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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Local Government and Communities Committee 14 December 2016

Agenda: “Local government in Scotland: Financial overview 2015/16”, Brexit (Implications for Scottish Local Government)


Contents


Brexit (Implications for Scottish Local Government)

Good morning, everyone, unless you have been following the meeting—in which case, welcome back. I am sure that someone out there is following this online.

Item 2 is an evidence session on the implications for Scottish local government of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. My script says that today’s session will take place in a round-table format—no, it will not. However, we have a number of witnesses attending. First, I convey apologies from David Eiser, a research associate of the Fraser of Allander institute at the University of Strathclyde, who was hoping to come along today but who is unable to make it.

I welcome Councillor David O’Neill, president of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities; Jim Savege, Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers and chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council; Helen Martin, assistant secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress; Professor James Mitchell, co-director of the academy of government at the University of Edinburgh; and Stuart Black, Highlands and Islands European partnership and director of development and infrastructure at Highland Council. Thank you, everyone, for coming to this short session on the implications of Brexit for Scottish—indeed, United Kingdom—local government.

10:30  

I will open the questioning by asking about one of the most striking aspects of funding for local government. As you will know, politicians are often drawn to the public pound and want to see what the financial position is. I see that the level of funding from European structural funds has been guaranteed to be met by the UK Government up until 2020. Someone might want to clarify that, but that is my understanding. Local authorities deliver roughly 30 per cent of those funds and, from 2014 to 2020, that will be roughly 30 per cent of about £900 million, depending on what is committed. That is a huge chunk of cash trickling through local authorities.

My local authority, Glasgow City Council, is the most significant delivery agent of those moneys and, as a constituency MSP, I am concerned about what could happen post-2020. Anything that our witnesses could say about assurances that have been given or the process pre-2020 would be very welcome, given that around £450 million is still to be allocated through that process. That might be a good starting point—following the moneys and highlighting any reassurances or concerns that there are about the process pre-2020 or what will happen after 2020.

Councillor David O’Neill (Convention of Scottish Local Authorities)

That is a very good question, especially following the evidence session that you have just had. In terms of long-term planning for local authorities, the only place where we currently have certainty for funding is European money. The settlements that we currently get from the Scottish Government are set on a year-to-year basis and we cannot do serious long-term financial planning on the basis of them.

So far, we have been assured that the programmes will be funded up to 2020. It is called M plus 2 funding and, if my understanding is right, we have two years after the end of a programme to continue the spend. That is reassuring. What is not reassuring is that we should be starting the planning for after that right now. We should be in that process, but there is absolutely no certainty about that, and that is a problem for us.

That is helpful. Do any other witnesses want to add anything on the theme of structural funds?

Jim Savege (Society of Local Authority Chief Executives and Senior Managers)

I reinforce that point. Many organisations are involved with the schemes and funding arrangements that are already available. Inevitably, as Councillor O’Neill has said, they will be looking forward to the next term and the next programme in drawing up a medium-term plan for their businesses, organisations and communities. The level of uncertainty that exists in looking forward even to two, three or four years’ time is impacting people’s confidence now in their ability to plan and look ahead. That may impact some of the existing commitments to programmes and delivery, as well, so there is potentially a double whammy.

Does anyone want to add to that?

The other point that came up in the previous evidence session was about the decrease in spending that is not protected by the Scottish Government. Match funding becomes a real challenge. For example, employability programmes are a major feature of some of the EU schemes at the moment and the council has to provide 50 per cent, or thereby, in match funding for those programmes, although that figure can vary. As local government spending is reducing in those areas at a higher rate, match funding becomes a challenge. That is another issue that is worth considering.

We may want to follow up on that. Councillor O’Neill, you talked about long-term planning; had the Brexit vote gone the other way—had there been a vote to remain—would local authorities, in all honesty, be planning now for spends in 2021 and 2022? Would they be doing the work on that? Is work being done on the assumption that there should be no detriment, and are local authorities gearing up for what potential applications would have looked like? Is that work still on-going?

The short answer is yes. European regional development funding is, by and large, for infrastructure projects and there is long-term planning involved in that. The European social fund is for employability and things of that nature, which tend to be fairly long term, so there is forward planning for that.

One thing to note is that the EU is always forward planning. It will have already started planning for post-2020. Local authorities over decades of membership have been very much involved in those discussions from the outset—that is the key to understanding the EU and being successful in the EU. There is that process.

The point now is that, of course, local authorities in Scotland will not be involved in the next round. Local authorities will have to engage not with the EU but with the UK Government and the Scottish Government. It is a different ball game, and in that respect we do not know where we are. We cannot criticise local authorities for that. Until we have a clearer idea from the UK Government as to what is happening and what Brexit actually means, it is very difficult to engage.

I also sit on the joint programme monitoring committee for European structural funds, which looks at the funds across Scotland. There is about to be a review of the programme’s implementation. The programme was supposed to be from 2014 to 2020, and we are some way into that period. There is a mid-term review process. At that committee, I asked what is being done to look at the post-2020 scenario, because it is important that communities that are used to receiving community economic development funding, such as through the LEADER programme, should have some idea of what might come after Brexit.

We are not in normal circumstances, Councillor O’Neill, but if we were, would local authorities be having direct discussions now at a European level as to what the structural funds will look like post-2020? Have you been excluded from that process?

Normally, the discussions would be starting just now. Have we been excluded from the process? I will tell you next week when the process starts. What we are clear about is that we need to be engaged in long-term discussions with the UK Government and the Scottish Government.

I was going to ask more about that in a second. I am trying to get my head round whether local government is still involved in those discussions, because article 50 has not been commenced. Teasing out what spending might look like post-2020 would almost create an expectation about what you will get from the UK Government or the Scottish Government once we are no longer in the EU. I suppose that I am asking whether you are keen to still be involved in the discussions at the European level.

I suspect that the answer is yes. Part of the reason why I suspect that is that Phil Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said in the media recently that it might take longer than two years and that there might be a transition. I do not think that anybody really knows what will happen, so we will hedge our bets.

This goes back to a point from a previous session, which is about scenarios. What we have—city region deals are an illustration of this—are economic strategies in different parts of the country that are covering five, 10 and 15-year periods, so local authorities are looking forward to that extent. There is ambiguity over what the funding opportunities will be, and therefore there is hesitance over which conversations to have with who, in order to be able to deliver those strategies.

The long-term intention is there, but the point in question is where to put one’s efforts into the conversations and discussions. It could be folly to invest all one’s time and effort in one route, given the uncertainty over when and how an exit may happen. We are working through the different scenarios to try to work out the best route forward to secure long-term funding.

