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Childcare provision must work for working parents – for the sake of business too

Childcare provision must work for working parents – for the sake of business too

The ever-emotive topic of childcare is hitting the headlines again, after Audit Scotland expressed concerns about the Scottish Government’s pledge to almost double the hours of free childcare available to three and four year olds, and vulnerable two year olds, by 2020.

As a working parent, at first glance it’s hard to see what’s not to like about the First Minister’s promise to increase free provision from 16 hours a week to 30. However, auditors have flagged up a host of potential issues, including infrastructure, the recruitment of the thousands of additional staff that will be needed to deliver this, and the considerable gap between what the Scottish Government think their flagship policy will cost, and what councils anticipate the bill will be (hint: it’s considerably higher).

Logistical and financial arguments aside, in principle the Scottish Government’s plans should be welcomed not just by working parents, but by businesses too, who can only benefit if more parents can re-enter the workplace. However, for the policy to have any effect on this front, the new system must be more flexible than the current one.

Research from campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids shows nine out of ten parents who want to change their working situation say lack of appropriate childcare is their main barrier. Most council nurseries only offer free childcare in slots of 3 hours 10 minutes during term time, with no option for parents to buy extra hours for the rest of the day. Only one in ten council nurseries opens from 8am-6pm. This is obviously an unusable system for many working families.

I count myself among the luckiest parents in Scotland, because I work from home three days a week, with the other two spent in the office. On home-based days, I am able to drop my four-year-old off at a council nursery at 8.45am and still make it to my desk by 9am. I have family nearby who pick my son up from his free morning session at lunchtime and look after him for the afternoon.

Those not as fortunate as myself are left with the option of using a private nursery which offers longer hours. However, UK parents currently face some of the highest childcare costs in the western world. By the time families have two pre-school children, it’s not just the low-paid who don’t have much money left to take home by the time they have paid their nursery bills. Some funded places are available at private nurseries in partnership with their council, but in many cases, these are limited.  Because of this, many working parents are missing out on their free entitlement altogether.

The situation does not improve much when children get to school. Without adequate provision of pre-school or after-school care, many parents face a logistical nightmare to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs. Incredibly, I am aware of at least one council which is currently considering axing breakfast clubs – a guaranteed meal for our most vulnerable children, but also a godsend for working parents – from its primary schools to save money. How this fits with their aspiration of lifting more families out of poverty is anyone’s guess.

The childcare conundrum disproportionately affects women, as more than three quarters of mothers shoulder the primary caring responsibility. Women are the ones, therefore, who are most likely to drop out of the workforce altogether – fine if they can afford to and want to, but many can’t or don’t. Women are also more likely to work fewer hours than they would like to, or settle for less challenging jobs. This means businesses are missing out on huge pools of female talent that could potentially address the skills shortages faced by some sectors, such as construction, science and technology.

So until the extended hours of free childcare come into place, what does this mean for business? Quite simply, companies who offer flexible hours or home working will be the winners when it comes to attracting talent. Working parents, after all, can often be some of the most focused, motivated and productive employees you are likely to meet.

Of course, enlightened employers such as mine already recognise that greater flexibility isn’t just appreciated by parents – and they will already be reaping the benefits of a happier, healthier workforce.

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 23 February 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 23 February 2018

The Scottish Parliament resumed this week, after the short February recess, and MSPs returned to work in a grumpy mood as matters Brexit continued to cast their long shadow over everything else.

The first item of business this week was an at times fractious Chamber debate on income tax bands in Scotland.  The 2012 Scotland Act gave Holyrood the power to set tax rates and the Scottish Parliament has now approved new, bespoke income tax bands that lift Scotland to net higher levels of taxation for many people than the rest of the UK.  In the final vote, the Greens supported the SNP-led administration, with Labour and the Conservatives opposing.

