- The Deputy Presiding Officer (John Scott):
The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-01978, in the name of Angela Constance, on the youth employment strategy.
- The Minister for Youth Employment (Angela Constance):
I hope that today’s debate is another critical step in the development of not only the Government’s but the Parliament’s—and indeed the nation’s—response to rising youth unemployment. When I published the draft youth employment strategy last week at the specially convened national economic forum, I made it perfectly clear that I would bring the strategy to Parliament for debate and, of course, scrutiny.
The strategy encapsulates how the Government has prioritised youth unemployment since the economic downturn in 2008 and how we will continue to move forward, develop fresh impetus and ensure an all-Government and all-Scotland response to what is undoubtedly a massive national challenge.
I have no doubt that all members can bear witness to the pernicious impact of youth unemployment on families, on communities and on our country, and not least on the life chances of our young people. Our objectives are clear: we want to help young people to get into work, to sustain that work and to progress in the workplace. No young person should leave school, college or university simply to become an unemployment statistic.
In essence, the youth employment strategy will build and develop on our post-16 education and training. We are not starting from a standing start, nor are we reinventing the wheel, but there is room—as always—for innovation. The strategy outlines a whole-Government approach, as boosting youth employment is core Government business across all portfolios. It is my job to ensure that I knit all that together.
The strategy will demonstrate our commitment to work with all our partners, including the United Kingdom Government, and to marshal efforts across the public, private and voluntary sectors. We recognise that not all young people are the same and that we need a range of interventions to meet the needs of those young people who are furthest from and those who are nearest to the labour market.
Fundamentally, the draft youth employment strategy makes clear that the Government is committed to responding head-on to the challenge that we face. We will do so through an all-Government, all-Scotland approach that involves everyone who can make a difference.
Our investment of more than £1.5 billion a year in post-16 education and training is critically important in helping our young people to develop the skills and attributes that they need. Our additional investment of £30 million to boost youth employment will provide vital support.
However, that is only the start. The strategy outlines the ways in which I will focus my efforts, working hand in glove with other ministers. Those opportunities include working with Alex Neil to maximise the benefits of capital investment for young people; working with Derek Mackay and Fergus Ewing to galvanise the public and private sectors towards supporting young people into work; and working with Shona Robison to take advantage of large-scale events such as the Commonwealth games to provide our young people with meaningful experience to improve their prospects.
I reassure the Parliament that that is only the tip of the iceberg. I am absolutely committed to getting into the guts of all aspects of Government and more than willing to come back to Parliament to report on progress.
It is fair to say that, apart from young people themselves, employers are the single most important group. We need employers, large and small, to create opportunities—preferably work—for young people. There was significant employer representation at the best-ever-attended national economic forum last week. I have now had the opportunity to meet the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses and industry leaders groups. I will continue to work with employers on how we can make it easier for them to take on young people.
I will shortly lead a number of regional youth employment events, at which employer input is essential. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has agreed to help to facilitate those events, which will ensure good participation from public, private and voluntary sectors at a local level.
I have made it a priority to consult young people themselves. Indeed, one young apprentice whom I met in Asda this morning suggested to me that I should use the £30 million of opportunities for all funding to build three supermarkets. I told him that, although that was an interesting, innovative idea, I was not confident of full parliamentary support for it.
Since taking up post, I have had the great privilege of meeting a number of young apprentices, young people on national training programmes and young people who seek such opportunities. At last week’s meeting of the cross-party group on children and young people, a number of young people spoke eloquently about how volunteering can be life changing, as well as expressing their concerns about the impact of welfare reform. Earlier this week, I also met members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, who will, no doubt, be pleased at the good news about student support that was announced in yesterday’s budget.
Providing young people with the best start to their working lives is critical to Scotland’s future economic prosperity. Our policies are designed to support that aim. We have announced opportunities for all, which is an unprecedented offer to our young people. Through that programme, we will ensure that every 16 to 19-year-old who is not in work, education or training can secure a place in learning or training.
We are committed to creating 25,000 modern apprenticeship opportunities in every year of this session of Parliament.
- John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
The 25,000 modern apprenticeship opportunities are, undoubtedly, supported across all the parties. Will the minister clarify whether they will be exclusively available for the 16 to 24-year-old age group or, as was the case in the past, also available to those who are regarded as adults—that is, over-24s?
- Angela Constance:
John Park has a keen interest in this area. He will understand our obvious concern to prioritise the 16 to 19-year-old group. The majority of modern apprenticeship places are for that age group but, hot on the heels of that, we must consider older young people—the 20 to 24-year-old group—particularly care leavers, a group of young people who are close to my heart. We must also, particularly in certain sectors, ensure that there are all-age modern apprenticeship opportunities.
I am pleased to say that we have prioritised places for young people in colleges. We are also ensuring that young people who go to university can access a high-quality higher education without running up debts and having to pay for their education.
We will continue to modernise the careers services and work with local authorities to complete the national roll-out of activity agreements to support those who are furthest from the labour market.
The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is currently leading a reform of the post-16 education and training system. That reform is designed to ensure not only that all parts of the system are geared towards helping young people into sustainable employment and developing their careers but that they respond to the current and future workforce needs of our employers and economy.
In December, the First Minister announced an additional £30 million to boost youth employment. I am determined to ensure that all of our investment in youth employment works as hard as possible. We already have strong support in place for our young people. I want to build on that and take forward the best elements of some of the programmes that we have introduced.
Community jobs Scotland draws on and improves on similar schemes such as the future jobs fund by providing employability training for participants. Although the scheme has been running only since August, it has already had a life-changing impact on a number of young people. It is important that we build on the success of the initial pilot of community jobs Scotland within the resources that we have available. That is why I plan to allocate £6 million of the additional £30 million to support a continuation of community jobs Scotland in 2012-13.
Beyond community jobs Scotland, our social enterprises and specialist third sector organisations are well placed to provide strong support into jobs for young people across the youth unemployment cohort. That is why I plan to launch a £2.5 million challenge fund to support that type of innovative work. Organisations will be invited to submit proposals for 2012-13 in the weeks ahead. The key criteria for the fund will be a demonstrable track record of success, strong links with employers and innovative approaches that are not replicated elsewhere in the system.
Local authorities and community planning partnerships are at the forefront of supporting young people into work. I have seen a range of what is already happening across Scotland to connect young people directly to local labour markets. That is in addition to the work that is going on to support those who are at greatest risk of disengaging through more choices, more chances and the national roll-out of activity agreements. I have had positive discussions with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and will continue to work with our partners in local government to identify how we can do more together to support young people.