One has to consider the issue from the point of view not only of the UK and local authorities here but of EU partners. The expectation is that article 50 will be invoked early next year and that the UK will leave. That does not create conditions for local authorities here to have much impact on those negotiations, and we have to be very clear and honest about that. We are marginalised, as it were. There may well be an opportunity to take part initially, but we will not have a voice that will be listened to very closely. That is not a criticism of local authorities at all. They are in a weak position. Consider the issue from the point of view of any other member state—why would you want to listen to UK local authorities post-2020?

I suppose that local authorities might not want to spend much time, energy and effort in an area that they know will ultimately not hold the levers of spending power and influence. The question is then where they should direct their efforts, which brings us back to the UK Government and the Scottish Government. What kind of formal efforts have COSLA made to contact and enter into a process with the Scottish Government and the UK Government?

It would be fair to say that the level of engagement that COSLA is having, along with other local government associations in the UK, with the UK Government has been excellent; the level of engagement that we have had with the Scottish Government has been a meeting.

Do you want to expand on that? I do not think that the Scottish Government would describe its level of communication with the UK Government as “excellent”, so I am surprised to hear that you have had a different level of engagement with it.

Through the Secretary of State for Scotland, we are getting access to civil servants and getting meetings arranged with the Brexit secretary. As I said, the four local government associations are working together. The English Local Government Association in particular is doing a substantial body of work, which it is sharing with the other associations, including COSLA. We are getting a good level of engagement with the UK Government.

Can you give any details about the one meeting that you have had with the Scottish Government?

We met Mike Russell and Alasdair Allan for what was meant to be an initial meeting. We offered to supply information to assist the Scottish Government with the Brexit situation. COSLA shared the view of the Scottish Government during the referendum campaign, because it was the unanimous view of COSLA that we should remain in the EU. However, the vote went the other way, so to help with the process of dealing with that we offered to share local government’s knowledge and expertise in EU matters with the Scottish Government. There is a considerable degree of knowledge about EU matters in local government—more than there is in the Scottish Government, I would say. However, other than the one meeting that took place, I do not think that there has been any engagement at all with the Scottish Government.

I apologise, because we seem to be having a one-to-one dialogue here. However, I just want to mop this up, and then I will allow you other guys in.

With regard to what you have said, Councillor O’Neill, I think that this committee could have a purpose and a role. I suspect that what you are saying is that you want to be of assistance to the Scottish Government—

Councillor O’Neill

Yes.

—and to take a co-ordinated approach in relation to Brexit. Whether or not it is in relation to direct Brexit negotiations, it is certainly in relation to how those affect local government. You want to work in a co-ordinated fashion with the Scottish Government in relation to that.

Yes. We want to work with both the Scottish Government and the UK Government on that. When powers get repatriated to the UK from the EU, where those powers end up will be important. Subsidiarity is important and getting the powers to the most appropriate place is very important. If powers end up in an inappropriate place, they will not necessarily function as well as they should for communities.

That is helpful. I will bring in Elaine Smith for a supplementary question and then I will bring in Graham Simpson.

I suppose that my question goes a bit further into what the convener has been exploring with COSLA. Paragraph 15 of COSLA’s written submission states:

“COSLA believes that the appropriate mechanisms should be put in place at political and officer level so that Local Government is embedded in the Scottish Government and UK Government negotiation structures ... The same approach has already been confirmed by the UK Government ... for reserved areas for Scottish Local Government”.

What exactly are you asking of the Scottish Government? Is it exactly the same as what has happened with the reserved areas?

We want to be embedded in the Brexit process; we do not want merely to be a consultee or to be lumped in with others. We not only deliver a lot of EU programmes but are part of the formal governance of Scotland. We should therefore be embedded in the Brexit process.

But can we clarify whether you are embedded in it as far as the reserved issues are concerned? You state in paragraph 15 of your written submission that you are embedded in that process, but you are saying that that is not what has happened in Scotland.

Councillor O’Neill

That is not what has happened in Scotland—so far.

Thank you. Convener, could I ask Professor Mitchell something about what he said, or do you want to move on?

I have had bids for supplementary questions from Graham Simpson and Kenny Gibson, but I just want to check whether they are on the point that we are discussing. If they are, we will hear them before moving on to another issue. Graham, is your question on the current point?

Yes, very much so.

Okay.

I am very interested in what you have been saying, Councillor O’Neill. What have you discussed with the UK Government in the various conversations that you have had with it?

We have talked about the repatriation of powers and the continuation of European funding. We are considering how we influence changes that will take place. I will give two examples of things that will be repatriated. One is state aid; what role will local government play in that? The other is procurement; what role will local government and localism be able to play in that in future? We want to be in there at the start of the matter to shape how those processes deliver for our communities. We need to be embedded in the process to do that and not merely to be a consultee.

10:45  

You have mentioned all the areas that I had hoped to ask you all about.

Councillor O’Neill

That is good.

Have you asked the Scottish Government for meetings and been refused them?

Councillor O’Neill

No, we have not been refused meetings.

So the approach came from the Scottish Government for the meeting that you had.

Councillor O’Neill

No, the approach came from us. We offered to meet the Government and assist it as we could, but there has been nothing since that meeting.

Why has there been nothing since then?

Councillor O’Neill

I do not know.

However, you have not asked for a meeting.

We left it that we were available. We offered our knowledge. There has not been any substantive contact since then. I am sure that the Scottish Government would tell you that it is finding its feet. We are offering to help it find its feet.

Would you like a second meeting as soon as possible to discuss the matter further?

Councillor O’Neill

I would be more than happy to meet as soon as possible.

It is really about whoever picks up the phone to call the other person. We will ask about that as well. There was an initial meeting; I suspect that both parties thought that there would be more, but they have not happened, so we should just make them happen. By “we” I do not mean the committee: I mean that COSLA should seek a meeting as soon as possible. If there are issues with that, the committee would be interested to hear them.

Councillor O‘Neill keeps talking about repatriation and subsidiarity. My question is this: subsidiarity from what? Would the UK Government pass powers directly to local authorities, which would mean that powers were reserved at UK level and then, via subsidiarity, given to local authorities, or would the powers be passed to the Scottish Parliament, which would then pass them down? Is not the conversation that you are having with the UK Government slightly odd? If we are talking about where power sits within the UK, that should be a tripartite discussion between the UK Government, the Scottish Government and Scottish local authorities. It seems odd to me that COSLA and the UK Government are discussing where power over fisheries or agriculture or whatever would sit. Sovereignty would sit with the UK Government, which would pass powers down to local government. Is that COSLA’s ambition, or would you prefer that the powers be passed down to local government with sovereignty sitting at Scotland level? What is your mission? What outcome do you seek?

I think that the phrase that I used earlier was that the powers should rest at “the most appropriate place”. No doubt some should rest at UK level—although I dislike the word “level”. Some powers should rest in the UK sphere, some in the Scottish sphere and some in the local government sphere. Those things are not mutually exclusive. I suspect that, in the fullness of time, some of the powers will be devolved or repatriated to each of the three spheres. It is important that, thereafter, they do not operate in isolation. We all have to operate in partnership in such a way that we secure maximum benefit for our communities.

