Spoken like a couple of white middle class males.

Actually, it does matter if the bodies making decisions about your life are really unbalanced in terms of gender, or age, or ethnicity.

We are going backwards in terms of gender in Scotland now and I think it's incumbent on everybody in politics to take this seriously.

Douglas, you'll find that the Scandinavian parliaments with their higher proportion of women, tend to be much stronger social policies.

An example from Holyrood - it took some doing just to get a law passed that enabled a woman to breastfeed her baby in public without being harassed.

Douglas, I think looking like a bunch of middle class men in suits itself prevents women from coming forward.

I am also sick to death of seeing mediocre men beating stellar women in selections. If you have a man with a small child, and a woman, do you want to take a wild guess about who gets the questions on who's going to look after the baby?

Mr Eugenides said...

Well all that is fair comment, and I am very much a middle class white man, with all the prejudices that entails.

But no-one is talking about a panel with no women on it, or a token woman. There are three out of ten. Is it really your contention that this is inadequate? Would four be OK, or is five the only acceptable number? Aren't the women on the panel also rather middle-class? Do we really imagine that Dr Alison Elliot uses that many council services in her spare time?

My joke about teuchters was carefully chosen - are we convinced that people outside the cities get adequate public services? What about Asians? Were there any on the commission? Are there any disabled people? I never checked.

My point, which I'm slightly belabouring, is that once you get into this sort of identity politics, it becomes a bit ridiculous. It's important that as many voices as possible are represented in commissions such as this - but not that they're represented according to demographics.

If there was only one woman on this panel I would take your point. But it seems clear to me that the gender balance is perfectly acceptable.

Just my tuppence worth!


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