The current economic conditions are extremely challenging. With stronger economic powers, the Parliament could do more to create the conditions for job creation that our young people need. Nonetheless, I assure Parliament that I will not lie idle but will maximise what powers we have at our disposal to ensure that every young person in Scotland gets the best start to their working life. Since taking on my current portfolio, I have been heartened, encouraged and, at times, overwhelmed by support from a wide range of people and organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors. There is a demonstrable will to make a difference, and it will only be by working with committed people across Scotland that we will reduce youth unemployment. Our young people deserve no less.
That the Parliament believes that the all-government, all-Scotland approach at the centre of Scotland’s Youth Employment Strategy is vital to provide opportunities for Scotland’s young people to enter the workplace, and welcomes the allocation of £30 million of additional investment over and above the Scottish Government’s annual investment of over £1.5 billion in post-16 education and training.
- Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab):
My colleague Ken Macintosh will focus on the wider issues around the economy and enterprise in his concluding remarks; John Park will speak to the issues of apprenticeships and support for disabled workers; and Margaret McDougall and Margaret McCulloch will concentrate on the role of colleges and training providers. That leaves me to talk specifically about the minister’s role and the job ahead of her.
The appointment of a dedicated Minister for Youth Employment is extremely welcome on this side of the chamber. It was, of course, a Labour motion that called for its creation following the latest Smith group report. The draft strategy document, which was launched at last week’s national economic forum, was also very welcome, but it could have been produced within days of the minister’s appointment. It is full of warm rhetoric and good intention, but it is sadly short on detail, timescale and—crucially—money. I was at the national economic forum last week. It was extremely well attended and there was, undoubtedly, both a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose across the public, private and third sectors. People understand the size of the task; they just want their Government to get on with it. In my role as the minister’s shadow, I will always seek to be constructive—today, I will outline some serious suggestions from the Labour benches—but I will always be on her tail, constantly questioning, seeking reform and demanding progress. The 105,000 young unemployed Scots should expect nothing less.
On the statistics, let us get the facts straight. Recently, I have heard the minister and the cabinet secretary on the airwaves suggesting that we can instantly dismiss one third of those 105,000 young people on the basis that they are studying.
- Angela Constance:
I state for the record that, as I have repeatedly said on the airwaves, we most certainly will not dismiss one third of those young people—the 35,000 who are students in full-time education. One reason among many is that, as we have seen, if we do not get graduates into full-time employment in graduate-level jobs, that causes significant displacement in the labour market. I, for one, do not need Ms Dugdale on my tail to ensure that I pay all recognition to each and every one of those 105,000 young Scots.
- Kezia Dugdale:
The minister misses my point, which was about full-time students who are seeking work while they are studying. The ability to find work and maintain it helps to keep students at university and college. I accept that their plight is perhaps less challenging than that of the 20,000 young people who are furthest removed from the job market, but it does not feel any easier to them. They remain a legitimate part of the statistics and the wider problems that we face.
As we are in the game of questioning the validity of statistics, let us spend a moment considering the young people who are hidden in the system: the thousands of young people who, at 16, were identified as having no positive destination but who, at 18, have not yet presented at a jobcentre and cannot be found.
With well over 100,000 young people without work or opportunity, there can be no doubt that the situation that our young people face is not a problem or a challenge—words that the minister regularly uses—but a national crisis that demands an urgent and sustained response. However, it is also an opportunity that should not be wasted. The Scottish Government has a serious opportunity to address structural unemployment in the system. A crude approach to the crisis would be simply to focus on economic growth, in recognition that its return will alleviate the situation by creating graduate and highly skilled jobs, which in turn will sort out the displacement in the market that is pushing the harder-to-reach young people even further away from jobs.
That is a comfortable but complacent place for the Scottish National Party to be, as it allows the Government to sit back and profess that it does not have the economic levers of power to effect change. To suggest that the power to cut corporation tax is somehow the answer to the country’s youth unemployment crisis is not only nonsense but ignorant and an insult. That will not work, and young people cannot afford to wait three years in the hope that it might.
It is incredibly tempting for the Government to focus only on what we might call the business end of youth employment by spending resource on the young people who are, or who are close to being, job ready to keep them economically active and engaged.
Both those plans will improve the statistics, but they will fundamentally fail to address the inequality at the heart of our job market. If the minister has a social conscience, she should apply it by setting out to eradicate youth unemployment. She should be that bold and seek to tackle the inequality at the heart of the system.
- Angela Constance:
I am interested in Ms Dugdale’s commitment to full employment. Of course I believe that our young people have the right to work, but I am interested to know how Ms Dugdale proposes that we can achieve full employment under the powers of a devolved Parliament.
- Kezia Dugdale:
It is sad that the minister’s ambitions do not reach that far with the powers that she has.
The reality is that a young person in Scotland is four times more likely to be unemployed if they come from a disadvantaged background. The number of long-term unemployed young people in Scotland has doubled in the past six months. The reports of the countless academic studies on wage scarring show the impact of worklessness on young people and on their health and life chances. Those young people need serious interventions and support, not just to get them job ready but to provide life skills. They need the ability and will to get out of bed and out of a house that is dominated by worklessness. They need life skills to cope with budgeting, relationships and the stresses and strains of a life of work.
Countless schemes are delivered by a multitude of agencies that work in that area, from small organisations such as the Canongate Youth Project to the giants such as the Wise Group, Rathbone, Barnardo’s and Children in Scotland. Since my appointment, I have visited or met representatives of dozens of projects and heard the resounding message that is emanating from all of them: that the mechanics of funding are letting people down. An example is the Barnardo’s works programme, which is delivered in five different locations in Scotland. I have seen at first hand how that incredibly successful programme delivers for young people across the north of Edinburgh. Finance for the programme works on a year-by-year basis, with no fewer than 14 different funding providers, each of which has its own planning cycles, conditions, measurements and evaluation processes. It is one person’s job simply to manage all that. The last three months of each financial year are spent in complete inertia, sitting with a giant calculator desperately trying to predict how many places can be offered in the future. Meanwhile, the young people sit around desperately asking, “When will there be jobs?”
Staff members dedicate their working lives to supporting the young people we are talking about today. They know what the young people need, and they know how to deliver it. They could do so much more if they were simply freed from the shackles of bureaucracy. If the minister chooses to live her life from stats cycle to stats cycle, she will find comfort in sticking to one-year funding cycles—so that she can tinker with the tills at Skills Development Scotland. However, if she is serious about the size of the job in hand and about the long-term response necessary for dealing with it, she will find support and encouragement from the Labour benches.