It would not be sensible to put all the powers in a single place. Some would be appropriate for the UK Government, some for the Scottish Government and some for local government. We have the advantage of the four local government associations working together, which gives us a way into the UK Government that we otherwise would not have had. It is a useful conduit for us.

That is interesting. Do you want to add anything to that, Professor Mitchell?

Councillor O’Neill made the point that I was going to make. I reiterate, with due respect, that I do not think that the concept of “sovereignty” is terribly helpful in this case, in that it implies an ultimate resting place of power. In public policy, different spheres are engaged in the same policy areas.

Let us take the example of the environment, in which the EU, the UK Government, the Scottish Government, local authorities and many other bodies are involved. There is sharing of responsibility—it is a partnership. That is one of the interesting things about the nature of policy in many of the areas in which the EU works, not least because the EU is, to be frank, incapable of delivering. Local authorities are the delivery agencies and must be involved.

We should try to conceive of the future as involving partnership, sharing and working together. I agree strongly with COSLA that the issue is not about levels; it is much more complex than that. As I said in my submission, the metaphor of the marble cake rather than the layer cake reflects the reality of policy making and policy implementation with respect to so much of what the EU has been involved in. We now have a situation in which the EU will no longer be involved, but there will still have to be partnership, sharing and engagement, including on everything from setting agendas and submitting ideas for policy making through to delivery—although delivery is almost invariably and inevitably a local authority responsibility. Delivery is one of the few areas in which there is a monopoly, in the sense that one sphere has control.

That was very helpful.

This is an interesting conversation, and it relates to one of our key concerns in the process, which is about transparency and how we hear the voices of communities, workers and civil society actors in general, in the negotiations.

The STUC has had a slightly different experience from COSLA. We have had open access to the Scottish Government, which has been supportive, but very limited access to the UK Government, which has not really been interested in meeting us or, for that matter, the Trades Union Congress. We are still in a process of ad hoc meetings, whereby we meet up to discuss certain issues and take the temperature of the situation.

In the future, we would be interested in the creation of more formal structures that would allow civil society to play a more formal role in the negotiation process. We would like to see that at UK Government and Scottish Government levels, because it is important that we have a discussion about how society is shaped, where power lies and how we deal with the very difficult issues that will arise because of Brexit. Formal processes are needed for that, and civil society and actors such as COSLA and local government need to have roles.

My deputy convener will come back on that, but I promised to bring in Kenneth Gibson.

It is interesting to hear about the different experiences of the STUC and COSLA. Councillor O’Neill, I have been told that I am not supposed to call you David; from now on, I must call you Councillor O’Neill. Sorry, David.

Councillor O'Neill

That’s all right, Kenny. [Laughter.]

I should point out that it was not me who said that.

I am intrigued by an issue that is raised in the COSLA submission. Paragraph 30 states:

“as the recent controversy with TTIP shows, any trade agreement that touches upon local service provision requires to be negotiated with the input and expertise of Local Government. This is not the case at the moment.”

Paragraph 14 says:

“One of its key international agreements is the Charter of Local Self Government which the UK and Scottish Parliaments and Governments are bound to implement but have failed to do so—unlike most European countries. The current negotiations to repatriate powers from the EU thus present an opportunity to finally address this.”

The UK Government and, to a lesser extent, the Scottish Government have never been keen to speak to COSLA about issues such as the transatlantic trade and investment partnership, why are they suddenly very keen to speak to you? They have not previously been interested in negotiating with you on such key issues.

President-elect Trump is probably going to kick TTIP into the dustbin, so we are all waiting to see what the outcome there will be.

We have discussed the European charter of local self-government with the Scottish Government on many occasions. Local government asks that we sign up to it because the UK and Scotland are unique in Europe in that we have not signed up to, or have not implemented, the charter. The Scottish Government’s argument has always been that that would require independence and a written constitution, in which local government was embedded. Our argument has been that if it were put into legislation that we had signed up to the charter, legislation would then be required to overturn that. In other words, it would have to be a thought-out process. However, the Government has said that that could happen quite easily and has steadfastly refused to sign up to the charter. That remains an ask of local government.

I am asking why the UK Government is suddenly really keen to talk to you when it has not been keen to talk to the Scottish Government about issues such as TTIP and the charter of local self government, and it is clearly not particularly interested in speaking to the STUC or the TUC. Why does the UK Government suddenly want to speak to COSLA? At present, the Scottish Government does not seem to be having that great a time of it in terms of negotiating with the UK Government.

I must admit that I do not know why the UK Government is not keen on speaking to the STUC, although I share your concern and think that it ought to be doing so. Perhaps it is down to the fact that COSLA is approaching the Brexit issue along with the other three local government associations, and down to the attitude that we are expressing, which is that we are where we are with Brexit and we need to ask how we can make the best of it. We are going into it almost in a positive light, despite the fact that COSLA was unanimously for remaining in the EU. As I said, we are where we are: perhaps that attitude is making a difference. However, I suspect that it is more to do with the fact that the four local government associations are working together.

I have some more ideas on that, but I will leave them for now, because I want to move on to a different topic.

I want to talk about that final point, too. Councillor O’Neill said that we are the only country with EU membership that is without constitutional protection for local democracy. Is that a reserved issue? You went on to talk about the UK and Scotland, so can you clarify whether the UK has to decide to implement the charter, or could Scotland do it separately?

Councillor O’Neill

My understanding is that Scotland could implement the charter separately.

Okay. Thank you.

Councillor O’Neill

I would like both Scotland and the UK to implement the charter.

Yes, but it was important to clarify that, because it was not clear from the discussion paper.

I have a question for Helen Martin. You mentioned the involvement of wider civil society, and you specifically said that neither the TUC nor the STUC is engaged at UK level. What do you mean by “civil society”, and how would you envisage that engagement happening? Are you talking about some kind of committee?

I will not pretend to have a fully worked-up answer to that, but it is important that in the negotiation process it is not just the UK Government that is talking to countries in Europe and having closed-door negotiations, given that we do not know the direction of travel, what is likely to happen or what will come out the other side.

I hope that we could have some sort of discussion—some sort of constitutional convention, if you will—about how we can bring those powers back to the UK, what the shape of our country will be and the shapes of trade deals with other places. There is a role in that discussion for different levels of society, including local government, trade unions and, equally, churches and community groups. There are a range of ways in which people can be consulted and engaged, but it is important that the process is transparent, that there is buy-in from communities and that there is an attempt to help people to understand the decisions that are being made and our direction of travel. It is not good enough that Brexit becomes a black box and we are presented with a final answer. That is not healthy or democratic and would not lead to good outcomes.

If article 50 is to be triggered at some point early in the new year, should the Scottish Government at present be taking it upon itself to lead the way in Scotland? Could whatever is happening at UK level also happen at Scotland level, in the meantime?

