Thursday 9 January 2014

Updating CBI Scotland

I've been meaning to update an old post of mine for quite a while now.  It's a post from three years and four days ago about how the CBI doesn't really represent many Scottish businesses at all (90 Scottish members, 62 of which were companies - that was the January 2011 membership).  When I went back to the CBI Scotland website to update the figures the directory had disappeared, gone, vanished, disapparated, desubstantiated, dissolved into nothingness, shrugged off that digital coil, shuffled into the shadows, never to be seen again.  That seemed strange - why would an organisation that used to be so proud of its members suddenly get so coy?  Once it flaunted its membership with an online directory, now it primly hides that membership behind its skirts.

Intrigued, I emailed CBI Scotland to ask - here's the exchange:
To CBI Scotland on 7/9/12 
I was wondering how many Scottish companies are CBI members. You used to have an online directory but I can't find it now, can you help?

To CBI London on 13/9/12 
I sent this request about a week ago to CBI Scotland and haven't had a response, I was wondering whether you could help me?
Do you have figures for how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland and what sectors they're in?

Reply from CBI Scotland on 14/9/12 
Dear Mr Cashley,  
Thank you for your email enquires below which have just been passed to me; I apologise the delay in responding. The CBI is a private membership organisation and we do not disclose details of our membership, however it does include companies from all sectors and of all sizes, large and small, including manufacturing and service sectors as well as parent and subsidiary companies, plus trade associations. We held our Scottish annual dinner in Glasgow last week and were delighted to welcome almost 600 to the event. Our public policy positions are decided by our 45-strong elected CBI Scotland Council and informed by our various policy sub-groups and the wider membership. I do hope this is in order and thank you for getting in touch.  
Best wishes,  
David Lonsdale 
CBI Scotland

Both of my emails were below the CBI Scotland response; it was sent when CBI London said an answer should be sent.  It is an utterly empty response lacking any information.  No response on how many CBI members are headquartered in Scotland or how many Scottish companies are CBI members.  I thought this was a bit strange, given the previous flaunting of its membership so I asked friends of mine who live south of the Rio Tweed to ask for the same information in different ways from CBI HQ and we've not had any luck in getting any information whatsoever from the organisation that claims to speak for Scottish businesses / British businesses (and, I take it, Welsh businesses, North of England businesses and so on).

So, with this once braggart organisation becoming shy over its membership, I can't update that post in the way I wrote it but I think I can make an assumption or two and go from there.  I think it's safe to assume that the membership isn't growing - notice, even in the answer which was eventually sent to me that the inflated membership numbers that CBI Scotland used to claim in public (in, for instance, evidence to Holyrood committees) have become untenable and have disappeared.  Everything is private these days.  Let's assume that CBI membership is declining because that seems likely; belts are being tightened, non-essentials are being dispensed with, things that don't do your business any favours don't get the time of day.

That's not all; TIE, which was a member of CBI Scotland, has been wound up and no longer exists - it and Lothian Buses now make up Transport for Edinburgh (I kid you not) and Lothian Buses never wasted money on CBI membership.

Food Trade Association Management has made an application to be struck off so that will no longer be a member of CBI Scotland.

If ConocoPhilips is still a member of the CBI then it's keeping it quiet and, while it still has an operational base in Aberdeen, its UK headquarters now appears to be in London.

Chance Associates was dissolved last year.

James Barr was bought by London company GVA in October.

Laura Gordon Associates was dissolved in 2011.

SI Associates has been liquidated.

McGrigors merged with Pinsent Masons - the new HQ is in London.

Elphinstone Holdings is in administration.

WF Watt (Contracts) was wound up in 2011.

Memex Technologies had actually been bought by an American company (SAS) before I wrote the original post, so I overshot with the number of Scottish companies represented by CBI Scotland by at least one at that time.

It's actually quite a sad list that indicates some sad losses in Scotland's business base, but we should remember that there are plenty of other Scottish companies that are doing well - including some of the ones which were members of CBI Scotland in 2011.

What's clear, though, is that CBI Scotland still doesn't represent any great swathes of Scottish business opinion (and since public pronouncements made on behalf of CBI Scotland have been denied by members in the past, it doesn't seem to even represent the opinion of its own members) and its influence, weak as it is already, appears to be in further decline.  It's a shame that CBI Scotland, with probably less than 50 Scottish companies as members, feels that it needs to be so secretive about its membership - especially when it seeks to influence Scottish public policy so much on behalf of 'Scottish business' - and it's a shame that it has reacted so negatively to the constitutional debate.  It appears, however, that CBI Scotland is a bell wi nae clapper that stills rings too loudly.  I'd blow a raspberry if I knew how to write such a thing.

Maybe we should hear a lot more from the Federation of Small Businesses with its 19,000 Scottish businesses.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Those pesky international treaties

Remember the hooha, the kerfuffle and the keich about all the international treaties that Scotland would have to renegotiate after independence?  Was it 14,000 or so that was claimed?  Treaties that included those about navigating the Rhine last century and addressing some issue that was important when Victoria was busy being unamused, leaving less than a quarter having any relevance today, most of which Scotland could accede to without having to do much more than say "aye, we agree to that"?