This week, ACEVO—the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, which is the English equivalent of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations—produced a report on youth unemployment across the UK. The report identified 600 community hotspots across the country where the number of young jobseeker claimants is double the national average. The report suggests that the best response is one that is community led, and co-ordinated by local parties rather than national Government.
- John Pentland (Motherwell and Wishaw) (Lab):
Will the member join me in congratulating North Lanarkshire Council on its plan to boost to 5,000 over the next three years the number of people who are supported into work by the North Lanarkshire Council partnership? Of those people, 80 per cent are young people.
- Kezia Dugdale:
I have been hugely impressed by the ambition of Mr Pentland’s colleagues’ plans, and I am also aware of excellent work in Falkirk, which my colleague Siobhan McMahon will mention later on. The minister could support and enhance more of that kind of work by addressing some of the crucial issues relating to procurement. I hope that the minister will look to her Government’s forthcoming bill on sustainable procurement, and will aspire to be bold with its potential to support local authorities and their innovative solutions.
We desperately need the Government to spend its own money more wisely in the national interest. I will not repeat the arguments that were made during yesterday’s budget debate—about the number of missed opportunities to deliver jobs and growth for Scotland from the Government’s recent procurement processes.
Let us be clear—this is a national crisis. More than 100,000 young people in Scotland are looking to their Government for action. That Government has the power to do something about it, and the time to act is now.
I move amendment S4M-01978.2, to leave out from “to provide” to end and insert:
“; recognises that Scotland is facing a national crisis of youth unemployment, a crisis that it cannot afford; believes that over 100,000 young people seeking employment are looking to their government for action; further believes that all of the faculties of government can and should be directed toward creating full employment; recognises the role that government plays in creating sustainable employment and fulfilling opportunities; calls on the Scottish Government to intervene directly, recognising the important role of colleges and training providers in tackling youth unemployment, the potential of procurement and the bureaucratic barriers that frustrate progress, and recognises the scarring impact of unemployment on the life chances, aspirations and wellbeing of the country and its young people.”
- Liz Smith (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con):
As both the minister and Kezia Dugdale have said, there is no worse economic ill than unemployment. It is a waste of the most precious factor of production, and it clearly has devastating implications for the individual, for his or her family and for the social fabric of the nation. It has those implications for anyone, but there must be particular concern when thousands of young people, in growing numbers, find themselves out of work—whether because of structural or cyclical changes in the economy, or because of a mismatch of skills.
Notwithstanding the difficulties in providing a universally accepted technical definition of the term “unemployment” and in measuring it correctly, it is not hard to find the evidence to explain the current, deep-seated concern among all political parties. In a three-month period last year, the unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds was 23.5 per cent in Scotland—which was 3.1 percentage points higher than the UK rate. The rate increased by 5.6 percentage points over the year to September to November 2011, whereas in the UK it increased by 2.2 percentage points. Over the same year, the 18 to 24 youth employment rate in Scotland decreased by 2.9 percentage points, compared with a decrease of 1.3 percentage points in the UK.
Just as concerning, however, is the wide variation in youth unemployment rates across Scotland, from just over 2 per cent in the Shetland Islands to more than 11 per cent in Clackmannanshire.
It is not difficult to see the extent of the problem, and that is why we broadly welcomed the announcement by the Scottish Government that it would be creating a new portfolio, with the minister having responsibility for youth employment. It is also why we welcomed the additional £30 million, the recommendation that there be much greater liaison between industry and business, and the formation of the national economic forum. That was all very good news, as was this afternoon’s announcement on the new social enterprise initiatives.
However, that is also why we fought so hard with the other Opposition parties to ensure that the college sector did not have to put up with the totally unacceptable original budget settlement. We are pleased that some progress has been made, but, like the convener of Scotland’s Colleges, John Spencer, we are in no doubt about the significant challenges that remain in the college sector as a result of the disproportionate cuts, the factual context of which we have set out in our amendment. The fact that John Swinney overruled Mike Russell’s comment last week on the original budget settlement being “full, fair and final” speaks volumes about the pressure under which the SNP was put by those who genuinely feel that there is a lot of pressure on the college sector.
- The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning (Michael Russell):
I am interested in the member’s observations on comments about colleges. Will she comment on an e-mail that I received on behalf of the principal of Edinburgh’s Telford College, Miles Dibsdall, whom she quoted last week in the debate on college reform? He said that he has not spoken to her on any occasion, that he made the comment a considerable period of time ago and that he no longer agrees with it. Perhaps it would have been important to represent that to members.
- Liz Smith:
I am happy that Mr Dibsdall’s comment is on the public record, which is what I quoted from last week. I have said that we welcome some of the changes that were made yesterday, but the cabinet secretary should be in no doubt that the college sector still has grave concerns about the disproportionate cuts in it.
We are aware that the Scottish Government is yet to come up with what would amount to a formal strategy on how it will proceed, but it must be allowed to do that with co-operation and scrutiny provided by the other parties. What must be done specifically by the Scottish Government, as opposed to moves that can be made by the Westminster Government and international markets to alleviate the pain of the global recession? Addressing unemployment among young people is not a matter of having a single policy—that was clearly flagged up in the Smith group report—and it is not all about economic policy. There are social issues, too. It is not long since we debated in the chamber the importance of policies in the early years strategy.
There are young people who are suffering from on-going structural changes in the economy and the resulting mismatch of skills. We should be mindful of the fact that, although the vacancy rate has shown a modest decline in the past year, nearly half of that vacancy rate reflects the fact that employers still do not believe that some of those workers have the appropriate skills. I return to a point that I think I mentioned in a previous debate about what Willy Roe said in his excellent report, which the Scottish Government has commented on. It is about ensuring that there is greater flexibility. It is not just about ensuring that young people have the right knowledge; they need to have the right attitude, the right skills and the right knowledge in that order. That is an important point that needs to be pressed.
The Smith group said that Scottish education is still too rigid and focuses too much on preparing students for university and college. I agree with that, and recommend yet again that we must be much more imaginative—the minister used that description—about the structure of the secondary school curriculum. We debated that this morning in the context of the findings of the McCormac and Donaldson reports, which suggest that we need to do far more to ensure that all schools—not just the majority—strive for excellence and strive to deliver the opportunities that are appropriate to the needs of our young people rather than appropriate to the needs or convenience of a political philosophy that is either too state interventionist or too beholden to extending bureaucracy.
Nothing is more important than creating jobs and ensuring that our young people have the right skills to fill them.