That could absolutely happen. It was remiss of me not to mention it before, but I think that the Scottish Government should, with the other devolved Governments, have a key role in the process, because it is a key actor in our democracy. The Scottish Government’s position should be informed by the views of Scottish people and by the various layers of government and different civil society actors in Scotland. That should help Scottish people to have their voices heard in the wider debate, which is important.

Professor Mitchell, do you want to add to that?

I want to come back to the constitutional question, because those of us at the table are perhaps using the term “constitution” in different ways. If Councillor O’Neill is referring to constitutional entrenchment, which is a right that is embodied in primary law and cannot be affected by normal law, there is nothing that the Scottish Government—nor indeed the Westminster Government—can do without a formal written constitution. The Scottish Parliament could pass a law that would give local authorities a great deal of power, or more power than they have at present—I would be an advocate for that—but it could not really entrench that because it has no entrenchment powers. Equally, the UK Parliament does not have entrenchment powers. I do not think that Brexit affects that in any way whatsoever. We must remember that formally, the constitution is a reserved matter.

11:00  

Good morning, everyone. We have been debating migration in the chamber this week, so I would be interested to hear the panel’s views on freedom of movement and how restriction of, or the ending of, freedom of movement will impact on local government, specifically in relation to skills shortages and how we might address them, and how it will impact on growing our economy.

There has been a marked difference in attitudes north and south of the border in relation to free movement and growing the population. Anyone who makes use of the hospitality industry will be very much aware of the number of people from outwith the UK who work in that industry. Within our health service, the number of people who come from outwith the UK is critical. An awful lot of childcare workers and other care workers are from outwith the UK. If such people lose the ability to come to Scotland, it will be a really big problem for us; industry certainly seems to be making that point. In the east of Scotland, the fruit-growing areas rely very heavily on people from outwith the UK coming in. It would be a real problem for the Scottish economy and the wider UK economy if freedom of movement were to be stopped.

If you look at population statistics for the Highlands and Islands, you will see that most of the growth has been driven by migration and that a lot of that has come from eastern Europe. About 23 per cent of businesses in the Highlands and Islands have EU employees—that is, non-UK EU employees. If we look at Scotland as a whole, statistics on the tourism sector show that 24 per cent of employees in hotels and 30 per cent of employees in restaurants are migrant workers. The ending of freedom of movement would therefore have a huge impact on the tourism sector—which is, of course, our biggest industry in the Highlands and Islands.

The care sector is another sector that will be impacted, as will some of our food and fish-processing industries, which are heavily reliant on EU nationals. The ending of freedom of movement poses a number of challenges. There are also very high-skilled EU migrants working in life sciences businesses such as LifeScan in Inverness, which is a research and development company, and in the national health service, of course.

My department in the council lost a number of EU migrants following the referendum result. They said that they did not feel welcome, so they left. Our losing that freedom of movement will have a big impact: it is already having an impact.

The STUC’s members are feeling increasingly anxious about the matter. We have quite a large number of EU nationals in membership of trade unions and we are seeing more and more requests from those nationals about how they can secure their status. They have questions about whether they should be applying for citizenship at this point in order to make sure that they can maintain their ability to live and work here. We find that quite disturbing because it shows that some of the reassurances that have been given—by the Scottish Government, in particular—are not necessarily acting as genuine reassurances for workers, so that insecurity is continuing within the population.

In local government, one of the key areas that are at risk is social care, in which many foreign nationals work. It is, potentially, at particular risk of not being able to fill roles if we do not have access to EU labour.

We hope that freedom of movement will not be removed, but if it is, we as a society will have to consider what to do to help the industries that have been mentioned. Right now, the points-based system offers no option for low-skilled-worker migration. That does not seem to be a sustainable position, given the needs of some industries and that it is very difficult to fill seasonal jobs in agriculture, for example. If we are to have a complete cessation of free movement of people, we need to reconsider how our immigration system works in order to allow low-skilled workers through.

I echo the points that colleagues have made and will add two points. First, we should focus on the challenges that higher education institutions may face in their long-term plans in attracting international students and staff. They have expressed clearly their concerns about the inhibition that that might cause.

I would link the point about migration and immigration back to the discussion on structural funds. My understanding is that a lot of the economic growth that we have had in recent years has been based on migration and immigration and not on productivity increases. If we are to restrict and inhibit the influx of population into Scotland at the same time as there are questions about structural funds—which exist to support youth employment and employability and to provide business support—how will we support our existing workforce and community to increase productivity and thereby increase economic growth? It seems as though we could end up impacting on two sides of the agenda, which would have a negative economic impact. We need to choose whether we want to sustain and increase migration or sustain and increase investment in our existing communities to increase their productivity.

It is best to broaden out the migration issue and to conceive of it as a question of citizenship rights. EU citizenship has been a developing concept. It covers the panoply of rights—including the right to free movement, which is vital for the reasons that have been articulated—as well as access to services. Another important question is about voting rights. EU citizens have the right to vote in local elections, but will that continue to be the case? Is it possible that there could be changes to and loss of some rights that currently exist for citizens, while other rights are maintained? Some of those decisions are in the gift of the Scottish Parliament and some are UK Parliament decisions.

Freedom of movement is fundamental, but we can have freedom of movement with very limited rights. There is the notion of the “Gastarbeiter”, which the EU has fought very hard against. It would be very worrying if we were simply to allow migrant workers to come here with only limited citizenship rights.

Thank you for those answers. It is beyond sad to hear of people leaving because they do not feel welcome, and I take on board James Mitchell’s point about citizenship rights.

I have a question for Councillor O’Neill. What planning has COSLA done? Have you done any work specifically on the care sector, where we know that there are lots of workers from elsewhere? How might the gaps be plugged if those people leave?

A lot of that work is going on at individual local authority level. The earlier panel talked about long-term financial and workforce planning. Local authorities are at a relatively early stage with that because, like everybody else, we were taken by surprise by the result of the referendum. Maybe the lesson is not to have referendums.

We might not get unity on that suggestion.

Councillor O’Neill

I thought not.

I will skip that last point and come back to the point about scenarios. To illustrate, this week, I was actively involved in a conversation in my area of the north-east that involved the local authorities, the chamber of commerce, the college and the universities about how we develop clearer pathways to employment and a career in care and in early years and childcare. We understand clearly that there is a gap in the workforce provision, and there is a joined-up approach to looking at how we deal with that. That reinforces my earlier point that, although we can develop the scenarios, we also need certainty on funding, whether that is European, UK or Scottish funding, so that we can have confidence and assurance that we can invest in implementing the changes as part of a joined-up sector.

