Article for Scotsman on education and early intervention

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SCOTLAND’S schools have always played a key role in helping people out of poverty. But despite government efforts, around one in five of Scotland’s children is still growing up in a poor household. The 2007 OECD report into schooling in Scotland said that schools were not doing enough to ensure that every child could transcend a disadvantaged background. For many, the school system succeeds in giving them the education they need, whatever their circumstances. But for others, poor outcomes at school pass from one generation to the next. If your parents did not succeed at school and then were unable to find employment, you are more likely to struggle yourself.

What can be done to break this cycle? Ask any professional, whether in education, social work or criminal justice, and they will agree that early intervention is the key. If you can identify a child with difficulties early enough, and provide appropriate support, you can avoid more severe (and costly) problems later on. This approach requires a great deal of collaboration between the different professions, as well as commitment to channel resources, and to give the professionals the freedom and autonomy to deliver what a child needs.

To be fair, a great deal of progress has been made in this area in recent years. This approach is key to both the government’s “Getting it right for every child” framework and the Curriculum for Excellence. Identifying a key professional to bring resources together can maximise the benefit. Yet it is notoriously difficult to calculate the impact of early intervention.

In the wake of the emergency Budget, which challenged almost every sector of the civil service to cut 25 per cent off their budgets, there is a real danger that continuing to prioritise and develop integrated working will be seen as an expensive luxury. Yet if schools are to enable every young person to reach their full potential they will need to be able to deliver early, integrated support. The challenge is huge, and no single profession can tackle it alone.

• Mark Ballard is the assistant director (policy) at Barnardo’s Scotland


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Article for Herald on charity investment

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Scottish care charity Quarriers lost £1.2m last year and is desperately trying to avoid cutting services. It is asking staff to take a reduction in terms and conditions or face redundancy.

Like charities and voluntary organi-sations across Scotland, Quarriers faces increasing demand for its services, coupled with a falling income. This gives rise to questions over what we do when charities providing services traditionally run by the state run out of cash. But it also begs the question, what makes charities different from businesses like Diageo or the Royal Bank of Scotland? Why should businesses be bailed out, when charities face cutting vital services?

The history of Quarriers shows how charities have changed. Its current troubles mirror what’s happening to Scottish charities more generally. But it also demonstrates why the vitality of the charity and voluntary sector will be vital to Scotland coping with the worst impacts of the recession.

Quarriers was founded in an age of philanthropy by William Quarrier, a successful Glasgow shoe retailer, who began caring for destitute children in Glasgow in the early 1870s. It has a turnover of over £42m, making it one of Scotland’s top 200 companies. It runs an diverse range of services and its 100 projects include support for young people with housing needs, disabilities and epilepsy. Thousands of people in Scotland rely on it.

The organisation is part of a growing and diverse voluntary sector, which employs around 130,000 paid staff in Scotland and manages an annual income of £4.1bn. That’s twice as many people as are employed in agriculture and 50% more than in financial services.

However, like the rest of the economy, this sector faces massive challenges. Following the collapse in the stock market, many philanthropists have found it hard to maintain their charity work. For example, the Moffat Charitable Trust, formed around a legacy from Jim Moffat, the co-founder of travel agents AT Mays, has indicated it cannot fund any new projects, due to the fall in the value of its RBS shares. Sir Tom Hunter’s foundation has indicated it will be giving much less than anticipated in the next few years. Smaller donations have started to slide, though most Scots are still incredibly generous.

The Herald said in November, that the Big Lottery Fund Scotland will be reducing the cash coming to Scotland by 70% because of the diversion of funds to the London Olympics.

For Quarriers, and other charities, the big problem is local authority funding. This is the main source of income for its projects. Having made a loss of £1.2m last year it has had to pump £700,000 from its resources into its projects to keep them afloat.

Quarriers Chief Executive Phil Robinson argues that unless they take urgent action, things could get worse. “Local authorities are operating in a very challenging fiscal environment. As an organisation, Quarriers needs to look at ways of reducing costs in order to continue to provide the current level of service to some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland.”

Local Authorities are already working to reduced budgets. In Glasgow we have seen £286,000 of cuts for voluntary organisations providing services to the disabled, elderly or ill – including Glasgow Disability Alliance, DeafBlind Scotland and the Terrence Higgins Trust. Glasgow has also reviewed long-term funding arrangements for key voluntary sector community care organisations in a bid to save another £464,000. These cuts are on top of a £1.6m saving that the council has made by not giving a cost of living increase this year to voluntary organisations providing existing contracts. An ongoing review of purchased care home placements, many provided by voluntary organisations, aims to make a saving of £4m.

