Richard Baker MSP

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Meeting of the Parliament 30 October 2014 : Thursday, October 30, 2014
Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I apologise for missing the start of the minister’s opening speech.

I agree with members that it is good that we are again debating the future of supported businesses in Scotland, not just because such businesses play an important role in many of our communities, as we have heard throughout the debate, but because supported businesses and their staff have experienced a traumatic few years, during which many people lost employment that was a big part of their lives.

In 2010, I led a members’ business debate on supporting Scotland’s supported workplaces. At the time, there was a threat to the future of Glencraft, in Aberdeen, which has provided employment for blind people in the city for more than 140 years. At that time it was clear that supported businesses already faced huge challenges—although I am pleased to say that Glencraft was saved—but I could not have envisaged that the situation would deteriorate so quickly as a result of the actions of the coalition Government and the closure of so many Remploy factories.

Many members were involved in campaigns to save the factories. Bruce Crawford talked about his involvement in campaigning on the future of the factory in Stirling. I and others were involved in the campaign to save the Remploy factory in Aberdeen, which was sadly unsuccessful, although Remploy’s facilities and some of its employees were involved, along with Cornerstone, in the establishment of a new social enterprise, Bennachie, which is an upholstery business. Bennachie has been a success.

However, much was lost when Remploy in Aberdeen closed. We kept hearing from UK ministers that they would help people who lost their jobs at Remploy to find alternative employment, but I recently met a former manager at the Aberdeen factory and it was his experience that the great majority of workers had not found new jobs. Bruce Crawford talked about a similar conversation that he had during the referendum campaign. The theory that the money would follow the employees has not proved right at all, at least in the case of workers at Remploy in Aberdeen—and I suspect in the case of workers in many other Remploy factories.

There is no doubt in my mind that the UK Government’s policy on supported workplaces has been deeply damaging. However, we must consider what we can do. As we said in the Labour motion, and as Jenny Marra rightly said in her opening speech, there is more that public sector agencies and the Scottish Government can and should do.

It is right that we acknowledge the minister’s personal involvement in the issue. He has spent a great deal of time on it. However, we are talking about delivery, and not enough is happening to secure public sector contracts for supported businesses. Yet again we turn to procurement, because it is a big weapon in the Scottish Government’s armoury, which, if properly deployed, can make a real difference to important supported businesses.

The minister has told us that progress is being made, but I believe that more should have been done by the Scottish Government much earlier, back in 2010, when I raised the issues in my members’ business debate. Jenny Marra, too, said in her earlier intervention that more needs to be done now. The minister said that the Scottish Government will make further progress on the issue, so we will hold him to that. However, for years we have debated promoting these contracts, whether through the use of article 19 in European legislation or through the legislation that we recently passed here on procurement reform. Jenny Marra is absolutely right to talk about the need for further amendment of that legislation. The issue has been debated a great deal and it is now time to deliver on what has been said.



Meeting of the Parliament 30 October 2014 : Thursday, October 30, 2014
Richard Baker

That was a bit of a damp squib of a contribution from Mr MacKenzie. It does not focus on the real issue that is before us. However, it is absolutely right to acknowledge the difficulties caused by the position that the UK Government has taken on the issue, and I have made that point clearly in my speech.

It is wrong to minimise the impact that effective procurement policy can have on supported businesses, because winning contracts makes all the difference for such businesses. For example, Remploy in Aberdeen had developed links with the University of Aberdeen through which it won contracts for work that was carried out to a very high standard and which the university was very pleased with. That work benefited not only the Remploy workers but the university. If there had been a flow of work from other contracts, there might have been a different story for Remploy Aberdeen or, indeed, for Blindcraft in Edinburgh.

The minister has been involved in this issue for a long time and he is right to praise the role of trade unions, with Lyn Turner and others. Bruce Crawford rightly mentioned the contribution of Helen Eadie to the issue. We will all remember the passion with which she spoke in the chamber about supported workplaces. She did a tremendous amount of work in the Parliament on the Remploy group, bringing all of us together to talk about the future of the factories in our areas. She worked closely with the Scottish Government on the issue to try and get the best results. She fought hard on behalf of the Remploy factory in Cowdenbeath and she spoke up again and again here in the chamber for the Remploy workers. She was passionate about what could be achieved for the workers by their being part of supported businesses and what could be achieved through the application of article 19 and procurement policy.

In the members’ business debate in 2010 to which I referred earlier, Helen Eadie said:

“People who are disabled are not asking for handouts or grants; they are asking for the dignity of taking home a wage packet at the end of the week. That is what they want above all and that is what they should be able to get.”—[Official Report, 28 January 2010; c 23354.]

That really hits the nail on the head about those people, because it is their future and their welfare that we are debating here today. If Helen was here today speaking in this debate, as I wish she was, she would be encouraging us to be more ambitious in the support that we give to the workers and the supported businesses, and I would agree with her that we can be more ambitious still.

16:18  

Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker (North East Scotland) (Lab)

I acknowledge the broad support for the general direction of policy. You mentioned the ICAS submission. ICAS says that it has taken part in the working groups, whose establishment I welcome, but that the comments that have been made at the consultation events and through the working groups have not been acknowledged or properly addressed by the Scottish Government’s regulations. ICAS feels that the regulations will make the debt arrangement scheme a less attractive debt management solution, which seems to be counter to where we should be going with the generally agreed policy. ICAS recommends that the committee should consider recommending rejection of all the regulations.