The full Scottish Government rationale including a breakdown of the five bands is included in this statement: Scottish income tax details

The income tax debate was more of a preview for the main show which was the final budget debate showdown.  Technically a Stage 3 debate on the 2018/9 Budget (Scotland) Bill, this was the third and final chance for MSPs to circle the wagons around their respective positions. And, once again, the six Green MSPs voted with the SNP minority administration to push through next year’s budget.  Labour and the Tories opposed and the five Lib Dems, bless them, split over special concessions to ferry services in the northern isles. But we have a budget, and the BBC summary covers most of the key points: Budget debate

Wales … Perceptive operates throughout the UK and occasionally client needs take us to Cardiff to engage with what will soon be known as the Welsh Parliament, formerly the National Assembly of Wales, and its 60 group of Assembly Members (AMs).  The Welsh Assembly Government is led by Labour’s Carwyn Jones and supported by the Lib Dems one remaining AM, Kirsty Willams, who serves as Education Secretary.

In terms of going forward, people across Wales are now being encouraged to respond to new proposals to reshape Welsh democracy published by the Assembly Commission, which have been drawn up in anticipation of new powers given to the Assembly in the Wales Act 2017.  Following a detailed analysis of evidence, the Panel recommended that the Assembly needs between 20 and 30 additional Members elected through a more proportional electoral system with diversity at its heart.  The consultation ends on 6 April.

And finally … you may have missed it, but a new political party was launched this week.  RENEW has been set up by a group of independent candidates who stood in the June election 2017 on a campaign to Rethink Brexit, Renew Britain. It will operate in Scotland but track records for previous new starts are not encouraging.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or

If you enjoyed this issue of Scottish Political Insider, sign-up to receive it directly to your inbox every Friday (link opens in a new tab).

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 16 February 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 16 February 2018

MSPs have had a relatively quiet week as Holyrood enjoyed the short February recess.  Chamber business resumes on Tuesday with a Scottish Government-led debate on the Scottish Rate Resolution.

Economic data is ‘the new gold, informing policy-making, influencing business decisions and affecting our pay and pensions’, and the Scottish Government must help the public and media better understand it, according to a report by the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee. Details: Economy committee report

The report – How to Make Data Count – follows a four-month inquiry by the committee, which saw a wide range of economic and business experts and organisations give evidence on the reliability of economic statistics used by the Scottish Government, media and others. The inquiry considered the ‘accuracy, utility and comprehensibility’ of Scottish economic statistics; and what data is required for ‘effective delivery and scrutiny of policy’.

Staying on business matters, and there was a little bit of positive business news this week as research by the Bank of Scotland suggested business confidence in Scotland is at its highest level in more than three years. Its monthly PMI survey found higher staffing levels and a return to growth in the private sector in January, compared with the previous month. In the service sector, employers reported that successful tendering had contributed to higher order intakes.

Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard is emerging as the favourite to replace Angus Robertson as the SNP’s Depute Leader, according to media reports. MSP James Dornan is currently the only candidate to have confirmed their intent to stand. Alongside Sheppard, there are several others said to be considering a run at the position including Hannah Bardell, Pete Wishart and Ivan McKee. Ian Blackford, Humza Yousaf and Alyn Smith have ruled themselves out.

And finally … spare a thought for Ruth Davidson who spent her recess visiting Afghanistan. The Scottish Conservative leader spent four days in Kabul at the invitation of the Dumfriesshire based HALO Trust – now the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearance operation. As well as seeing mine clearances in action, Ms Davidson met members of the Afghan government to discuss security and also spoke to female Afghan MPs to discuss women’s participation in politics.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or 

If you enjoyed this issue of Scottish Political Insider, sign-up to receive it directly to your inbox every Friday (link opens in a new tab).

£1.7M of Innovate UK funding will help tackle silent killer that could affect one in four Scots

£1.7M of Innovate UK funding will help tackle silent killer that could affect one in four Scots

Funding will help develop new treatments for the commonest cause of chronic liver disease

Eagle Genomics and the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC) have been awarded a £1.7M collaborative grant from Innovate UK (the UK’s innovation agency), for a ground-breaking project that could help develop new tests and treatments for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

NAFLD, an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol, affects 25% of the world’s population. Strongly linked to type II diabetes and obesity, it is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries and there is no approved treatment. Chronic liver disease is now the third most common cause of premature death in the UK.

The progressive form of NAFLD, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), usually precedes liver fibrosis, liver cancer and premature death. Early recognition of the disease, monitoring progression, and effective treatment in patients is urgently required in order to reduce deaths from end-stage liver disease.