If Quarriers was an ordinary business, the response to funding cuts would be simple. It would walk away from loss-making contracts and abandon the communities that rely on it. Yet while the First Minister meets with the bosses at Diageo to convince them to stay in Kilmarnock, Quarriers is faced with raiding reserves and asking its staff to take pay cuts.

Charities have often worked on shoe-string budgets, finding innovative ways to deliver services. But if councils’ response to the funding squeeze is to pass these cuts on to local charities and voluntary groups they may destroy the capacity of these groups to deliver. In doing this, they risk destroying the social infrastructure, that maintains local communities.

Funding charities and voluntary services delivers wider benefits, like community venues, volunteering opportunities and training.

Government investments to stimulate the economy have mostly been discussed in terms of physical infrastructure projects, such as roads and hospitals. It’s time to think in terms of social infrastructure projects that build communities and strengthen society. These projects can provide the social safety net to help stop the destruction of hope and ambition.

There are signs that this approach is being recognised. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) led a delegation to a Scottish cabinet meeting, where we discussed plans for a Resilience Fund for voluntary organisations providing front line services. The UK Government has announced the creation of the Future Jobs Fund, which will fund socially beneficial jobs for unemployed young people. SCVO is organising a coalition of Scottish groups in a bid for over 5000 new jobs. The bid demonstrates how the voluntary sector is uniquely placed to deliver socially beneficial jobs, training and work experience that makes a real difference to communities We need to invest in people and build social capital. We should regard the problems faced by Quarriers as being just as concerning as any of the other economic bad news coming out of Scotland. The answer is investment and support from government, but also recognition that the voluntary sector can’t be an easy option for cuts. Charities cannot sustain long-term subsidisation of vital services.

Quarrier’s current problems may just be the tip of the iceberg. It is time to heed this wake up call, and recognise the potential of charities and voluntary organisation to support communities through the recession.

  • Mark Ballard is the Head of Campaigns and Communications for the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations
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    Article for Evening News on Higher Education

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    The news that Scotland’s universities are in danger of falling behind the rest of the world should worry everyone in Scotland. In 2000 we had one of the highest gradation rates in the world – we are now only average. Scotland risks losing the benefits of leading the world in higher education.

    Scotland’s success has been always built on the strength of our education system. We are a not a large nation and cannot compete through simply building our domestic economy. For Scotland, it has always been quality, not quantity that counts.

We are rightly proud of the role that Scots played in inventing the modern world. Television, telephones, penicillin, antiseptics, lawnmowers, microwave ovens and even computer games can all be claimed as Scots inventions. More recently it was the team at the Roslin Institute near Dalkeith who cloned Dolly the sheep. Even the headline grabbing Large Hadron Collider, recently launched in Switzerland has Scottish roots. One of the main reasons it was built was to search for the elusive ‘Higgs boson’, whose existence was first suggested by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University.


But if Scotland’s Universities lose their world class status, we cannot expect to be able add to this amazing list of achievements. Last year Scotland’s University Principals calculated they needed an extra £168 million to keep pace with the revenue English and Welsh Universities were receiving from top-up fees. They got only £40 million. Unless proper support comes from the government this year the gap will grow even wider.

    So who should pay for universities? South of the border the decision has been made to ask students to cough up in the form of hefty top up fees. But greater financial demands will inevitably mean that students get only the education they can afford, rather than the education they need. Some of our best and brightest young people are already choosing not to enter higher education because the fear it will be too expensive. We cannot allow this to continue.

    Scotland has always chosen a different model of higher education to England. Edinburgh University was founded in 1582 by the town council because they believed that having a University was vital to the continued prosperity of the city.


Edinburgh chose not to follow the Oxford and Cambridge model. England’s two ancient universities were very much private institutions, funded privately as the apex of a gentleman’s private education. Rather, Edinburgh followed the model of the other Scottish universities and has always been a public, not a private institution. Central to this is the idea that universities should be about democratising knowledge – making it available to all. Indeed, my position as an elected Rector symbolises the idea that the University should be publicly accountable.

I believe the city fathers made a wise choice in 1582. We should ensure that everyone has the maximum opportunity to learn. We must widen access to all, including mature students and drive up the number of graduates in the population. Instead of having only average numbers in Higher Education we should be aiming for the top of those world rankings. This means Universities must be properly funded out of general taxation. Without that we risk falling even further behind and failing our most valuable assets – our young people.

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    Article for TFN on 10 years of TFN

    TFNThe world has changed dramatically for voluntary organisations over the last 10 years, but voluntary organisations have also had great successes in changing the world for the better.

    Perhaps one of the greatest changes in Scotland over the last decade has been the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. Voluntary organisations played a central role in the Scottish Constitutional Convention, making the case for a different kind of parliament. Many of the innovations supported by the voluntary sector that have made the Scottish Parliament more effective at listening to people’s concerns, such as the Petitions Committee, are now being copied by other Parliaments.