Well, they include an awful lot that are about reciprocal medical treatment.  How do I know?  Well, I was standing at a bus-stop and a chap sidled up and whispered "pssssst, you'll be interested in these" and he handed me a couple of links.  I rushed home and shoved them in the back of the computer, wound up the key and had a look.  The first one is a terribly interesting agreement between the UK and New Zealand about being decent people to each other's people in that if I pop over to NZ for a wee look round and get sick the health service in that fine country will treat me and bear the cost.  Similarly, if one of the All-Blacks forwards gets mown down by a Scottish scrum half and ends up in hospital then the poor fella will get treated in one of our hospitals and we'll bear the cost.  That's what decent people do, isn't it?  Interesting that this agreement was signed by Thatcher's Government.

The other link - well, the other link shows that this wee treaty is not alone.  Medical treatment resulting from bad boogying in Barbados, crap karaoke in Kyrgyzstan or a misbehaving molar in Moldova will be supplied free or awfy cheap.  Armenia, Azerbaijan,  Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Gibraltar, Serbia, Montenegro, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Macedonia, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and others have agreements with the UK - as well as, of course, the 31 EEA countries and Switzerland.

So what?  Well, under the charging plans that the London Government (Lib Dems and Tories) is planning for Accident and Emergency departments (are they still called A&E?  It didn't get changed while I wasn't looking?) are nurses and doctors expected to check whether the person in front of them and in desperate need of medical help happens to come from one of the many states with which the UK Government has a reciprocal medical assistance treaty in place?  Will m'learned friend hanging around saying "I know she's slipping in and out of consciousness but you can't treat her until we find out whether she is from a country with a treaty or not"?

I don't think that I'll be terribly off-target if I assume that the current Scottish Government has decided that it doesn't consider this to be a very good idea so I'm just assuming that it won't be happening in Scotland.  Having a wee ask about, though, I came upon a friend of mine who turns out to know a thing or two about medical things and they said "GMC rules mean that Doctors have to treat the sick or injured person in front of them.  If they refused on grounds of charging or failure to pay or any such nonsense there is a good chance they'd find themselves struck off - and quite rightly so."  I think GMC is the General Medical Council and they regulate medical types.  That would create an interesting tension - the Government which is the paymaster for NHS salaries saying "don't treat this person" while the regulatory body is saying "if you don't treat this person you won't be a doctor any longer."  Well, the tension is interesting for me in an abstract kind of a way; I'm sure it wouldn't be very interesting for the doctors so much as an inexcusable Catch 22 and a ridiculous position for any employer to put its employees in, never mind the lack of decency inherent in thinking that it's fine to leave a sick or injured person suffering while we have a health service perfectly capable of treating them.

Seeking a reasoned and considered opinion, I turned to The Ranter (so called for the measured and mellow tones with which opinions are delivered) and received something like this in response:

"You've got to look at what the endgame is here for the Tories and the Lib Dems, they want to effectively remove wholly socialised medicine and replace it with partially socialised medicine and then a market on top while at the same time portraying their position as protecting the NHS.  Being upfront about completely marketising the NHS would be a PR disaster and political suicide so to get their way without becoming utterly unmentionable everywhere outside of their own houses they are salami slicing it away.

"Think about it - and really think about this time you lazy sods - to introduce any form of upfront charging regimes for these terrible foreign types would require some mechanism to determine what the charge should be for each kind of procedure or treatment or assessment or suchlike.  You've got to assume with this lot that the charges will be based on full cost recovery (materials, staff costs, accommodation, food while on the premises, and so on).

"That's not going to be easy, is it?  It's going to need a bureaucracy - and those costs will get added in as well.  It will probably need to be an organisation doing something similar to NICE, so that charges can be refreshed regularly and kept at arms length from government for appearances' sakes.  Charges would need to be consistent across England, of course, otherwise you'd create a perverse incentive for the foreign types to shop around.

"So to deal with these foreigners you now have an apparatus in place which establishes charges for treatment on the NHS - and they can even introduce 'extras' and 'luxuries' that can be added on like you might do in a good hotel.  Hey, seeing as that charging system is place anyway why don't we make sure our glorious NHS isn't being abused by scroungers, so you still get free healthcare folks but shouldn't the cash going to the hospitals reflect the patients they get?  So let's have the money follow the patient, let's have real national insurance where if you're in work then sure your treatment is free because you deserve it; and pensioners, well they've contributed all their lives, and kids as well, just because we're nice.

"But see these benefits scrounging types, well, they're just taking the piss aren't they?  So obviously they'd get emergency treatment if they really needed it but maybe if they don't take that job or do that workfare scheme or we assess them as scroungers then they should get restricted free primary care and so on.  I mean, if they're not contributing to the pot why should they get to take out of it?

"And hey, since we're on the subject, do you want treated faster, or with a particular doctor, dentist, hospital, clinic?  Well, you can wait or, if you want, pay the small top up charge that we promise won't go up the way that tuition fees went up.  And that wee charge, well that's good for everybody because the additional profits made from that will go into the pot to pay for general patient care...

"That's my read of the long term goals but I'm doubtless just being paranoid because it's not like following the recent health legislation in England that certain treatments are no longer freely available in NHS England, is it?"

Sometimes I think The Ranter needs to get out more, sometimes I think the opposite, but I nearly always find myself thinking "yeah, I can see that coming to pass" and it often does.  Maybe it's keeping chickens that gives you that insight.

Anyway, given that the London Government seems determined to head down this road, who'd want to be a medic in England in the next few years?  Scotland, I hope, will keep our NHS as a public good and for the public good.

The question is how do we protect it and ensure we keep it?  The answer - well, make up your own mind but have a read of this while you're doing it.