I have also looked at the StepChange submission, which you mentioned. StepChange asks for

“a more realistic timetable for implementation”

as well as

“(a) proper consultation with the sector on the detailed guidance, and not just within the Working Group, and (b) amended regulations to be drafted.”

Would you consider that?



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

ICAS’s point is that, if the regulations go through unaltered, debt arrangement might become a less attractive option, which cannot be what the Scottish Government wants. What detriment would there be in taking on board the practical suggestions that ICAS said would make a difference to the scheme and in laying amended regulations? Do you not agree that any changes should be made?



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

That is in the ICAS submission. ICAS sets out a number of concerns—



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

ICAS has.



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

There is clearly disagreement between ICAS and ministers over the impact of the regulations. In its submission—which you must have received, minister—ICAS describes concerns about what it calls the

“Inappropriate regulation of money advisers”,

which relates to Mr Robertson’s earlier points. I welcome the fact that you will consult stakeholders after the regulations are passed—or otherwise. If the motions are agreed to today, do you have any intention of amending the regulations further in the light of that consultation?



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

I again acknowledge the broad support for the overall policy direction on the important issue of helping people with serious financial issues.

The minister was right to praise the debt arrangement scheme. That is why it is important that we take seriously the views of ICAS, which, after all, has great expertise in the area and a long history of working with the Scottish Government on it. ICAS says that it fears that the proposals may make the debt arrangement scheme less attractive.

10:00  

Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

The point is that ICAS has highlighted in its submission a number of concerns about the regulations, so the committee should take them seriously. A number of the issues that ICAS has raised have also been raised by Citizens Advice Scotland and StepChange Debt Charity. They must be listened to.

I welcome the fact that the minister said that he will engage in further consultation in the event that the regulations are approved. I know that he will do that, and I hope that it is done seriously and that people are not only consulted but listened to and that the concerns that have been expressed are seriously addressed.

However, my fundamental point—this is where I depart from Mr MacKenzie—is that I fail to see what would have been lost by withdrawing the regulations and going into further consultation and dialogue to address the concerns materially so that we do not have concerns raised in submissions to the committee at this point in the process. That would be a better way for the Scottish Government to proceed.



Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee 08 October 2014 : Wednesday, October 08, 2014
Richard Baker

Like Dennis Robertson, I warmly welcome Mr McTaggart’s comments about the importance of connectivity to Aberdeen in relation to the coming budget. They reflect the importance of the oil and gas sector, which is still performing strongly.

That industry has identified skills gaps and it believes that there is potential for more people to find work if they are given the right skills. There was some debate earlier about whether additional public sector funding is needed for that, and there has been keen debate in general about skills investment. For example, there has been debate about further education budgets during previous budget processes. Do you believe that there is a strong case for investment in skills and training to be a priority in the coming budget?

Vote DetailMSP VoteResult

S4M-11332.2 Jenny Marra: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
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YesDefeated

S4M-11332.1 Gavin Brown: Supported Business—As an amendment to motion S4M-11332 in the name of Fergu
>> Show more
NoDefeated

S4M-11332 Fergus Ewing: Supported Business—That the Parliament recognises the economic and social va
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YesCarried

S4M-11304.3 Michael Russell: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—As an amendment to mo
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11304 Liz Smith: Addressing the Attainment Gap in Scottish Schools—That the Parliament believes
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Not VotedCarried

S4M-11123 Joe FitzPatrick on behalf of the Parliamentary Bureau: Business Motion—That the Parliament
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NoCarried

S4M-11114.2 Kenny MacAskill: Policing—As an amendment to motion S4M-11114 in the name of Graeme Pear
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11114 Graeme Pearson: Policing—That the Parliament acknowledges that policing in Scotland contin
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1.1 Patrick Harvie: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to amendment S4M-11116.1 in the name
>> Show more
NoCarried

S4M-11116.1 Nicola Sturgeon: Scotland’s Future—As an amendment to motion S4M-11116 in the name of Jo
>> Show more
NoCarried

Search for other Motions lodged by Richard Baker
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Motion S4M-10431: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-10306: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 12/06/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-09903: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/05/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08985: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/02/2014 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08291: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 13/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08214: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 06/11/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-08066: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 23/10/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-07711.1: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 17/09/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-07521: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/08/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Motion S4M-07200: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 27/06/2013 Show Full Motion >>
Search for other Questions asked by Richard Baker
EventIdTypeSub TypeMSP NameParty NameConstituencyRegionTitleItemTextFormattedAnswer DateAnswerStatusIdExpectedAnswerDateAnsweredByMspApprovedDateSubmissionDateMeetingDateProductionStatusIdRecordStatusIdStatus DateOnBehalfOfConsideredForMembersBusinessCrossPartySupportRegisteredInterestSupportCountSupportDateIsEventLinkCurrentMinister
Question S4W-22941: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 28/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22845: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 13/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22794: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22795: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22796: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 07/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22667: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22654: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22657: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22655: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/10/2014 Show Full Question >>
Question S4W-22658: Richard Baker, North East Scotland, Scottish Labour, Date Lodged: 01/10/2014 Show Full Question >>

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