It is important also to think about the opportunity. If we are leaving the European Union, we should be able to use procurement to improve workforce standards, particularly in social care, and to drive up terms and conditions for staff. That should help to attract people into the sector and keep a sustainable workforce. At present, the way in which social care functions is unacceptable and there needs to be a drive for the living wage and good-quality terms and conditions. Perhaps there will be more tools to achieve that in the future.

Does Stuart Black want to come in here? I had forgotten that, in another existence, you are the director of development and infrastructure at Highland Council. Has your local authority done some of the planning work that Ruth Maguire asked about?

The position is similar to what Mr Savege outlined. We have done work with our community planning partners, which include NHS Highland and the University of the Highlands and Islands. We have looked at the issue, which is a challenge.

The construction sector has not been mentioned. We have a city region deal, as do Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, that will involve significant construction work, and work is already being done on projects such as the A9 dualling, so there is a big concern.

Migrant labour has been really important to some of our remoter communities where there is a dearth of young people. In many cases, it would be a requirement to attract young people from elsewhere in Scotland to live in those communities to sustain some of the facilities that have been talked about. That poses a challenge when our demographic is shifting towards an older population.

Does Ruth Maguire want to come back on that?

No. Thank you for those answers.

The clerks have helpfully informed me that the Culture, Tourism, Europe and External Relations Committee will take evidence tomorrow morning on citizenship rights for European citizens in Scotland and will look at that in the round, which I think that we would all welcome.

Councillor O’Neill, the more the discussions go on, the more it seems frustrating—that is the mildest way of putting it—that there are quite detailed discussions that involve COSLA, other local authority partners at the UK level and the UK Brexit minister, but not so much with the STUC and the Scottish Government in the context of citizenship and rights. Should we reconfigure the debate a bit?

I hate platitudes such as Theresa May’s reference to a red, white and blue Brexit; when I talk about team Scotland, I mean that not as a platitude but as a co-ordinated civic and governmental approach to what Brexit would look like in Scotland. Should we do more of that and reconfigure our approach? I namechecked Councillor O’Neill because I am interested in hearing his thoughts on that, as well as those of the other witnesses.

The concept of team Scotland is good, but so is the concept of team UK—that is where the primary negotiations will take place. Perhaps part of the reason why we are having a better degree of success than the likes of the STUC is that, in working with the three other local government associations, we are working closely with David Mundell and his office and we are getting a good service from there. There might be some benefit in trying that route.

I am not talking about COSLA going to David Mundell to get success or the STUC going to David Mundell to get success; I am talking about a co-ordinated approach in which civic and political representatives, when there is consensus, go forward together to put the strongest of cases for society in Scotland. I would be slightly worried about individual groups, including COSLA, being picked off one by one by a UK Government in which there is not much trust from civic Scotland or political Scotland.

I will bring others in; maybe Councillor O’Neill can come back at the end on the point about one group being picked off over another.

He did not say that.

I was not talking about you, Mr Simpson.

The key is that we want to get the best outcome for people in Scotland, we want to get the best economic success that we can for our businesses and we want to maintain people’s rights. We would be interested in anything that helped us to do that. We would absolutely participate in any team Scotland approach that the Scottish Government proposed.

Forget that I referred to team Scotland, because it sounds like a platitude and that is not the point that I was making. I was talking about a more co-ordinated approach.

I know what you mean. We would be more than happy to participate in a co-ordinated approach in Scotland. We hope that you would want to hear workers’ voices in any such approach and we would be happy to supply them.

That would not preclude any work that we were doing elsewhere. We would still make direct approaches to the UK Government, we would still work with the TUC and we would still want to do things with the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. We would continue our work in lots of different areas, because our main aim is to defend the rights of Scottish workers, and we will use whatever tools we can to do that, but we would be more than happy to support the Scottish Government’s work.

11:15  

The question is more about having a more co-ordinated approach at a Scottish level. Do any other witnesses have reflections to make on that before we move to our next question? I will take Councillor O’Neill back in to make a further comment at the end.

Jim Savege

SOLACE has a good dialogue with civil servants, which is effective at UK and Scottish levels. We are keen for that to continue. To have one co-ordinated approach would be very much welcomed.

The third sector is another group that has not been mentioned. In relation to the European social fund, it is often voluntary organisations and social economy organisations that deliver projects on local government’s behalf. That is an important group that needs to be considered. The sector is represented on the programme monitoring committee that I sit on and is regularly looking for more input into the process.

If there are no further reflections on the topic, I will give Councillor O’Neill the last word on it, and we will then move to the next question.

I am also a trade unionist—I am a member of Community. Spheres of government do not have a monopoly on good ideas. Should we be engaging with others? Absolutely. Would it be a good idea to do that in a co-ordinated way? Absolutely.

That is a good way to end that line of questioning.

I want to ask a question about EU legislation but, before I do that, I request a point of clarification from Councillor O’Neill regarding the European charter of local self-government. One question is about implementing its provision on recognising local government in the constitution. There are issues around that, which have been dealt with. When you talk about transposing, are you talking about incorporating the treaty into Scots law, such that it becomes justiciable in Scotland?

Councillor O’Neill

Yes.

Okay—it is useful to have that clarified.

The COSLA submission makes a number of points, to which Professor Mitchell’s submission also refers, on European legislation, which is now extensive regarding environmental protections, consumer protection, trading standards, how much noise lawnmowers make and so on. You are clearly concerned about those standards, as they provide what is widely regarded in broad terms as a net benefit to consumers and society. To the extent that EU legislation and the observance of it are a requirement of being a member of the single market, the extent to which we have access to or are members of the single market will determine the flexibility that we have to amend any EU legislation in those fields, will it not?

Professor Mitchell nodded his head first.

One likely or possible outcome of negotiations is that we will continue to shadow EU regulations in law. That happens—Norway does that. Although Norway is outside the EU, much of Norwegian law essentially follows EU law, not least because the Norwegians want to sell their goods and services. If we are manufacturing goods and services and we want to sell them to the rest of the EU, we will have to abide by EU laws and regulations.

The other aspect, which Mr Wightman mentioned, is that some of those provisions are attractive. In following good practice, we will want to keep an eye on what is happening in the EU.

One of the things that the EU has offered—in a sense, we take this for granted and it is immeasurable—is in the policy transfer field. We learn and we get best policy. There is no doubt about that, although some of it is not good policy and we would want to change it.

The nub of the question, if I understand it correctly, will come down to our relationship with the single market. I tend to think that the descriptions of hard and soft Brexit oversimplify the situation. It is difficult to believe that we would not continue to follow EU rules. The one problem is that, if we are outside, we will have no voice in any of that. To be frank, we will have to follow the rules if we want to sell our goods and services, whether or not we are in the single market.

Councillor O’Neill

I agree whole-heartedly with Professor Mitchell, who has spoken much more eloquently than I could. However, as a politician, I cannot help but have a soundbite: this must not become a race to the bottom.

As a politician, I will resist the temptation of asking more about that.