    The passing of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act of 2002 is another example of a victory for the voluntary sector. Thanks to pressure from the sector, and effective lobbying of Holyrood, Scotland ended up with a significantly stronger freedom of information regime than England and Wales.

    In terms of policy changes, the ban on smoking in public places in 2006 was a major victory for a range of health charities and another example of Scotland taking a lead over England and Wales.

    Possibly the biggest voluntary sector campaign in the last 10 years was ‘Make Poverty History’, the UK element of the Global Call to Action against Poverty. A highlight was the massive demonstration in Edinburgh during the G8 Summit at Gleneagles where around a quarter of million people took to the streets to demand action on trade, aid and debt. However, the promises made at Gleneagles, partly in response to the unprecedented level of global concern, have been largely broken or watered down.

    Many of the organisations active on trade justice around Gleneagles have now come together on the need to tackle climate change. As an issue this has moved from being primarily of concern to environmental groups to having everyone from the Church of Scotland to Unison and SAMH involved. The Climate Change Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament will be a real test of whether even this very wide coalition of civil society will be enough to overcome the vested interests who oppose significant action on climate change.

    Not only have the issues we campaign on changed, but also the way we campaign has changed. Who can now imagine a campaign without at least a website and email list, if not a blog and facebook group?

    One thing is clear, even from a brief survey of voluntary organisation campaigns: the most successful campaigns are those that can build a wide coalition of groups. Third Force News remains one of the best ways to build those coalitions and to let the rest of the sector know what issues your organisation is currently working on.

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    Anorak heaven

    london map

    What a wonderful piece of work this is – a colour-coded map of all the london local authority wards. The full image is here. I would love to see one for Scotland…

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    Article for Morning Star on local authority taxation


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    One of the most popular policies of the SNP in the run-up to the Scottish Elections last year was their promise to scrap the Council Tax and replace it with a Local Income Tax. The SNP argued that a Local Income Tax would be fairer and based on ability to pay. At first sight this seem like a policy that should be supported by everyone on the left – after all income tax is a central part of a redistributive tax system. However, the SNP finally unveiled detailed plans for the new tax last month and some elements of their proposals have been shown to be far less progressive than might be expected.

    So what are the SNP proposing? From April 2011 Council tax would be replaced by a 3% income tax on earned income over the personal allowance (£5,435 at today’s rates). Unearned income, meaning savings and investment income, would not be covered. Those with enough wealth to avoid earning a living would pay nothing. This is because it is easy to identify where in the UK income is earned. For taxes on savings income, for example, banks only keep records of the address the account is registered to, which could be anywhere in the UK. It is therefore felt to be almost impossible to tell what part of savings income was earned in Scotland.

    The tax would pay for local services, but the Scottish government, not local councils, would set the rate. The SNP are currently ruling out as impractical the suggestion from the Liberal Democrats that councils should be allowed to vary the rate slightly. The SNP claim this would be too much of a burden for businesses. If all 32 local authorities set different rates, a business in Scotland could end up with staff on up to 32 different payroll tax rates – and many would have staff on four or five different rates.

    There is also the complicated issue of the rate at which the tax would be set. In 2006 researchers at the University of Stirling attempted to calculate what rate a Local Income Tax would have to be set at in order to raise the same amount as local authorities receive in Council Tax, including from households in receipt of Council Tax Benefit. They estimated that the tax rate would be around 6.5% if applied to earned income subject to income tax at basic and higher rates.

    Worried about the impact of an income tax increase of this size, the SNP have promised that the national rate will be set a maximum of 3%, leaving a massive gap between receipts from Council Tax and from Local Income Tax. However, the SNP have assured council leaders that any gap in council budgets would be filled by an increased grant from Holyrood to local authorities. This cash would still have to come from somewhere and the net effect of the SNP’s proposals would be to cut total tax take from households in Scotland by the equivalent of around 3.5% – a tax cut far greater than anything the Tories have promised in recent years.

    It is also worth considering where the tax burden would fall. Council Tax is based on the value of property, with only a small discount for single occupancy premises. It therefore hits hardest one or two- person households on low incomes living in valuable property – significant numbers of pensioners fall into this category. Local Income Tax takes no account of household size or property value. So instead of pensioners, it would be young workers in multiple occupancy houses who would feel the heaviest burden of the new tax.

    So for all these reason, the left should be aware that the SNP’s local tax proposals are not necessarily progressive. While some, such as low income pensioners, would benefit hugely other low-income groups would suffer. Many of the wealthiest would end up paying no local taxation, despite the value of the property they own. Local councils would also lose the ability to vary local taxes, giving central government complete control over their finances.