I move amendment S4M-01978.3, to insert at end:
“and notes that, following the debate on the Budget (Scotland) Bill on 8 February 2012, the total financial settlement for the Scottish Funding Council further education programme is now £559.7 million for 2011-12, £526.4 million for 2012-13, £494.7 million for 2013-14 and £470.7 million for 2014-15, which is a cash-terms cut of £33.3 million in the first year.”
- Christina McKelvie (Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse) (SNP):
The appointment of Angela Constance as the UK’s first dedicated youth employment minister and the announcement of the strategy should leave no one in any doubt about how seriously the Scottish Government takes the agenda. I hoped that we would not hear suggestions from the Opposition that the Scottish Government or, indeed, the Scottish National Party does not care about the future of our young people or has not given them sufficient priority, but some members have already been guilty of suggesting that. The issue is too serious for that. It is not an issue for party-political point scoring.
Just as the strategy is an all-Government and all-Scotland strategy, our approach should be an all-Parliament approach. We can all see the impact of very difficult job market conditions on young people in our constituencies, and I do not believe that there is a single member who does not share the Scottish Government’s desire to do whatever it can to ensure that those young Scots do not become a lost generation.
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the no knives, better lives campaign in my constituency, and of witnessing again the street project, which is a remarkable immersive drama project that challenges young people who are at risk of becoming involved in criminal or antisocial behaviour with the consequences of their actions. It is a great project that has a great success rate and I wish the street 2 well.
The best way of preventing young people from behaving in ways that damage themselves or others is to ensure that they are able to make their contribution to society and to know that they are spending their time positively and productively, whether in education, training or work. Youth unemployment is a problem not just for the individuals who are affected by it but for society as a whole. I am therefore glad to welcome the youth employment strategy and the substantial set of actions that it contains. It recognises that the problem is complex and requires a complex and wide-ranging response. No Government can magic jobs out of thin air—we just wish that it could. The actions that are set out in the strategy will go a long way to ensuring that no young person goes without a job, an apprenticeship or a training place, and that our young people are fully prepared for the world of employment with the work and life skills that employers are looking for.
At this stage, I declare an interest. As the mother of an apprentice joiner, I have particular reason to be grateful for the Scottish Government’s superb record on delivering apprenticeships. I was pleased to hear the First Minister confirm last week in the chamber that Skills Development Scotland is confident that 25,000 apprenticeships will be achieved during the current financial year, and even more pleased to hear that 45 per cent of modern apprentices are now young women; I am sure that you approve of that, Presiding Officer. I have been concerned about girls not getting equal access to apprenticeships, so the news that almost half of current apprentices are girls is welcome indeed. I look forward to that figure rising in future to reflect the gender balance of the nation.
The most crucial point about modern apprenticeships is that each one is attached to a real job. The apprenticeships are not a repeat of some of the youth employment schemes of the past, such as the youth opportunities programme and the youth training scheme, which are the most well-known examples. Too often, they were just a mechanism for massaging unemployment figures rather than a real attempt to provide a young person with the skills and knowledge that they needed to graduate to permanent employment.
That is not the case with our modern apprenticeships. I know from my son’s experience that he is clear that the joinery skills that he is acquiring now will be put to use in a future career in that profession. He understands that his training is not taking place in a vacuum; it will lead to a job when it has been completed. That knowledge allows him to make plans for his future and to look forward with optimism. All Scotland’s modern apprentices can share that confidence. It is also fantastic to have someone in the house who can fix the wonky cupboard and the broken drawer.
We are offering more and more choice in apprenticeships. A young person can now be apprenticed not just in the traditional trades such as joinery, crucial though such trades are to our economy, but in a wide range of sectors from renewable energy to accounting, from the creative industries to youth work. Modern apprenticeships are not about trying to force square pegs into round holes for the sake of getting a young person off the dole. Instead, they provide our apprentices with the opportunity to learn professional skills that will equip them for a future career in an area that genuinely interests them and matches their personal life aspirations. With 25,000 apprenticeships in each year of the parliamentary session, we will be able to create a generation of highly skilled young people who will contribute to our future economy in all its diversity.
Vital and welcome as the youth employment strategy and its actions are, it would be remiss of me to talk about any kind of employment without making the point that the Scottish Government would be able to do so much more for our young people if Parliament had real job-creating powers and control over the levers of our economy. Kezia Dugdale mentioned poverty and, unless we have control over the tax and benefits system in Scotland, we will never be able to deal properly with poverty. Until that happens, the Government is inevitably constrained in how effectively it can tackle youth unemployment. I am confident, however, that the strategy is as comprehensive as it can be in our current circumstances. It will make a difference for our young people—it has certainly made a difference to the young man in my life—and I look forward to working with the youth employment minister to implement the strategy in my constituency.
- Siobhan McMahon (Central Scotland) (Lab):
Young people are particularly vulnerable and impressionable. Their experiences in the formative period shape their perspectives and their prospects. Nowhere does that apply more than in the job market. Research has shown that experiencing unemployment at a young age increases the likelihood of unemployment in the future; that protracted spells of unemployment at a young age have an adverse impact on future earnings; and that entering the job market during a recession has a persistent negative effect on wages.
The Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy contains some good suggestions and many fine words, but with Government strategy documents there is often a gap between the rhetoric and reality. When a strategy document is on firm ground, the language is concise and direct, but when it is not, the language is vague and repetitive.
If we accept that youth unemployment is a crisis and that tackling it is a priority, it follows that we should concentrate our efforts where youth unemployment rates are highest. Figures for 2009-10 show that 22 per cent of college entrants—against just 7.6 per cent of entrants to elite universities—come from deprived communities.
The strategy document’s
“ambitious programme of post-16 education reform”
contains a raft of proposals that are intended to increase college attendance, reduce the drop-out rate and leave college graduates better equipped for employment. I have no problem with those proposals. No one would argue against guaranteeing a place in learning for every 16 to 19-year-old who wants one. However, I wonder how colleges will enact the proposals while simultaneously absorbing a disproportionate cut to their budgets over the next three years. That is the gap between the rhetoric and reality.
On a more positive note, the strategy alludes to current work programmes that are reaping dividends. During a recent visit to Hamilton Citizens Advice Bureau, I spoke to participants in the community jobs Scotland scheme. The visit was interesting and instructive. The employees were enjoying their work at Hamilton CAB and were gaining valuable skills and experience, but they expressed some misgivings about the scheme. They felt that potential participants should not be required to be out of work for six months before they could apply to the scheme and that a six-month wait between placements is too long. They believe that in order to improve the scheme, gaps between placements should be reduced and that provision should be made to extend placements, when that is appropriate. I hope that the minister will take on board those proposals.
