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Bold Ideas to help Scotland Prosper- Business 7

Ben Thomson, Business 7, 1 May 2009
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When we set up Reform Scotland in March last year, a guest at the launch party said: \’Think tanks are talking shops that produce academic research of no practical value.\’ Our aim over the past 12 months has been to disprove this by demonstrating that we can add value by informing and influencing the public policy debate in Scotland.
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\r\nSo far, we have produced a series of seven major reports, together with shorter bulletins focussing on analyses of topical issues and a free media summary which is read by around 1,000 people and encapsulates the debate about our economy and public services.
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\r\nOur reports have covered economic growth, public sector spending, local government, criminal justice, fiscal powers, education and health.
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\r\nIn each report, we have produced evidencebased research on what is happening in Scotland and compared it to how other countries do things. This approach has enabled us to identify good practice and to develop new ideas that can be applied here.
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\r\nUnlike some other think tanks, we make firm recommendations on policies which we believe will work best to improve the economy and deliver effective public services.
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\r\nFor instance, our report on how we might achieve sustainable economic growth called for the creation of a more attractive environment for enterprise in Scotland based around lower taxes and more limited government.
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\r\nOur examination of local government argued for a fundamental shift away from the highly centralised nature of government in this country with councils given much greater autonomy and the ability to raise more of their own revenue as they do in most other European countries.
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\r\nOur papers on criminal justice, education and health have examined how we could achieve greater value for the extra money invested in these areas over the last decade by making them more accountable and responsive to the communities they serve.
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\r\nReform Scotland\’s approach is based on identifying problems and finding solutions that work and will help improve Scotland.
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\r\nFor example, our paper on fiscal powers found the current system where we receive our money via a block grant from Westminster does not give the Scottish Government the responsibility and accountability which act as an incentive for effective government.
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\r\nWe proposed that the Scottish Government be given the power to set and raise taxes to cover the £30billion it spends, while Westminster retains responsibility for taxes to fund the £20bn that is the Scottish share of spending on UK services. In addition, we proposed that Scotland should have the borrowing powers needed to fund its development.
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\r\nOur papers have been well received as a contribution to debate. But our work does not stop with reports. Our objective is to influence and inform public policy debate, so we actively promote our recommendations.
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\r\nWe have done this through the media with Reform Scotland contributing to some 100 newspaper articles as well as making contributions to TV and radio programmes.
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\r\nWe have also spoken to politicians, civil servants and people in business, art, education and the wider community. This activity has been enhanced by members of our advisory board and trustees who have been particularly helpful in ensuring that our message reaches a broad range of people in Scotland.
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\r\nOur aim in the year ahead is to build on the foundations we have laid down. We are grateful for the support of people backing the work of Reform Scotland and this is testimony to the fact that they believe an organisation such as ours can make a real difference.
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\r\nOur objective to continue to grow in the year ahead is in itself a challenge, considering the difficult economic climate. However, current circumstances make the public policy debate more important than ever.
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\r\nWe need to be bold and we need new ideas that will help us to come out of recession as quickly as possible and put us back on the path towards long term economic growth.
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\r\nDuring the rest of this year, we intend to publish reports on transport, the funding of infrastructure projects, planning, energy and the constraints on economic growth in Scotland – all areas relevant to our current position.
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\r\nWe will back this up with an enhanced programme of events to stimulate debate on key public policy issues starting with our Spring Lecture on May 13 at the University of Edinburgh Business School. This is being given by Charlie McCreevy, European Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services.
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\r\nReform Scotland will continue to add value by fostering the debate in Scotland and providing the research, challenge and encouragement to policy makers to make the required bold moves. We have the opportunity to build a prosperous country with public services and a social structure that others seek to emulate. It is up to us to seize it.
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