Given the duties that local government has on trading standards, the environment and so on, and given the broader legislative requirement around activities such as procurement, is there a line to be drawn between the EU regulations and laws that are mandatory if we are to have access to and/or membership of the single market and those that are not? If we were to continue to be a member of the single market, would we be able to change our procurement legislation, for example, to enhance and support local economies more, or would that be a breach? Arguably, that is about buying things that others are selling to us.

I can tell you what local government’s ambition would be, but I do not know whether that ambition can be achieved. On procurement, localism should mean that we can do more through local purchasing. Some of us who are sitting around the table are old enough to remember when the Clyde used to build the world’s ships. It builds few ships now—the Caledonian MacBrayne fleet by and large comes from abroad, as do our fishery protection vessels. Our ambition is that we should be able to do something about local procurement for the sake of our industries and local businesses but, as I said, I do not know whether that ambition can be achieved.

To understand the issue, one must go back to the origin of the single market and the debates that led up to 1992. The single market was conceived of as a mechanism by which we could achieve a level playing field, and that remains the case. If you did something that the EU 27 perceived as advantaging the United Kingdom, you would be in difficulty. In other words, if we thought that we could amend the procurement regulations or any others in a way that might make it cheaper or easier for us to sell goods inside the single market, that would be objected to.

One of the things that I find slightly odd about much of the post-referendum debate is the assumption in the UK that what happens next will be a decision for us. That is not the case; we are dealing with a negotiation process. Each of the 27 other countries in the EU will individually have a vote and a say, and their interests will have to be taken into account. It is important to try to understand how they would respond to a requirement, demand or request—it could really be only a request—for the UK to have some advantage.

That is a non-starter. I suspect that we will be in a position in which, if we want to continue to have access to the single market, we will have to follow single market rules and regulations, but without having a voice.

The crux of the debate is about what we will negotiate and how much wriggle room we will have with regard to the acquis communautaire. It is a matter of realpolitik. There are issues on which that will work against us—Andy Wightman cited procurement. However, equally, there are issues on which it might help—for instance, it might protect workers’ rights, such as all the workers’ rights that come from Europe.

Questions about the status of the European Court of Justice are interesting. Will we have to abide by its rulings? What will be the mechanism for enforcement? Will we have our own court, as the European Free Trade Association has, or will we have something more like what Switzerland has? How will that work? That is an important issue for trade unionists, because the ability to take cases to the European Court of Justice, with UK courts having to follow its rulings, is important to defending workers’ rights and keeping progress going. Questions about how the system will work in practice are extremely important.

I will make two observations. Working through the legislative framework in deciding whether we change what we have will be a complex process. We must think about what the unintended consequences might be of what might appear to be simple choices. For example, many local authorities have a strong focus on procuring goods and services as locally as possible in order to stimulate their local economy. That is a well-worn path.

However, at the same time as wanting to support local businesses by buying locally, we want them to be successful nationally and internationally, which means that they have to compete on someone else’s turf, too. If we start closing things down too much, we will potentially inhibit companies’ ability to grow.

We have to work on a spectrum. We use social clauses extensively to encourage businesses to invest in a local supply chain, in apprenticeships and so on. If we made it an absolute that we bought only from local companies, that might start to have an unintended effect on the supply chain. We encourage companies to be successful nationally and internationally and to trade in their own right in other markets, rather than relying on local authority spending. It would be interesting to hear thoughts about where we wish to get to.

I will make a final point that links to state aid. Regarding how we expect companies to do business, if we intervene with legislation and they start to see the hand of the public sector come in and determine to take more, that might start to impact the extent to which the private sector expects the public sector to pick up the bill for investment in infrastructure and growth. What state aid tries to encourage is a more balanced economy in which there is a balance of public investment and private investment. Part of the unintended consequence of choosing local could be a pressure on the public sector purse to pick up more of the tab than we do at the moment.

I was going to raise the state-aid point. Very local transport services in remoter parts of the Highlands, ferry services to the islands, community buy-outs and such things have also been affected by state-aid rules. A range of things that sit alongside procurement and state aid need careful examination.

We have a supplementary question from Elaine Smith.

Given that Councillor O’Neill mentioned the use of local provisions, I was going to ask about what opportunities might exist, but most of that has been covered.

Stuart Black mentioned ferries. On CalMac, the Scottish Government made the point—which some dispute—that European legislation meant that those routes had to be tendered. Is the possibility that tendering might not have to be done in future an advantage?

The legislation is for the Government to decide. Certainly, state aid tends to get involved in very micro things. I have examples of small community organisations that run cafes and restaurants in which state aid has come into play. Just as we would like to look at procurement, we have a range of opportunities to think about whether such things are proportionate, whether they can be changed and whether there is scope for more flexibility.

The point that I am trying to make is that there might be opportunities, rather than only disadvantages—that has to be considered.

First, I point out to Councillor O’Neill that the two new ferries that are being built by CalMac are being built in Port Glasgow at Ferguson Marine with investment of £97 million, the preservation of 125 jobs and the creation of 101 new jobs. The £12.3 million MV Catriona went into service on 26 September.

We need to talk about whether we can have our cake and eat it. I think that the answer is no, and that we cannot possibly withdraw from the single market and expect to have all the benefits that come with access to it. That is the whole point of the single market. At least two members of this committee are Brexiteers—I am not one of them, but there must be some advantages from Brexit for local government. Can colleagues specify what they are?

I was going to ask about procurement, but colleagues have amply covered the issues—for example, Helen Martin talked about the potential to pay the real living wage. Another area that is talked about in paragraph 43 of the COSLA submission is the possibility of

“greater investment being made into the rural and coastal communities to increase their economic resilience in the face of the uncertainties before us.”

What possible advantages could there be? Whether we like it or not, we are going forward with Brexit, so let us see whether we can take anything positive from it. My personal view is that the UK voting to leave—Scotland voted to stay, of course—will create more difficulties than it will resolve.

Irrespective of where people stood on leave or remain, what are the opportunities that present themselves now? We have perhaps not quite explored them all yet.

Yes, that is it in a nutshell, convener.

Councillor O’Neill

An approach that used to be used was the SWOT—strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats—analysis. We should be engaging in such an analysis right now.

Have you engaged in that process? I do not think that Mr Gibson was asking about methodology.

Councillor O’Neill

Local government is in the process of doing that right now.

Another slogan is “Every threat is an opportunity”. At the end of the day, I want to know where the opportunities lie.

11:30  

“Every threat is an opportunity”, “You can’t have your cake and eat it”, and SWOT analyses—I think that the substance of the question is whether we can identify some of the opportunities. It may be that we cannot, or that we do a SWOT analysis and find that they do not fly. Let me put it this way: what are the potential opportunities? Does anyone want to have a go at answering that?

Procurement is area that is worth looking at. Anyone who has done any work on the area will be aware that there is a great deal of concern across public services about procurement rules, and some of that is because of the EU. It is impossible to give a detailed answer at this stage, but that is certainly one of the areas that I would begin to focus on.