Several other schemes and initiatives that are operating in Central Scotland are worthy of mention. Many of them are funded and administered by local councils. Falkirk Council has supported 325 modern apprenticeships in the past year, which exceeds its target of 300. The backing Falkirk’s future initiative, whereby local businesses agree to employ at least one young person on a year’s contract, has been hugely successful, with almost 300 local businesses signing up. In addition, the council’s get ready for work contract is performing at 44 per cent above the Scottish average. As a result of those initiatives and others, the number of school leavers who are unemployed and seeking work in the Falkirk area is at its lowest level since 2002; Falkirk has the highest rate in Scotland of school leavers who are engaged in training, at 7 per cent above the Scottish average; and unemployment among 16 to 19-year-olds has decreased by 13 per cent since December 2010, while the Scottish average has increased by 4.6 per cent.
I mention the achievements of Charmaine Hogg, a childcare modern apprentice in Falkirk, who overcame a number of barriers as a care leaver and recently won the service apprentice of the year award at the Scottish modern apprenticeship awards.
Elsewhere in Central Scotland, North Lanarkshire Council recently announced plans to invest an extra £15 million in North Lanarkshire’s working—an employment and training service for local unemployed people. The council hopes that the extra funding will help 5,000 people back into work over the next three years, as my colleague John Pentland said earlier. As 7,000 young people in North Lanarkshire are unemployed, that would be a significant achievement.
South Lanarkshire Council’s youth jobs fund has secured employment for more than 400 young people since 2009 by offering a wage subsidy to incentivise local employers. I am sure that Parliament joins me in welcoming the news—which Christina McKelvie forgot to mention when she was not making party-political points—that the council is investing an extra £1.2 million in its jobs fund between now and March. The 80 additional jobs that that will create will be targeted at two groups—those without a job who are aged between 18 and 24 and those who are aged 25 or over and who live in a household in which more than one person is out of work. Through such local initiatives, Falkirk, North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire Councils have displayed their commitment to tackling youth unemployment.
I will close by mentioning the plight of a group of people whom the strategy does not mention. I recently visited the HOPE for Autism centre in Airdrie, where the centre’s manager described the problems that autistic people experience after they leave school. Given the chance, autistic people can work with concentration and efficiency, but they are being let down by a chronic lack of opportunity. There is a pronounced lack of support and provision for them beyond school-leaving age. That situation has existed for some time and is simply unacceptable.
A youth unemployment strategy must be comprehensive. It must give opportunities to everyone, and it must leave no one behind. I hope that the Government will invest more funds in schemes that have a proven track record, and that it will make provision for those, including autistic people, who have been omitted from the current document.
- Jamie Hepburn (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth) (SNP):
I welcome the debate. Youth employment is clearly an important issue for all of us, so it is right that we are having the debate. I also welcome the Minister for Youth Employment’s speech. It is extremely positive that we have a minister with such a role in the Government. It is the first such position in these islands, and the fact that its creation was supported throughout the chamber means that I am not making a party-political point—it would be very unlike me to make a party-political point—when I say that it represents a clear statement of intent by the Scottish Government.
I will turn to some of the Scottish Government’s initiatives in a minute, but a number of references have been made to local initiatives that are worth picking up on. I was interested to hear about the efforts that are being made in Falkirk. I do not know as much about them as Siobhan McMahon does, but it sounds as if what is happening there is a good example that can be learned from. It is clear from what the minister said about the Scottish Government’s approach that it is willing to listen and to learn from good experience across the country. On this issue more than any other, given its importance, that is as it should be.
I was also interested to hear John Pentland refer to the £1.7 million funding that North Lanarkshire Council is bringing forward, which I first learned about from the front page of this week’s Cumbernauld News. Not much detail was provided on how the funding will be used, so I look forward to hearing about that. One way in which it could be used to the benefit of young unemployed people would be to increase funding for the Cumbernauld and Kilsyth Unemployed Workers Centre, which is one of the few remaining unemployed workers centres that we have. Its funding is subject to continual squeezing by North Lanarkshire Council. I hope that the centre will benefit from that funding.
If I can be particularly parochial for a moment, I will give a good local example of work to combat youth unemployment and to provide young people with the skills that are necessary for the workplace. It is particularly germane to the point that Siobhan McMahon made about young people with autism. Glencryan school in Cumbernauld, where many of the pupils have autism, does a tremendous amount of work in providing senior students with vocational skills that might give them a chance of getting work in the future. I would like to invite the minister to come to Glencryan school, if she gets the opportunity to do so. I am sure that she would be very interested to see the work that is being done there.
In the time that remains to me, I will turn to some of the work that the Scottish Government is doing on youth unemployment. As Christina McKelvie said, no one can question how seriously the Government takes the issue. At the end of last month, we saw the publication of the draft youth employment strategy, which focuses on support for young people who are not in work. If I have time, I will deal with that in more detail later. The draft strategy—as the minister did in her speech—has made clear the Government’s position, which goes back to my point about learning from positive examples in our communities and working constructively with any organisation, company, individual or, indeed, political party that shares the commitment to tackling youth unemployment.
The third sector, in particular, has a role to play in that regard. I was interested to read the briefing that we got from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, which welcomed the Minister for Youth Employment’s announcement that continuing support will be provided for community jobs Scotland. According to the SCVO, community jobs Scotland has filled more than 1,300 jobs across all of Scotland’s 32 local authorities in just six months, so it is clear that good work is being done there. The third sector has an important role to play.
Of course, we have seen the creation of 25,000 modern apprenticeships, which will clearly go some way towards supporting young people. If I can make a party-political point—I like to make them now and again—it was interesting to hear John Park, who is one of the Labour members whose speeches I always look forward to, say that the initiative was supported throughout the chamber. To that I say that actions speak louder than words. Given that those apprentice positions are delivered only through the Scottish Government’s budget, I have to question why the Labour Party continues to vote against that budget.
- John Park:
I was in the unenviable position of being in discussions with ministers before the previous election to ask them to increase modern apprenticeship positions from 14,000 to 18,500. It was difficult to get a three-year reaction from them. We have worked together on the matter. Clearly, the 25,000 positions are supported across the chamber, but the reality is that we could not support a budget that was cutting teacher and nurse numbers and having a serious impact on our economy.