    Of course, none of this should be particularly surprising – while the SNP have pushed a range of socially progressive policies, from abolishing tuition fees to cutting prescription charges, their underlying philosophy is too support a low-tax economy. For example, they have suggested that if Scotland were to control corporate taxation, they would follow a similar path to Ireland, cutting corporation tax by at least 10% (from 30% at the moment).

    However, none of this should diminish the left’s criticism of the Council Tax. Ever since Michael Heseltine introduced it as a hurried replacement for the Poll Tax its flaws have been obvious. Despite a house in the top band being worth at least ten times as much as a house in the bottom band, its owners only pay three times as much. The top band is also capped at £250,000 (at 1991 prices), so the most expensive properties do not attract a proportionately higher Council Tax. Indeed, the fact that the system is still based on 1991 house prices, because there is no stomach for a revaluation, indicates the lack of any kind of detailed thought when the system was invented.

    So we need a fairer way of collecting local tax than Council Tax. The SSP set the ball rolling for a nationally-set additional income tax to pay for local services with their proposal for a Scottish Service Tax, which was taken up by the SNP as the Local Income Tax. The Liberal Democrats propose in Holyrood and Westminster a locally set additional income tax. What is less clear is what Labour will do. At Holyrood, Wendy Alexander, the labour opposition leader, seems to have decided to play the socialist card – a word she hardly uttered when a minister. They have been playing up the ‘black hole’ between the revenue collected from Council Tax and from a Local Income Tax and warning that this will lead to cuts in services. However, apart from vague talk of tinkering with the banding of the Council Tax it isn’t clear what they actually want.

    By contrast, the Greens are continuing to push proposals for a system of property tax based on the site value of land. Land is one of foundations of the ruling class in Scotland, yet, with the exception of Council Tax on property, is almost untaxed. A property tax on all land, with no artificial cap as there is with the Council Tax, would start to make the landowners pay properly for the local services they use. A system that taxed both income and property would make sure that the wealthy couldn’t evade tax by tying their wealth up in property.

    However, to win support for a properly progressive property tax, support will have to be found beyond the environmental movement, which has traditionally supported resource taxes. So despite the apparent attractions of a Local Income Tax, it is clear that all Star readers should consider the benefits of making the landlords, rather than workers, pay.  Given the fact that replacing council tax is likely to become a live issue at Westminster, as well as Holyrood, we must make sure that all proposals for new taxes have proper scrutiny from the left.

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    Report on Edinburgh University public meeting

    The JournalEdinburgh University Rector speaks in favour of free higher education

    By Neil Bennet, The Journal 26 February 2008

    Edinburgh University Rector Mark Ballard has called on the Scottish Government to improve the state of university funding, warning that prospective students could be put off studying by the cost of higher education and the sector’s poor financial outlook.

    Students at the University of Edinburgh hosted a public meeting entitled “Where next in the battle for a free, fair and funded education system?” on Thursday 21 February.

    The event featured Mr Ballard, Vice President Academic Affairs candidate Andrew Weir, and Scottish National Party MSP and member of the Scottish Parliament Education Committee, Aileen Campbell.

    Mark ballard and Aileen Campbell

    The meeting was held jointly by the Edinburgh Young Greens, the Socialist Society and Scottish Nationalist Society at the university, ahead of the final reading of a bill to scrap the Graduate Endowment, due to take place at Holyrood this week.

    Mr Ballard, who is a former Green Party MSP, spoke about fees and debt putting many young people off going to university and about the need for widening access.

    He said: “Spreading knowledge is a good thing, having an educated society is a good thing.”

    Mr Ballard also challenged the Scottish Government to match with public funding the additional money English universities will be receiving through the charging of top-up fees.

    Ms Campbell, who at 27 years old is the youngest member of the Scottish Parliament, admitted that she was still paying off her own student debts of around £15,000.

    She said: “If we were an independent country we could make [the] decisions, and be able to fund free education.”

    Mr Weir, who was speaking in his capacity as Secretary of the Socialist Society, said: “There is a discourse being created in this country, one that says that free education is a really nice idea, but that there’s just not the money to pay for it, and after all the world doesn’t owe us a living.

    “Strangely enough, the people that say this are very often members of the political party that took this country to war in Iraq, that signed up for the second generation of Trident nuclear submarines, and that have plans to bring in ID cards.”

    A demonstration by students is planned outside the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 28 February to put pressure on MSPs before the final vote on scrapping the £2,289 graduate endowment.

    The vote is expected to be close, with the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and Greens supporting the move. Labour and Conservative MSPs are expected to vote against the motion.

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