It is crucial that we carefully consider the possible unintended consequences of any proposal to alter the current state of play. In that regard, one thing to be constantly aware of is the view of the EU 27, because although something might work to our advantage locally—whether that is at the local authority level, the Scottish level or indeed the UK level—it might mean that it would be difficult to access the EU. It is a mistake to think, “We have left the EU,” as it will still be there and it will still influence what we do. We should take that into account as we move forward.

Given that there are so many concerns about procurement, it is an area that you need to go into in great detail. There will be others, but that is the one that jumps out at me as an example of an area where there are opportunities to grasp.

This might be slightly parochial, but the opportunities might come forward on a sector-by-sector basis, and the picture will be different in different parts of the country. From a north-east point of view, I think that it is important to look at the fishing industry. At present, negotiations are continuing overnight on the current quotas. We understand that the fishing sector and the fishing community voted in a particular pattern given their views on Brexit. The sector envisages more positive opportunities from Brexit, given what its quotas might be.

If we look at the issues more broadly, we get into the unintended consequences of huge, dynamic changes that are yet to be worked through. The market might change completely. However, from a business point of view, we believe that we need to look at the issues sector by sector and area by area.

My second point on the upside and the opportunities is that the decision has clearly stimulated a lot of thinking about and consideration of—without being too simplistic about it—the different scenarios and long-term plans that each area and community need to have and to sharpen up. The existing plans for school rolls, house building and the services that will be provided in future are all coming into sharp focus and we need to reappraise them and consider what the different options might be. We might not have done that consideration quite so diligently or effectively had Brexit not come forward to stimulate it. That has to be an upside.

It is right to think about the opportunities. This is an opportunity to reshape our economy—to think about how we give workers better protections in the workplace and how we can redesign workplace democracy to ensure that the worker’s voice is heard better and that we get better outcomes in businesses.

However, we have to be alive to the fact that there are a lot of challenges. The economic figures post Brexit are not brilliant and it looks as if we are going to have some economic problems. There is a whole spectrum of analyses and it is difficult to predict all the different scenarios that may play out, but a clear direction of travel is starting to form, in that the UK Government’s vision seems to be a low-tax, low-regulation economy. We would like the UK economy to develop in a different direction. There is an opportunity to have that debate—to think about the economy that we live in and the rules that we put around business—but there is also a threat that we will move backwards even from where we are.

One example of something that has happened quite recently is that we have strengthened our twinning relationships with different parts of the world. For example, we had a delegation across from Augsburg in Germany, which is twinned with Inverness, to look at ways that we could work together in future. They were concerned about what would happen post-Brexit, as were we, and we particularly looked at the health sector, life sciences and tourism as industries in which we could develop stronger links. That is a good example of something that has happened because of the impact of the vote.

There does not seem to be much of an upside for local government. I know that everyone is looking for straws to clutch here and there, but I do not hear that there is much for local government.

I agree with Helen Martin that we should be looking at the opportunities. We are engaged in a process and we have to get the best out of it. What is best for local government in Scotland in the process? We have covered procurement but are there any other powers that you think could flow from Europe to Scottish local government that would be to our benefit?

First of all, we need to see what will flow to the UK, and we do not know that yet. One of the great challenges with scenario planning is that we have no idea at this stage what will come here. Scenario planning should be done, but it is difficult and we may plan for something that is not going to happen. It really depends on the outcome.

Up to a point, I understand why the UK Government is not willing to give a running commentary—people do not normally give a running commentary during negotiations. On the other hand, it would be good to have a sense of direction and of what the UK Government wants. The problem is that the UK Government is internally divided on this. Until we have clarity on that, scenario planning will be very difficult. We need to do it, though. The position may become clearer towards the end of next year, but until then it will be difficult to look to the future in that way.

Councillor O’Neill wants to add something.

Yes. We need to keep to the front of our minds the question of who we are trying to benefit. I do not think that we are trying to benefit the structure of local government, the Scottish Government or the UK Government; we are trying to benefit communities and individuals. We need to ensure that whatever comes our way goes to the most appropriate place, where it can have the most positive impact for communities and individuals, rather than structures.

Much of the debate about Brexit, and even before the referendum, has been about taking back control and people being able to influence the decisions that affect them at a community level. Some of my members voted to leave because they felt as if decisions were being taken all the way up at a high level, and they could not understand those decisions, could not see them coming and could not influence them.

There is a potential opportunity, in that we can discuss how to make communities feel as if they can influence decisions. As part of that conversation, we might be able to reinvigorate local government and local democracy. It is not necessarily a good outcome if we take back control that then sits at the UK Government level or the Scottish Parliament level, and the community never sees it. There is an important issue, as a result of the change, to do with democratisation, hearing people’s voices and giving people powers.

In my experience, people are looking at the macro position, such as the economic changes and the anticipated effect on migration. The ambition for communities has not changed in the midst of the debate. We still want strong, vibrant, economically sustainable, well-looked-after, flourishing communities throughout the country, and what we need to put in place to achieve that has not changed. Let us take the example of care. I do not think that we have a list of the powers that local government wants or needs to have. To be able to provide good care services for our communities, the outcome that we need to achieve is a well-resourced supply chain and staffing cohort, but quite how we achieve that is yet to be determined.

This goes back to the start of the conversation about ensuring that we have joined-up approach involving all parts of all the institutions in society in deciding how we can best pull this off between us. To answer Graham Simpson’s question, as I understand it, there is no list sitting there yet.

Professor Mitchell is right in saying that we do not have a clear picture yet of what the UK Government’s ask is, but what do you think it should be in terms of local government in Scotland?

Going back to the idea of an approach that brings in local authorities, the Scottish Government and various other organisations, it is important that a clear consensus in Scotland is articulated, and that is beginning to happen. Maybe that needs to be joined together more, but my sense is that there is probably more common ground on the single market in Scotland than there is elsewhere. That voice needs to be heard loudly and clearly.

It would be unfortunate—that word does not capture my real feeling on the matter—if we could not find a way of articulating the common voice that seems to exist. Local authorities are an ally for the Scottish Government in that. That voice needs to be heard in the wide debate on access to the single market. What will follow from that will depend on what the UK Government thinks, but that voice desperately needs to be heard loudly and clearly and in a unified way as far as possible.

We know from experience—even pre-devolution experience—that, when Scotland can unite, its voice is more likely to be heard. That has been the history of Scottish politics over decades and, indeed, centuries. It would be good if that were possible, especially given that it sounds as though there is not a great deal of difference on the broader picture. I hope that that can be fed into the process, and I understand that that is what the Scottish Government is trying to do.

The standing council on Europe that has been established looks to be an interesting example. It may be worth mentioning the fact that it does not include local authority representation. Could it have an additional member? Perhaps that additional member could be Councillor O’Neill—I do not know. That would be symbolically important and would lend weight to the Scottish Government’s current position.