- Jamie Hepburn:
The budget is put in place against a context of constrained finances, which began under Mr Park’s party. It is always interesting to hear Labour members fail to mention that, whenever we debate this matter. I believe that Mr Park said that he was asking for 18,000 positions. We got 7,000 more than that. I suggest to Mr Park that, if a Government exceeds his key demands, he might want to vote for that budget. It is for the Labour Party to explain its position.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer, but I took a little longer over that party-political point than I meant to. I will come to a close, as I see that I am running over time.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith):
I can give you a bit of time back.
- Jamie Hepburn:
That is very kind of you. I will use that leeway to talk about colleges, which have been an issue for members from around the chamber. I suggest that the situation in relation to colleges is the same as that in relation to modern apprentices, given the key demands for college places and college funding that we have heard about. It was interesting to hear Siobhan McMahon refer to the Scottish Government’s position in terms of college funding. Again, I make the point that members might support a budget that delivers their key demands. Siobhan McMahon and others should reflect on the fact that, between 2007 and 2014-15, the SNP Administration will have invested £4.7 billion in Scotland’s colleges, which is 40 per cent more than under two terms of the previous Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration.
I look forward to the rest of the debate. The fact that we now have a Minister for Youth Employment is a clear statement of intent by the Government. I look forward to seeing some of the work that she takes forward in the coming months and years, and I am sure that the position is safe in her hands, just as the issue is safe in the hands of the Government.
- John Park (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Lab):
I say to Jamie Hepburn that, in the discussions that the Labour Party had with the SNP in relation to its earlier budgets, around 2009 in particular, it was difficult to get any movement from the Government in relation to apprentice positions. I suspect that the change in the Government’s approach was more to do with the focus groups telling the Government that apprenticeships were a popular policy, and less to do with delivering apprenticeship opportunities. That is the reality of the situation.
I welcome the document and I want to be constructive in what I am going to say. I have already asked Angela Constance about an issue that I have with the 25,000 figure. At the moment, almost half the places go to 16 to 19-year-olds, with the other places going to people who are aged 20 and over. I am keen to know what the split is; I want to know more about the apprenticeship opportunities for the 16 to 24-year-old age group.
I am looking forward to finding out a bit more about the opportunities for all initiative. It is a good idea. I am sure that it will have wide cross-party support and that politicians will want to promote it in their areas. I am keen to get some clarity from the minister about whether it will be available to everyone from a range of backgrounds and, for example, what support there will be for young disabled people who want to take advantage of the opportunities.
The document makes very little mention of underrepresented groups. It would be useful for us to think about their needs in terms of their getting into the mainstream employment market and how we could use apprenticeship opportunities, as well as opportunities for all, to ensure that that happens, because those groups tend to be further away from the labour market and need specific support and help to get into it. If we are to utilise the talents of all the people in our country, right across Scotland, we must ensure that such people are given the right type of support at the right time and can take up the opportunities that people would normally get in the mainstream workforce.
I turn to another issue that has cross-party support and on which we agreed in relation to previous budgets. For the benefit of SNP MSPs who were not here in the last session, we agreed with the Government on budgets a couple of times. We need to ensure that apprentices who are facing redundancy get some sort of security as regards finding opportunities to go back into an apprenticeship programme. The reason for that is clear: employers and the Government have invested a considerable amount of time and resources. The ScotAction initiative has been very well received by employers, and it would be good if the minister could outline the Government’s plans for that. It has had a particularly good impact in the construction sector, where many of the apprentices who were taken on found themselves facing redundancy. Will they have the support they need? One of the main elements in ensuring that the strategy works is that we stop people, particularly younger people, falling out of the labour market. I am sure that there would be cross-party support for that, as well as support from employers and the sector skills councils, which have been doing a great job in promoting opportunities across their respective sectors.
I want to talk about those who are furthest away from the labour market, such as younger people who have never really been close to it, and the support that could be given to them. I have met people at a couple of very good organisations. Kezia Dugdale mentioned Rathbone, and there is also Working Links, whose offices in Dunfermline I visited last weekend to see first hand the work that it does.
Another good organisation that we have talked about a lot in this chamber is West Fife Enterprise Ltd, which is based in former mining villages in West Fife and deals with generations of people who have been economically inactive and need specific types of support. I hope that the Government recognises that the role that is played by such organisations is absolutely essential in ensuring that we tackle the crisis of youth unemployment, because they have people on the ground who have the necessary contacts with local employers and can make a difference in ensuring that people are gaining skills and getting support when they get into employment.
We do not want to find that we are pushing people into employment, not supporting them, and then seeing them fall out of the system and having to go through the whole cycle again. It would be useful if the minister could clarify the support that the Government can give to such organisations.
Finally, I want to talk about how we spend money to support employment. In yesterday’s budget debate and today in First Minister’s question time, we have discussed what has been happening around the Forth crossing. Amazon is located in Mid Scotland and Fife. A lot of money has gone into that organisation, but people are worried about the quality of the jobs that will be available there. We cannot continue as we have always gone before; we cannot just rely on people to go and work for agencies when Government money is being put in. We need to ensure that employment opportunities are permanent, that they allow people to acquire skills, and that they allow them—especially young people—to stay in work. If we do not do that and we do not change things, we will find ourselves in a situation where we have to start all over again with these young people as they fall out of the system.
- Chic Brodie (South Scotland) (SNP):
As other members have done, I welcome the minister’s appointment. The problem of our young unemployed people is a challenge. We must pick up the gauntlet, and we are doing so.
The worst thing that could happen would be for members to succumb to the Jeremiah syndrome. I welcome the tone and content of John Park’s speech. People who carp and moan and who act through bad word rather than good deed can drive a wedge between old and young, between rich and poor and between the young employed and the young unemployed.
A report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, “Young people’s changing routes to independence”—I do not mean constitutional independence—analysed and compared the outcomes for children who were born in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The foundation described a widening gap between young people in the fast and slow lanes to adulthood. In the slow lane, children of the higher socioeconomic classes spend a lot of time in education and career training and delay marriage and children until they have succeeded as adults. In the fast lane, however, a truncated education leads young adults to experience a disjointed pattern of employment, unemployment, low-paid work and training schemes, rather than an upward career trajectory. In Scotland we must make it our task to eschew such patterns and to start to destroy the economic and employment gap—the Rowntree gap.
Our effort must be co-ordinated, cohesive and national. That is why the draft youth employment strategy provides a solid foundation for discussion. We must not just embrace Government initiatives, but take part in programmes such as opportunities for all, thereby validating the profile of the 25,000 apprenticeships per year that will be delivered as part of post-16 education reform. We must work together to hone the draft strategy.
