Leaders:Doctors’ sugar pill may leave bitter taste
BRIAN Keighley, the Scottish council chair of the BMA, the doctors’ trade union, has had a bright idea about how the Scottish Government can restore the cuts to doctors’ pensions which the UK government is likely to make.
Why, he says, the Scottish Government can just dip into the block grant it gets from the Treasury and make up the difference.
Dr Keighley may be a brilliant medical man, but his diagnosis of the problem and his remedying prescription are well wide of the mark. The problem is that doctors, like other public sector workers, are being asked to pay more towards their eventual pensions and to work a bit longer in order to get them.
That is certainly a problem, but it is also faced by other public and private sector workers. Dr Keighley may not have noticed it, but this is something endemic affecting the entire working population, not a peculiar affliction striking doctors alone. The public sector at least has the benefit of pensions which are still linked to final salaries, which are but a distant dream for most in the private sector.
But never mind, Dr Keighley thinks doctors deserve a special deal. The typical doctor gets by on between £65,000 and £85,000 a year and the government plans to increase their pension contributions by about 6.5 per cent of salary to 12.5 per cent by 2015. So if the Scottish Government pays that increase instead, it should only cost a few millions a year, perhaps creeping into the low tens of millions.
Presumably Dr Keighley imagines that the nurses, police officers, firemen and administrators will all cheer and will certainly not demand the same special treatment, because they will know that would make the cost an unaffordable hundreds of millions. It’s possible, but unlikely.
Perhaps he also thinks that this will not have any effect on budgets for, say, supporting the work of third-sector organisations taking the strain of easing problems faced by unemployed people. And if it does, perhaps he has an idea of the public sector workers who could be sacked to balance the books.
And then there are private sector workers whose taxes fund the public sector of which doctors are a part. These workers were of course delighted when GPs received a big pay rise in the early years of devolution and then saved them the bother of going to their doctor at evening or Saturday surgeries. They were only too pleased to be compelled to take time off work if they wanted to see their GP to discuss, say, the alleviation of stress caused by disappearing jobs and pensions.
Naturally, their stress levels will be further reduced by knowing that their doctor is not worried about losing a job, or a declining salary, or a diminished pension. The doctor will be able to cheer them up simply by telling them about the special deal they got from the Scottish Government. That will make a lot of patients very happy, and without the cost of a prescription.
More than a matter of coppers
Legislation to create a single police force and fire service covering all of Scotland has now been passed by the Scottish Parliament. It has been motivated, as Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill admitted, more by the necessity of having to make cuts in public spending than by a desire to improve services. But that does not mean that poorer policing and less effective fire services will be the result, far from it.
But first, Mr MacAskill will have to work hard to ensure that the £1.7 billion of projected savings over 15 years are actually delivered. He, rather than councillors on local police authorities, will become responsible for this and as Audit Scotland has pointed out, previous and similar such reorganisations have been less than efficient at delivering promised savings.
The logistics of delivering both the savings and service via a single force for 5.2 million Scots are not insuperable. The Metropolitan Police, for example, serves 7.2 million Londoners, and while the Scottish force has to deal with a much greater land area, it does not have the same sophistication of terrorist and other threats that the Met has to cope with.
There remains a concern about how local accountability can be delivered, particularly as councillors will not be able to summon their local chief constable to explain his policing strategy in the way they have been used to doing. But in a very practical sense, it is not in the interests of police covering a local area to be seen as aloof from it.
Modern policing necessities of needing to have communities and the public on their side should ensure that forces are locally accountable. As Mr MacAskill said, it is time to make a virtue of necessity.
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Tuesday 21 May 2013
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