Using Eagle Genomics e[automateddatascientist] platform as the foundation, the Innovate UK funding will be used to develop SteatoSITE, a Data Commons* – a unified data system that allows sharing of genomic (RNA-Seq)** and clinical information from patients with NASH, making it more accessible for further research. The Data Commons, which will be the first in the world for NASH, will lead to a deeper understanding of which tests and treatments are most effective for individual patients.

As more data is added, the Data Commons will evolve into a smarter, more comprehensive knowledge system that will assist important discoveries in chronic liver disease and increase the success of treatments for patients.

The Data Commons project will be led by SMS-IC’s industry partner, Eagle Genomics Ltd, an AI augmented knowledge discovery company. It will also involve partners at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, NHS Scotland and Glasgow and Edinburgh’s MRC Molecular Pathology Nodes. The collaboration pulls together world-class clinical expertise, data and access to research samples.

The project will involve genetic sequencing of 1000 liver biopsy samples from within the NHS Scotland’s biorepository network*** by Edinburgh Genomics, a global leader in DNA sequencing and genomics based at the University of Edinburgh. This new data will be combined with information from imaging, clinical and electronic health records.

Diane Harbison, Chief Executive of Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre, said: “SMS-IC is uniquely placed to deliver transformational health projects such as this one.  Scotland is a world leader in terms of the health data it has available, and this project is a great example of making most of this data in order to identify successful treatments and improve our ability to ensure each patient gets the right treatment.  NAFLD is a massive health problem which affects large swathes of the population, not just in Scotland but globally, and there is a desperate need for potential treatments.  Taking a stratified approach – ensuring treatments are targeted based on each individual patient’s genes – means they are more likely to be successful.”

Dr Jonathan Fallowfield, Senior Clinical Research Fellow/Principal Investigator, MRC Centre for Inflammation Research at the University of Edinburgh (SteatoSITE Clinical Lead) said:

“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a silent epidemic with no approved treatment. Sharing information through this new data repository will be transformative for research efforts to better understand the disease. It will help to pinpoint patients at high risk of disease progression and will speed up the development of new therapies.”

Professor Dame Anna Dominiczak, Vice Principal and Head of the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences (MVLS) at the University of Glasgow said: “The SMS-IC is one of the University’s key collaborative partnerships to further Precision Medicine in Scotland, and so on behalf of myself and everyone at the College, I am delighted to support this latest investment and the ongoing success of the SMS-IC.

“The work of the SMS-IC, and indeed this latest collaborative project, exemplifies the University’s ethos of the ‘triple helix’ partnership between the NHS, University and industry.”

Abel Ureta-Vidal, CEO of Eagle Genomics said: “This collaboration and funding is a great opportunity to further demonstrate the versatility of our e[automateddatascientist] platform to support translational sciences in the biomedical research field. Our platform is already deployed in other areas of Life Sciences research and development, such as animal health, personal care and cosmetics, food and crop sciences. This project will showcase its ability to accelerate innovation for pharmaceutical industry customers, to extend its use to other therapeutic areas of interest and play a key role in the digital reinvention of the Life Sciences research and development.

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 9 February 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 9 February 2018

There was a hint of consensus in the air this week as MSPs and MPs, of all parties, celebrated the 100th anniversary of (some) women getting the right to vote.  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon went further and announced a £500,000 fund to encourage more women to become involved in politics. The initiative is intended as a tribute to the suffragettes who campaigned for women’s rights in the early years of the last century. Backed by the Scottish Government, the fund will provide grants for local initiatives across the country.

Former MP Angus Robertson has stood down as Depute Leader of the Scottish National Party, a position he has held since October 2016.  He lost his Moray seat to the Conservatives’ Douglas Ross last June.  SNP MSP James Dornan, who represents Glasgow Cathcart in the Scottish Parliament and is Convener of the parliament’s education and skills committee, is the first to declare his intention to seek nominations to succeed Mr Robertson.

Scottish Labour will also see a summer deputy leadership contest, following Alex Rowley’s resignation before Christmas.  Shadow Scottish Secretary, Lesley Laird MP, is favourite but Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon is also expected to run.