We must extend the message into communities, through the activities of social enterprises and organisations such as YouthLink Scotland and Voluntary Action Scotland, as well as the Scout Association, the Boys Brigade and the Girls Brigade—organisations that have a total complement of 110,000 young people in Scotland. We must develop the entrepreneurial equivalent of the Raploch experiment, by taking the concept of creating social and voluntary enterprises in the third sector and taking them to young people in their communities. Some young people will not come looking for such initiatives; it is down to us to find them.
Youth unemployment stands at 25.5 per cent—although 35 per cent of the number are in full-time education. We all want the figures to be much better. I will not rehearse everything that has been said about the benefits of being able to generate our own revenue, plan our own expenditure and manage our own economy, but those are certainly factors.
We all know the consequences of not engaging with the young. It is incumbent on us to ensure that young people not only add value to society but are seen to do so. It is incumbent on us to recognise, appreciate and show the value that they add. That is why we must create and support the youth network that I talked about and marry the network to the youth strategy. It is also why it is critical that we allow the young to have a say in their future, so I wholeheartedly endorse calls to reduce the voting age to 16.
In developing and securing that interest, we must align young people’s employment aspirations with the country’s economic strategy. In the process, we must slay the dragon that says that if someone does not go to university they are somehow a failure. In East Lothian, in an excellent example of the approach that is needed, East Lothian Council’s education officers and colleges and universities are working, in the context of the tourism sector, to create a vertical strategy, which covers people from the age of 16 right through university. Happily, I was able to facilitate a meeting between VisitScotland and the council. All the opportunities in tourism—events, hospitality and catering—are there and will be embraced by the young. Ultimately, they and the country will benefit.
The same applies to the welcome Government initiative on enterprise zones, particularly—I would say this—the one at Prestwick, on aerospace and engineering. We have a shortage of, for example, metal inert gas welders, tungsten inert gas welders—MIG and TIG welders—and computer numerically controlled punch drill laser machine operators to meet the renewables, aerospace engineering and manufacturing opportunities of the future. The zones will work in partnership with schools, colleges—yes, colleges—and, in Prestwick’s case, the new University of the West of Scotland campus in Ayr, to convert young people and apprentices into the engineers and manufacturers of the future.
The Government has set out a valid—albeit that it is a draft—youth employment strategy, which calls for an all-Scotland effort and for focus, development, support, engagement and finance for our young people in and on their way into employment.
I am delighted to commend the motion.
- Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD):
Due to an aggressive bout of man flu, I was unable to attend the national employment forum in Edinburgh last week, so I am delighted that we are having this debate and that I have the opportunity to participate.
As others have said, youth employment and the challenge that we face in tackling it are subjects that have accelerated to the top of the political agenda in recent months. The reasons for that are obvious and have been well articulated throughout what has been a productive debate.
I welcome Angela Constance’s appointment as the Minister for Youth Employment, and I welcome the development of a youth employment strategy and the commitment of specific extra funding to address a challenge that is serious and complex and which has—as the minister acknowledged—a pernicious effect throughout the country. The minister’s contribution was measured and constructive, although it may have been helpful if the motion had been a bit more revealing on the Government’s proposed approach. Kezia Dugdale’s amendment makes a fair attempt at addressing that deficiency.
I want, in the limited time that is available to me this afternoon, to touch on a few specific points. First, it is important to acknowledge the scale of the challenge, which is massive. As the Government’s strategy makes clear, more than 100,000 people aged from 16 to 24 are currently unemployed. As Liz Smith indicated, unemployment is rising faster in Scotland than it is in the rest of the United Kingdom. The number of 18 to 24-year-olds on jobseekers allowance has risen alarmingly over the past six months
As others do, I appreciate that those figures cover a wide range of circumstances, but that serves only to underscore a point that Barnardo’s made in its briefing for today’s debate. It highlights what it considers to be an inadequate focus by the minister in the strategy on the needs of those who find themselves furthest from the labour market—those who, as we have agreed in previous debates and in the Education and Culture Committee’s deliberations, have the most complex and challenging needs, and for whom educational and wider attainment outcomes continue to be a source of genuine concern.
This should not be seen as a counsel of despair, however. There are initiatives in place that seem to be delivering promising results. Barnardo’s points to the success across Scotland of its Barnardo’s works projects, which provide specialised training and work placements for many young people who are furthest from the labour market. Effective partnership with local employers is the key and seems to be reaping rewards—202 of the 284 trainees found employment, and 65 per cent of them are still in employment after 26 weeks. Importantly, for those who are not, Barnardo’s works is on hand to help again.
That partnership approach is critical; indeed, it is recognised in the Government’s strategy document. It also underpins the £1 billion youth contract initiative that was announced by the UK Government at the end of last year. Under the programme, UK ministers have given a commitment to fund incentives to companies for taking on young people, as well as to providing extra support through Jobcentre Plus for unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds and an offer of work experience or a sector-based work academy place for every 18 to 24-year-old who wants one. I recognise that there is an overlap with commitments that have already been made by Scottish ministers, but the youth contract, as well as delivering significant consequentials to Scotland, can and should be used to expand the capacity and range of what is on offer in this country for all our young people.
The initiative also fits well with a number of the key recommendations that the oft-quoted Smith group made in its report last November in relation to skills development. Scottish ministers have indicated their willingness to support take-up of the initiative in Scotland. Although I welcome that commitment, mention of it was, again, absent from Angela Constance’s speech. That begs the question why, if we are to use all the levers at our disposal, Scottish ministers seem to be a little reluctant to highlight the contribution that the youth contract can and must play.
- Angela Constance:
When I attended a recent meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin at which Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, was present, I said to him and the others who were assembled that the Scottish Government wants to ensure that the youth contract is a success in Scotland and that we will work to ensure that there is no needless duplication.
- Liam McArthur:
I thank the minister for that clarification. It is helpful to get that on the record. I think that we should be shouting about the youth contract from the rooftops, along with the other measures. As the minister will know, raising public awareness of the range of initiatives that are on offer is almost as important as introducing them in the first place.
As others have highlighted, colleges play a pivotal role in tackling the problems of youth unemployment. Like members on the Opposition’s seats, I have been flagging up the inherent inconsistency in the Government’s approach to youth employment, given the deep cuts that are proposed to budgets for Scotland’s colleges and student support. Thanks principally to the campaign that the National Union of Students Scotland has orchestrated, which I and my Labour and Conservative counterparts have consistently and repeatedly backed in the chamber, the finance secretary has accepted the need to put more of the Government’s money where its mouth is.
