14.06.12: Women’s representation
Jenny Marra (Labour) opened a debate on equality in the Scottish Parliament. She said: “I note that this appears to be the first time that the Scottish Parliament has ever debated women’s representation on boards, but I hope that it will not be the last time.
“Throughout Europe and the rest of the world, the debate about gender quotas has come to the fore. Now, more than ever, European nations that the Scottish Government seeks to emulate are taking action to make boardroom equality a standard practice in their businesses, public bodies and parliaments. It can be done.
“It has been almost ten years since the Norwegian male Conservative Minister of Trade and Industry, Ansgar Gabrielsen, completed Norway’s transition from a state that operates a 40 per cent quota on public boards to one that includes the private sector in that quota system. It took just two years for Norway to reach its quota of 40 per cent female representation on its public limited company boards. Its boardrooms have equalised, both in the private sector and in its public bodies.
“Gender quotas for public boards are in place in Denmark, South Africa, Israel, Quebec, Berlin and—at a local level—Nuremberg, and have been proposed in Belgium, Canada and Italy. They are becoming a more and more attractive choice for nations where, as is the case in Scotland, diversity strategies, leaflets, DVDs and the mentors that the Scottish Government proposes are simply not working. The attraction of quotas has grown so much that, just last week, the majority right-wing European Parliament backed a European Commission recommendation to bring gender quotas into the boardrooms of all of Europe’s companies by 2020.
“Angela Merkel has called the gender composition on Germany’s boards scandalous, and even David Cameron has said he will not rule out quotas for gender representation. However, two days ago in committee, the Scottish Government rejected the amendments to the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Bill that would have introduced quotas. In light of all the evidence and all the progress that is being made around us, I ask the chamber this: when did the Scottish Government become less progressive on equality than a Conservative Prime Minister in London?
“Labour’s motion suggests that Scotland would benefit by learning from progressive policies in other European countries that have successfully balanced their boards—a course of action that all sides of this chamber should agree upon.
“At the heart of the matter is the fact that, as all sides of this chamber agree, gender should not matter, and board appointments should be made on merit and merit alone. However, what the Scottish National Party Government and the Tories fail to realise, but the Scottish Labour Party always has, is that no matter how much we will it to be irrelevant, the reality of the culture for those seeking positions at Scotland’s boardroom level is that gender matters, and that the situation is usually to the detriment of women.”
14.06.12: Scottish Government (off-payroll employees)
Alison Johnstone (Green) asked the Scottish Government how many of its employees have their salaries paid off-payroll. John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, replied that there were no such cases.
Johnstone added: “I am pleased that action has been taken since I lodged the question. The issue of tax avoidance in the public sector is incredibly important. Will the minister advise when the 20 employees who were off-payroll will come onpayroll? Going beyond individual employees, will the Cabinet Secretary consider action to ensure that fear of legal action does not discourage public bodies from contracting private firms that have responsible tax arrangements?” Swinney said: “There has been no requirement to take action to remedy the situation since the question was lodged because there are no circumstances, and never have been, in which employees of the Scottish Government have been paid off-payroll.
“As part of my review of public bodies’ appointments across 143 organisations, I identified 20 cases in which individuals were not being paid through the payroll, with tax deducted at source. The average remuneration for those individuals was £2,000 a year, so we should have a sense of perspective about this particular question.
“The other point with regard to the remuneration of contractors who manifestly are not civil servants and manifestly are not employees of the Scottish Government is that the framework agreement from the Government requires consultants and contractors, including suppliers of temporary workers, to satisfy the Scottish Government that they conduct all financial accounting and reporting activity in full compliance with tax laws and regulations. That is what I expect, and that is what I will enforce.”
13.06.12: Local government elections 2012
The Local Government and Regeneration Committee heard a round-table evidence session on the 2012 Scottish local government elections. Convener, Joe FitzPatrick, said the session was also an opportunity for the committee to take a first look at the legislative consent memorandum on the United Kingdom Electoral Registration and Administration Bill. Those speaking at the committee were generally positive about how the local elections were run.
Gordon Blair, chairman of the Society of Local Authority Lawyers and Administrators, said: “On the experience so far, the SOLAR elections’ working group has had a debrief meeting and has fed into the electoral management board’s (EMB) debriefing. Our conclusion is that the election went well. Some key factors were that the legislation was early, the extended timetable for the delivery of postal votes was excellent, the Logica and returning officers’ training was very good, and the support to the returning officers from the e-counting contractor was excellent in respect of the central support resource and the resolution of minor difficulties. There were a few minor difficulties, but the bottom line is that in a huge logistical exercise that brought vast amounts of technology to 32 locations and returning officers’ (RO) teams, the logistics worked well.
“Communications were good. People have mentioned the excellent ‘frequently asked questions’ that the Scottish Government put out through its project manager, Andy Sinclair, and the two external stakeholders. Over the piece, as the EMB’s report says, the exercise seems to have gone well from the inside looking out, but obviously we need to get feedback from outside that tells us whether that view is agreed with. Things seem to have been OK.”
Head of the Scottish Government elections team, Stephen Sadler, agreed and added that the initial indications are that things “went reasonably well” on the election day and in the count.
Andy O’Neill, head of the Electoral Commission office in Scotland, said: “As a top line, we would say that the elections went well on the polling day and that the subsequent count went well. That said, one of our statutory duties is to report on the elections. We are currently gathering information from various sources, which we have tried to lay out in our four-page submission to the committee. We will report on the election in mid-September, after members come back from the recess. If members wish to talk to us about the report at the point, we would be happy to come back.
“I think that members know what the Electoral Commission does, as the predecessor committee was instrumental in giving us a statutory role as of March 2011 under the Local Electoral Administration (Scotland) Act 2011. Apart from reporting, we set standards for performance and standards for returning officers, provide guidance to electoral registration officers and returning officers, and undertake, in an operational sense, the national public awareness campaign for local government elections, which is Scottish Government funded. We also assist and provide resources, products and advice to the returning officers and electoral registration officers via the communications network of the Electoral Management Board for Scotland, run the observers scheme and, at the request of the Scottish Government, provide guidance to candidates and agents on the bureaucracy part of the election to keep them right.”