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Scottish Council 17 February 2001

UTILITIES REPORT

1. Scottish utilities continue to be threatened by regulation and competition with a consequential impact on jobs and services. This most serious current threat is in the water industry.

Water

2. The water industry in Scotland is facing a new privatisation threat through the Competition Act 1998 which will be implemented through a Water Services Bill. This bill is likely to be presented to the Scottish Parliament in the Spring 2001.

3. The Scottish Parliament's Transport & Environment Committee is undertaking an inquiry into the Scottish Water Industry. UNISON has submitted written evidence to the committee and is due to give oral evidence on 31st January.

4. In preparation for competition the Water Industry Commissioner has announced proposals for massive efficiency savings totalling £134m. This could lead to the loss of 2000 jobs - up to a third of the current workforce. These cuts are based on false comparisons with English water companies which have had the benefit of 25 years of investment and debt write off at privatisation. The Scottish Water Committee is seeking support for its campaign against these proposals. A copy of our current briefing is attached.

Electricity

5. The Utilities Act coupled with the EU Internal Market Directive is forcing a major reorganisation, dividing Scottish Power into several different PLCs. This follows the disposal and outsourcing of other businesses. Cost and share price pressures continue to threaten the job security of members including further outsourcing. There are extensive consultations being undertaken with members as a precursor to the 2001 pay round.

6. In British Energy negotiations continue to harmonise pay and conditions with the English end of the company. Again financial pressures are resulting in new cost cutting proposals.

Gas

7. Staffing reorganisations within Transco continue as a consequence of the de-merger. The Scottish Committee has supported a call for an independent inquiry to investigate safety performance and the impact continual staff cuts have had on pipeline safety.

8. British Gas Trading (part of Centrica) are considering the outsourcing of processing tasks which are current undertaken largely by agency staff to a company based in India. There are also concerns that changes in Planned Flexible Working could lead to the closure of another office. Fuel Poverty

9. UNISON Scotland is continuing to work with Energy Action Scotland and others to develop a fuel poverty action plan for government. UNISON Scotland with support from the UK Energy Committee have sponsored a short video on Fuel Poverty which spells out the message in a new format. Copies will be available for use by branches.

Branch Development

9. The joint committee continues to develop close working relationships between utility branches in Scotland. The committee will be considering new joint objectives at it's meeting on 7 February 2001.

10. The latest edition of the UNISON Scotland bulletin Scottish Utilities can now be viewed on the UNISON Scotland web site along with further details on all the issues covered above.

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UNISON Scotland
SEMINAR REPORT

"KEEPING SCOTLAND WARM"


30% of Scottish households live in fuel poverty and 9 in 10 homes fall below current energy efficiency standards. UNISON Scotland has argued that these conditions are not acceptable and we believe that a comprehensive multi-agency solution is required to address the problem.

To take this agenda forward, UNISON Scotland, together with Energy Action Scotland, the CSPP and Transco, are organising a series of seminars, which aim to provide policy recommendations to the Scottish Executive.

The inaugural seminar was held in Edinburgh on Friday, 4 February 2000. UNISON Scotland Convenor, Mike Kirby, Chaired the seminar. He highlighted the role UNISON members in local government, health and the utilities have in addressing fuel poverty.

Speakers included Ann Lochray, from EAS, who argued that keeping warm is a basic right. It was no longer acceptable, in 21st Century Scotland, for people on the lowest incomes to die in cold, damp houses. On energy efficiency we should be targeting resources on the worst homes first, making the link between energy efficiency and fuel poverty. Whilst the Scottish Executive's commitment through the Warm Deal is welcome, we need a strong policy commitment to fuel poverty to replace Labour's 2007 target which was lost in the partnership programme.

Liz Nicholson, from Shelter, highlighted the poor state of housing in Scotland, with 25% of houses suffering from dampness and condensation and a repair bill exceeding £10billion. She argued that this was the single most important housing problem in Scotland. 362,000 Scottish children are growing up in damp houses creating an ongoing health problem. Fuel poverty is a combination of inadequate money, poor housing and the cost of fuel. 123,000 people in Scotland spend more than 20% of their income on fuel.
She also argued that we need a new standard of housing measurement to replace the Below Tolerable Standard (BTS). This does little to reflect the importance of energy efficiency an issue which should be addressed in the forthcoming Housing Bill.

Damien Kileen, from the Poverty Alliance, argued that the reduction in VAT on fuel and winter fuel payments was an inadequate response to the problem. The link between poverty and health was now accepted but this needs to be translated into practical policy. Resources allocated to improving Scotland's housing would have a practical effect on health, including hospital admissions. Scotland need's an anti-poverty strategy with warm, dry homes as a key element.
People had a right to get out of fuel poverty and this should be reflected in social policy. There was a need to focus priorities on social investment which contributes or reduces the call on the national product including those which leverage other investment.

Kevin Dunion, from Friends of the Earth, highlighted the environmental consequences of excess energy use and the impact on climate change. He called for more efficient generation through the promotion of CHP and renewables, with better planning and more imaginative regulation. More efficient use of energy is essential with better measurement with an energy efficiency `MOT' for every house. However, the real scandal of fuel poverty is the impact on the health of individuals. A range of medical conditions can be attributed to Scotland's poor housing stock.

A range of issues were covered in the question and answer session including the effectiveness of current programmes and the role of local authorities under the Home Energy Conservation Act.

The next stage in the process is a series of seminars looking at housing, health, social, environmental and energy efficiency policies. Reports from these groups will form the basis of a final seminar to be held on Thursday, 30 March 2000, when final recommendations will be proposed for presentation to the Scottish Executive.

Contributions from UNISON members and others with an interest in this issue would be very welcome. Please send contributions to Dave Watson, Senior Regional Officer, UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street, Glasgow G2 6RX, or e-mail:d.watson@unison.co.uk

DAVE WATSON

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