Transport & Environment Committee have considered the Water
Industry (Scotland) Bill at Stage 1. The committee has recommended
the general principles of the Bill to Parliament with a number
of amendments. This briefing outlines UNISON Scotland's view of
the Bill at this stage, supplementing our introductory briefing.
committee considered the arguments for extending the powers of
the WIC in line with other economic regulators such as Ofwat.
They concluded that this was not appropriate, as Scottish Water
is a public corporation accountable to Ministers and to Parliament.
UNISON continues to support this view. However, it is important
that robust mechanisms are in place to ensure real accountability
and we remain unconvinced that such mechanisms are provided for
in the Bill (see below).
committee is also critical of the appointment process of members
of the Customer Panels. UNISON described the proposed powers of
Convenor as 'extraordinary' and therefore we support the committee's
key issue in the bill is the public sector model for Scottish
Water as defined by its powers and accountability to Parliament.
welcome the committee's recognition of the need for a "substantial
majority" of non-executive directors on the board and revisions
to schedule 3 on appointments. However, this alone will not ensure
accountability. The corporate governance provisions of the bill
and Schedule 3 are very limited. For example there are no provisions
for the publication of minutes, public access to meetings etc.
S50 simply requires two reports a year to Ministers.
powers of Scottish Water as set out in s25 are very widely drawn
and we argued for tighter controls on major organisational change,
such as the privatisation of the delivery of services. UNISON
believes the committee has read too much into the assurances given
by the Minister on this point (see report para 12). Scottish
Water would not have to "alter its functions" to privatise
the 'delivery' of services. This section of the report is contradicted
by para 33 which recognises that the commercial freedoms would
enable Scottish Water to 'deliver its core functions' through
various types of commercial contracts.
therefore remains of the view that Scottish Water could turn itself
into an enabling authority with the 'delivery' of services to
the public privatised using the powers in s25. Nothing in s60(2)
could halt this. UNISON therefore believes that the powers
of Scottish Water need to be drawn more tightly and the line of
accountability to Parliament needs to be more robust.
welcomes the assurances now given on pension transfer, although
we will wish to study carefully the proposed regulations and would
have preferred these provisions in primary legislation. Whilst
we recognise the necessity for the powers to establish pension
schemes, we remain concerned that they will be used to downgrade
pension provision for staff at some future date. "TUPE protection"
does not allay this concern.
is disappointed that the committee makes no reference to our proposal
for a comprehensive staff transfer order in addition to s23.
Whilst the committee's expression of concern over compulsory
redundancy is welcome, it ignores an important point. The loss
of large numbers of experienced staff will impact on customer
service and safety as happened in other utilities. The lessons
of the rail and gas industries apparently need to be learned all
over again in Scotland.
understand the committee's support for reduced charges and the
recognition that this could be at the expense of jobs in the industry.
We therefore remain of the view that Scottish Ministers should
finance charge reductions for public policy purposes.
inherited debt we would submit that however 'sanguine' Scottish
Water officials may be, the issue is not as complex as claimed.
The issue is one of simple equity. Existing debt should be
cancelled as happened in England and Wales at privatisation in
welcomes most of the committee's recommendations and if enacted
will considerably improve the Bill.
the Bill will still establish a public corporation that will have
extensive powers to operate Scotland's water and sewerage services
with minimal democratic control. Whilst UNISON supports some commercial
freedoms this should not enable Scottish Water to change the essential
structure of the public service provision without the approval
of the Scottish Parliament.
staffing provisions of the Bill are still inadequate and the finances
of Scottish Water should provide something closer to a level playing
field, given Ministers support for competition.
remains a real concern amongst staff and the public that Scottish
Water could become a public façade for a largely privatised
industry. We call upon the Scottish Parliament to ensure that
the Bill is amended to stop the gradual privatisation of Scotland's
further details contact:
Watson, Scottish Organiser (Utilities), UNISON House, 14 West
Campbell Street, Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel: 0141 332 0006 e.mail: email@example.com
or visit our website at www.unison-scotland.org.uk