Gina Davidson: Sectors must sort out blurred lines

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IT’S been interesting watching the departures from the CBI this week after it signed up to the Electoral Commission. This puts it on the side of Better Together so it can legitimately campaign for a No vote in the referendum, and spend vast sums to do so.

Interesting in the sense that what is supposed to be a body representing private sector businesses has so many public sector members.

University after university has quit, claiming that its own neutral stance on the independence debate was compromised by the CBI’s actions. Fair enough, but why were they members of the Confederation of British Industry in the first place?

The answer of course is that universities are more about business these days than academia; more interested in the pound to be derived from attracting foreign students than the intellectual profit to be made to society by turning out well-educated folk.

And they also like to encourage their staff to set up spin-off businesses which can boost the coffers further. A lot of boosting is required when vice-chancellors, though some I believe now call themselves chief executives, are paid more than £200,000 a year.

I find this grey area between organisations which are publicly funded, but which regard themselves as private businesses at the same time, all rather murky.

A story last week revealed that the National Museum of Scotland avoids paying its gift shop staff the living wage by employing them through a sub-contracted company. I don’t know about you but the gift shop and cafe seem the most obvious ways to leech money from people’s pockets after they’re done gawping at exhibits and given the prices charged you’d expect the staff to be on decent wages.

But no, they get just above the minimum wage because a legal loophole allows a publicly funded body like the NMS to set up a private company, call it National Museums Scotland Enterprises and let it run the gift shop – and claim that because it does not receive taxpayers’ money directly it doesn’t have to comply with the Scottish Government’s pledge to have all public sector workers earn at least, wait for it... £7.65 an hour.

Of course this “enterprise” arm of the NMS, wholly owned by it – there are no other shareholders – wouldn’t be there at all if the NMS didn’t receive bucketloads of public monies to exist in the first place. The whole thing stinks.

Whether it be museums or universities, the practice of allowing publicly funded organisations to operate private companies is something which needs to be seriously addressed. It’s the same when local authorities do it – look at how well that worked out for the tram project in Edinburgh.

Public services are not businesses and should not be run as such. They are services, some perhaps more vital than others, funded by taxpayers for the good of taxpayers and should rise above some of the worst spiv practices of private wheelers and dealers.

They are not there to make a fast buck by withholding a few quid from the wages of someone who’s probably employed on a zero-hour contract. Nor are they there to pay dues to lobbying bodies who’d rather there was no such thing as a public sector at all.

Demarcation is a dirty word in industrial relations these days, but it’s a vital one when it comes to drawing a distinction between the public and private sectors, especially if the former is to continue to be supported by the people who pay its way.

Give women a regular platform

WOMEN are apparently the missing link when it comes to the independence referendum, showing up as the majority of undecideds in opinion polls. Which is why the BBC felt it necessary to make the documentary What Women Want, and why the issue of women and independence took up an hour of debate on BBC Scotland yesterday morning.

While I’m delighted to hear more women voice their opinions on all things political, surely the very premise of such programmes is wrong. Women may be all one gender, but we sure don’t all think or act the same way: hence the stooshie over the fact that Jackie Bird, below, went to bingo halls and wedding shows to seek the views of females.

But of course, women do go to bingo, they do go to wedding shows, they even bake scones. Not all, but some, and they do it because they want to, not strictly because of society’s patriarchal nature.

Their opinions are as valuable as those who already attend political meetings or spend time on golf courses or rollerblade. Let’s hear what women have got to say, but by having more of them in all political discourse, not just hived off in one-hour television specials.

Report will bring truth, if not peace

FINALLY, after months of delay, due in the main to new revelations, Dame Elish Angiolini’s investigation report into the Mortonhall crematorium baby ashes scandal is finally with Edinburgh City Council, and hopefully will soon be in the hands of the parents affected.

The document is 650 pages long and is believed to contain information which is incredibly hard to read. Former Lord Advocate Dame Elish herself is believed to have said she found it one of the worst investigations she’s ever had to carry out. And there are also already rumours about potential criminal charges due to forging of signatures on crematoria documents and possible civil suits to come.

When it is finally made public all such conjecture will be null and void and we will know once and for all what went on at Mortonhall – and why.

For some parents that might bring some closure to the last 16 months of trepidation and dread after Sands Lothian first discovered the awful practice that had been going on – that the ashes of stillborn babies, or those who died after just a few hours or days, were buried rather than returned to families.

For others, though, the report may not be able to bring any peace. Who could ever get over the fact that in their darkest moment of despair, when all they wanted was to cling on to something of their child, they were lied to about the fact there were no ashes to take home?

But one thing is for sure: no future parents will ever have to endure what these families have been through. And for that, the tenacity of Sands Lothians – a charity set up to counsel those suffering such a loss – should have the gratitude of all.