Still with Scottish Labour and leader Richard Leonard MSP has written to fellow party leaders and a host of trade unions and campaign groups, inviting them to join him to discuss how best to protest a state visit to Scotland by US President Donald Trump. The meeting, which will take place in Glasgow on February 14, will lay the groundwork for a united response by those who believe Mr Trump should not receive the “red carpet treatment” of a state visit.

And on Brexit this week, the UK leaving the EU without a trade deal in place would hit Scottish economic growth by 9%, according to leaked UK government analysis. The figure, calculated over a 15-year period, compares with the 8.5% hit to GDP predicted by a Scottish government study last month. MPs have now viewed the sensitive documents in the House of Commons library. The study suggests that in three different scenarios – staying in the single market and customs union, negotiating a free trade agreement and leaving the EU with no deal – the UK economy as a whole would grow more slowly than if it stayed in the EU.

And finally … the first of the spring Scottish party conferences is drawing close.  The Scottish Conservatives meet in Aberdeen in three weeks’ time but inside sources are suggesting that Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and Michael Gove (who, as a Scot, is a regular) have reportedly been asked to stay away due to Ruth Davidson’s fears that they are “toxic” in Scotland. The Prime Minister and Cabinet colleague David Mundell are still expected to speak.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or

If you enjoyed this issue of Scottish Political Insider, sign-up to receive it directly to your inbox every Friday (link opens in a new tab).

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 2 February 2018

Scottish Political Insider – Friday 2 February 2018

The SNP Budget for 2018/19 has passed its first parliamentary vote with support, once again, from the Scottish Greens.  The vote passed by 69 to 56 with opposition from all the other parties.  Details: SG Budget passes Stage 1

The Greens managed to get Scottish Government’s agreement to amend its 2018-19 budget to include some more left of centre changes such as:

  • £170m more for local council services and to help pay fair wages. This more than reverses all of the £157m of local government cuts proposed by the SNP.
  • 73,000 more public sector workers such as nurses and teachers will get a pay rise. The inflation-based pay policy will now cover 75 percent of workers rather than 51 percent.
  • “Fairer taxes”: everyone getting less than the average wage will pay no or less income tax. The SNP’s proposed tax cut for high earners is cancelled.
  • A new community rail fund to help campaign groups get stations reopened and new lines into construction.
  • An extra £2million for insulating homes, fixing leaky windows and tackling fuel poverty.
  • Reduce the proportion of high-carbon capital projects such as new trunk roads and increase the proportion of low-carbon capital projects such as rail, buses and warm homes – a commitment which is to be extended each year for the rest of the parliament.

The final (Stage 3) debate and vote will be on 21 February.

Scottish Labour will hold a summer contest to fill its vacant Scottish deputy leadership post.  The previous incumbent Alex Rowley stood down before Christmas and the post is being filled, on an interim basis, by Shadow Scottish Secretary Lesley Laird MP.  Ms Laird and Central Scotland, MSP Monica Lennon are likely to contest the post when nominations open.

From this week, Scotland is now the only country in the UK with a statutory gender representation objective for public boards. The Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill has been passed by the Scottish Parliament. The Bill sets an objective for public boards that 50% of non-executive members are women by the end of 2022. It also requires action to encourage women to apply to become non-executive members of public boards.

And some good news figures this week have shown that Scotland is ahead of England with a third more affordable homes built per capita over the last decade, according to figures from the Scottish Government. Over the 2007-08 to 2016-17 financial years, this government’s supply of affordable housing per capita has been 33% higher than the UK government’s supply in England.

And finally … US President Donald Trump has spoken of his regret at not being able to visit Scotland as often as he could before he became head of state.  Speaking on a UK TV interview, Mr Trump described the country as a “wonderful place” with “wonderful people”. He also insisted he was unaware that many people had called for him to be banned from the UK.

If you or your organisation would benefit from our political insight and specialist knowledge and contacts at all political levels, please get in touch with Julie McLauchlan on 07734 932578 or

If you enjoyed this issue of Scottish Political Insider, sign-up to receive it directly to your inbox every Friday (link opens in a new tab).

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