Susannah Lane, Head of Public Affairs, looks ahead to the launch of Universities Scotland’s new website and the opportunities it provides to share more information about our engagement with Holyrood and Westminster.
Late next month we plan to go live on our new website. After seven years (seven years!) with our existing one we’re pretty excited and have been pleased to work with Stance to develop it. The new site gives us the opportunity to do things differently including scope for a lot more content. We intend to share more up-to-date information about the HE sector and how we work as an organisation.
We’re going to take the opportunity the new site gives us to be open about the way we work with the Scottish Parliament to campaign on funding and policy issues on behalf of our 19 member institutions. We know the Scottish Government’s Lobbying Bill will soon require a public register of lobbying activity. Whilst we don’t yet know exactly what shape the Bill, or the register, will take we see it as a welcome opportunity to ensure continued professionalism, integrity and high standards in lobbying in Scotland. It’s very likely to have our support when it comes into place but as it is still months away from being passed, and the site will be live from next month, we don’t see a reason to wait to be transparent about the way we work.
One of the things we’re spending a lot of time on as an organisation at the moment is the HE Governance Bill. We have a number of concerns about the Bill which we have conveyed to Government and to Parliament through written and oral evidence and in meetings with politicians. As a key stakeholder, we were pleased to be asked to give oral evidence to the Finance Committee and to the Education Committee, where we appeared alongside other key stakeholders and other organisations. We have had individual meetings with the members of the Education Committee, the lead Committee on the Bill. We believe it is important that MSPs hear our concerns direct from us, not second-hand in the press, with someone else’s choice of emphasis. It’s been a busy time for our small public affairs time, so we’ve sought some assistance from communications consultancy Charlotte Street Partners. We’ve had three days of their time to help our members with preparation for a Parliamentary appearance. We haven’t asked Charlotte Street to arrange any meetings on our behalf. It’s been a useful experiment, and we’ll reflect on whether to repeat it.
The Scottish Parliament’s Standards Committee acknowledges that lobbying is a legitimate and valuable activity. It allows Parliament to take forward legislation and develop policy informed by the views of those it will affect and so contributes to a healthy democracy. In the case of the HE Governance Bill Universities Scotland works on behalf of one of the important stakeholder groups. We are proud to do so with evidence-based integrity, as part of an informed debate on important proposals. We look forward to continued constructive engagement with the Parliament on the HE Governance Bill and a range of other equally important issues. We will note the details of the meetings we have with politicians on the new website and we look forward to sharing that new site with you in a month or so.