What would Councillor O’Neill say to that?

We are not having a three-way conversation. Offering that position is not the job of anyone at this table. We can ask the question—perhaps we will discuss that after the meeting. Would you like to add anything substantive, Mr Simpson?

Councillor O’Neill

Yes.

Councillor O’Neill has just said yes. That is enough.

Excellent. He is taking the team Scotland approach. Superb. That is what I like to hear.

I want to go back to the team Scotland approach—or the co-ordinated approach, as the convener prefers to call it.

I wish that I had never referred to team Scotland now.

My colleague Kenny Gibson has made the point on the record that Scotland voted to remain. We have to be careful about saying that, because it was the majority of people who voted in Scotland but not the majority of the population of Scotland who voted to remain. That has to be recognised. I voted to leave from a lexit—or left exit—point of view. Obviously, I put it out there that that was where I was coming from. There was not just a Scotland-wide vote; it was a UK vote.

Going back to the team Scotland or co-ordinated approach, matters cannot be left up to the Scottish Government. We have discussed whether the Scottish Government has engaged with COSLA and how it has engaged with the STUC, but any team Scotland approach must include not just the Scottish Government but the UK Government, our members of Parliament, the Secretary of State for Scotland, the civil servants in Scotland who work for the UK Government, and civic Scotland. I would like opinions on that. We are a Scottish Parliament committee and we have a tendency to ask, “What is the Scottish Government doing and who is it engaging with?” However, given that the vote was a UK one, a whole-of-Scotland co-ordinated approach must pull in much more than just the Scottish Government and civic Scotland.

I see Professor Mitchell nodding.

11:45  

Yes, but I have one caveat. I am all in favour of democracy, participation, engagement and bringing people in, but it will be a fast-moving, two-year exercise, and it must be able to respond quickly and get things out there. What are the costs of public engagement in that context? The reality is that public engagement will slow down the process. I am not against public engagement, but we should be willing to acknowledge that point. That is why I suggest that it would be good to find consensus and as broad a range of participants as possible.

It sounds as though COSLA is very much in the same place as the Scottish Government in terms of the policy areas, which is why I raised the possibility of COSLA’s involvement. However, I would be deeply concerned if we simply kept adding to the list of participants, because that would slow the process down. That is not to say that I disagree with the fundamental point that is being made about public engagement, but we need to be able to respond quickly. We have very little time, because we are told that the process is going to start early next year and it is a two-year process, so we have to move fast.

Are there any other comments on the issue?

Yes, although I fear that I might be adding to the list. The Scottish Government should think about who our allies in Europe are and who might want to respond to the arguments and concerns that people in Scotland have regarding Europe. The STUC has already met the European Trade Union Confederation to discuss the idea that defending the rights of workers in the UK is not a UK interest but a European workers’ interest. There must be ways in which we can break down issues like that at a governmental level, and there might be allies in different parts of Europe who could support our positions from within the EU bloc. That would make the process less adversarial in terms of its being the UK versus the EU, and it would help the negotiation process.

Does anyone want to add to that?

That may be what the Scottish Government was embarking on when the First Minister talked with different organisations across Europe early in the summer. However, the point is whether that has all been pulled together. Helen Martin suggested that we bring in civic Scotland, but I do not know what that would consist of. We need people across Scotland to get together and discuss the issues around Brexit. As Professor Mitchell said, that needs to happen quickly, and somebody needs to take the lead on taking it forward.

It would be interesting to know how that would work. We would need to ensure that we did not end up having the kind of discussion that we will have in private after this evidence session, when we consider the evidence that we have taken. We need a wider discussion about what a Scottish approach should be, but it is not unreasonable to suggest that there might be a strong consensus in Scotland about what Scotland would like to see come out of negotiations with the EU 27 following Brexit and what that deal would look like. A discussion in Scotland about that could be different from the discussion that David Mundell and the UK Government want to have, because it would be about trying to influence the terms of the negotiations before they commence.

It would be difficult to have a team UK approach to what could be a distinct Scottish view as expressed in the referendum. It would be helpful if you had any comments or observations to make about how we could get what I would consider to be a unique Scottish approach to what will be UK negotiations and about the structures around that. At the end of the day, we have all said that it is about not just the structures but ensuring that civic Scotland and the people whom we and all of you represent get the best out of the Brexit negotiations. Any additional reflections on that issue before we tie up this evidence session would be welcome.

Devolution has meant that we have four different systems in the UK. The Scottish Parliament is a very powerful devolved Parliament; the National Assembly for Wales is getting some additional powers, but it has a different set of competences; the Northern Ireland Assembly is different again; and then there is what remains with the UK Parliament. It is therefore right and proper that we should deal with Brexit in both a UK and a devolved sense.

That is very helpful. Are there any other reflections before we end this evidence session?

The only thing that I would say is that one of the reasons why the Scottish Parliament was established was to be the voice of Scotland and to draw in opinion from civic Scotland. I am tempted to throw that aspect back at the Parliament—to you and other members of the Parliament—and say that you need to find a way of doing that and articulating that opinion. We are not in a position to do that, but the Parliament, as a form of representative democracy, has a role in that regard and must acknowledge that.

Since its establishment, the Parliament has had a very good record on drawing in other voices. Perhaps the Conveners Group could find a forum or a means of drawing in such voices on Brexit. This committee is looking at Brexit, and it has been mentioned that another committee will do the same tomorrow. One of the dangers with Parliaments, which is often referred to, is that a lot of work gets done in committee silos. It would be useful if the work on Brexit was brought together to articulate a common Scottish voice on the matter.

Are there any additional comments?

It is good to remember that our pursuit of a co-ordinated Scottish approach can be supported by other parts of the UK. For example, the Northern Ireland Assembly is an obvious ally, particularly on freedom of movement issues, and the TUC is an obvious ally, particularly on workers’ rights. There are times when it is important to remember that there are other interests in the UK that will make us stronger.

That is very helpful. Stuart Black, do you want to add anything?

This is just a minor point about the regional dimension. The Highlands and Islands region has benefited from European funds for a long time. In any attempt to hear voices from across the country, we must ensure that we hear voices from the north of Shetland, the west of Lewis and other places further afield, rather than just from around the central belt.

Yes—that point is well made.

We have reached the end of this evidence session. I think that I can give Professor Mitchell and others some comfort by pointing out that various Scottish Parliament committees are considering the issue of Brexit, so any matters that we have not raised in this committee will be dealt with by other committees. You will understand that this committee has tried to focus as much as possible on the local government aspect. However, we will take stock of the evidence that we have heard today and hope eventually to have an approach to Brexit that is co-ordinated between the parliamentary committees.

I thank you all for giving evidence this morning.

11:51 Meeting continued in private until 12:36.