Condensation trails in the sky forming the flag of Scotland.

For suppliers, Scotland is another country within or without the Union

By: SA Mathieson
Published: Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - 11:10 GMT Jump to Comments

With three months before Scots vote on whether to leave the UK, it is clear that Scotland’s public sector will change further, whether through devolution or independence.

If Scotland’s referendum on independence was going to be decided on celebrity endorsements, those pushing for a yes vote would already have conceded defeat. Last week, Harry Potter author JK Rowling announced her reasons for giving £1m to the pro-union Better Together campaign, including worries about Scotland’s economy and ability to undertake medical research if it left the UK.

Wimbledon champion Andy Murray didn’t quite say which way he would vote, but criticised Scottish first minister Alex Salmond for waving a saltire behind David Cameron’s head when Murray won the event last summer.

And US president Barack Obama described the UK as “an extraordinary partner to us,” adding “we obviously have a deep interest in making sure that one of the closest allies that we will ever have remains a strong, robust, united and effective partner”.

Opinion polls continue to put the No campaign ahead of Yes, and although the margin has narrowed over the months, it looks more likely than not that Scots will vote to stay in the UK. That result, however, will still see Scotland gain some more independence, as all the main Westminster parties have recently pledged to devolve further powers to the Scottish Parliament.

Research has indicated that, on balance, Scots would prefer ‘devo-max’ – maximum devolution – to both independence and the status quo, and those wanting to keep the UK together appear to have decided to offer this.

Scotland’s public sector is already different to from England’s, and devo-max will see these differences increase. There have always been some distinctive features, such as Scotland’s separate legal system, but since devolution in 1999 they have multiplied. One is that Scotland has removed market structures from its public services, so while England’s NHS is split between providers such as hospitals and GP-led clinical commissioning groups buying services, Scotland’s NHS boards provide all healthcare in a geographical area. (Wales has made the same change.)

The Scottish Government has rejected new PFI construction projects, and is highly unlikely to follow England in letting a private company take over the management of a hospital, as with Circle Healthcare’s 10-year contract to run Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust in Huntingdon.

However, devolved Scotland makes plenty of use of private-sector suppliers; it just prefers them to supply, not run things. There are fewer opportunities for companies to build partnerships, but plenty of straightforward business.

There are a few differences in public sector culture, too. Scottish civil servants are more likely to talk about public service and equity, or fairness, than their English counterparts. To take an example, NHS Grampian has a (non-PFI) service contract with a company for Aberdeen’s new health ‘village’ (a large health centre including some outpatient hospital services), but this contract does not include interior maintenance.

This is because the health board wanted the new building to be maintained to the same standard as its older buildings, rather than a better one – so it kept all such maintenance in-house, for equity. A country’s public sector takes a lead from political leaders, and Scotland’s leaders tend to emphasise such values over the business-like efficiency that English politicians often champion.

Suppliers looking to succeed in Scotland should spend time learning how its public sector operates, and those of a reasonable size should consider a physical office in the country. In short, it helps to treat Scotland as its own nation, regardless of whether September’s vote places it within or without the United Kingdom.

JK Rowling on why she is supporting Scotland staying within the UK

Businesses outside of Scotland overwhelmingly against independence

Rich/poor education divide still rife in Scotland

NHS Grampian’s PFI alternative for its Aberdeen health village

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Information Daily, its parent company or any associated businesses.

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