If I may be excused, I will make a party-political point, as Jamie Hepburn did earlier. Given their failure to articulate those concerns during last week’s debate on college funding and, indeed, in earlier debates on colleges and the budget, I do not see how either the education secretary or SNP back benchers can claim much credit in the area.
Uncertainty remains about individual allocations and the potential impact of cuts in teaching support. I also share the concerns that a number of college principals have expressed to me about the effect that a more centralised approach to distribution of further education funding might have, but I acknowledge and welcome the progress that has been made this week.
As John Park, Chic Brodie and others acknowledged, another critical player is the third sector, which is responsible for a wide range of employment services. Barnardo’s makes a valid point about the need to ensure that the third sector is integral to shaping our approach and is not simply left with a delivery function. I see that approach in my constituency. It is not easy to achieve as it often relies on relationships almost as much as on structures, but it is the right approach and it can deliver real benefits.
The cross-party group on children and young people has identified problems that are created by the relatively short timeframes for funding allocations combined with the rigid eligibility criteria and rules. Accountability for the spending of public money is essential, but too often we seem to get little value in return for the strings that we attach to funding allocations.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
Mr McArthur, will you come to a conclusion now, please?
- Liam McArthur:
I will do so soon.
There are countless other issues that I cannot cover as time does not allow it.
As NUS Scotland states, the strategy’s focus on educational opportunities for young people is welcome, but we cannot afford to lose sight of the needs of older students, many of whom missed out on a chance to go to college or university earlier in life. At a time of great economic change, NUS Scotland is right to emphasise the pressure to reskill and upskill, particularly in the case of older workers. John Park made that point. We cannot afford to lose sight of that in our understandable desire to address the issues that are affecting our young people.
Youth unemployment is an economic waste and a slow-burn social disaster. On that, there is unanimity throughout the Parliament, alongside a determination to use every lever that we have at our disposal to avert such an outcome.
- Paul Wheelhouse (South Scotland) (SNP):
I rise in support of the Government’s motion, and I particularly welcome Angela Constance to her role as a dedicated youth minister.
I welcome the commitment to 25,000 modern apprenticeships every year, but I am also delighted that the educational maintenance allowance is being retained in Scotland, because it is crucial if we are to support students on college courses and other forms of learning.
I agree that unemployment among our young people is a blight. That view is shared by members throughout the chamber. In my maiden speech, I highlighted the plight of young people in the Borders, who have traditionally had to leave the region to find skilled employment opportunities and even, in some cases, training opportunities. In effect, that has exported unemployment to our cities.
I therefore very much welcome the creation of the Scottish Borders knitwear group training association, which has been formed by Hawick Knitwear, Hawick Cashmere, Peter Scott, Johnstons of Elgin and several other companies, including Lochcarron in Selkirk. The innovation is aimed at combating the sector’s biggest challenge of an ageing workforce and no dedicated programmes for recruiting new staff. The scheme will put in place 20 new trainers, 10 assessors and, I understand, initially 50 apprentices, who are being delivered by those employers collectively to address the challenges faced by the whole sector.
The chamber should warmly welcome that development but, unfortunately, it has not been warmly welcomed by members on the Opposition benches, only one of whom signed my motion on the subject.
I congratulate the Scottish Government, Scottish Enterprise, Skillset and Skills Development Scotland on the roles that they have played in the scheme.
Johnstons of Elgin has made new investment in Hawick, and one of its directors said:
“I see a bright future for manufacturing of luxury textiles in Scotland and I hope this investment”
of £1 million that the company is making
“ ... in new advanced knitting machines later this year, will mark a new period of progress for us and ... the industry of Hawick”.
Some sectors have had a really tough time but the fact that our textiles industry is responding to growing demand for high-end luxury goods and is expanding is a positive sign for Scotland. I invite the minister to visit Hawick when she gets an opportunity to hear more about the project for herself.
Other examples of the local impact of modern apprenticeships include Greenvale AP, a major food sector employer that is proposing to take on modern apprentices at Chirnside, and Abbey Tool & Gauge, an advanced manufacturing engineering company in Kelso that I have visited and which has recently almost doubled the number of its employees, mainly by taking on new trainees under the age of 20. It is clear that local employers are supporting lots of good initiatives.
John Park, who, I am sad to say, has left the chamber, made a very good point about the importance of helping those at the margins of the labour force. Last August, I visited a Barnardo’s care farming programme at Sunnyside farm in Traprain near Haddington. For two days a week, this six-week programme, which has been developed by the farmer for young people across the academic spectrum in East Lothian schools, gives participants an insight into land-based industries and working as part of a team to develop the soft skills required for the world of work. In other words, it prepares people for apprenticeships and other employment opportunities and provides a vital step into the labour market. The programme is designed to support young people all over East Lothian, and those involved are waiting for a decision from East Lothian Council on additional funding to expand it. I should also point out that the young people who took part were in the final months of their secondary education and were on the cusp of the important transition from school to further education or employment.
Many measures such as those that I have mentioned and the modern apprenticeships deal with the here and now, but I also want to highlight the Government’s investment in the long term. The Government’s decisive shift to preventative spending, measures such as the early years change fund and specific programmes such as family-nurse partnerships ensure that children will receive support in their very early years. Such an approach ensures that in the longer term they will have much more positive health, education and employment outcomes, which in turn will give them improved life chances.
The Government, its partner agencies, colleges and, crucially, employers, some of whom I have mentioned, are doing a lot of work out there. Moreover, a lot of work is being done by the voluntary sector, including Barnardo’s; YouthLink Scotland, which Chic Brodie mentioned and which is carrying out wonderful youth activities; and Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, which has developed specific programmes tailored to those with hearing difficulties to get them into employment. I commend all their efforts.
I also commend the Government for its own commitment in these times of severe financial constraints to today’s young adults and to improving the life outcomes of the young adults of tomorrow. This Government is ambitious for Scotland and our people and, crucially, it has a can-do attitude and a drive to realise those ambitions.
Finally, as time permits, I will address a couple of points that were made earlier. First, I direct Kezia Dugdale, who seemed to be criticising the minister for not wishing to do more within the powers that we have, to her own party’s strategy for tackling the employment situation and stimulating growth. Four of the five steps that Labour proposed, which we have heard about repeatedly in the chamber in the past couple of weeks, involve powers that are reserved to Westminster—for example, the measures on VAT and national insurance. The only one that is in the gift of this Parliament and this Government relates to capital investment, and as we heard in yesterday’s budget statement, the considerable sum of £382 million has been added to our capital budget.
Liz Smith and Liam McArthur discussed college sector cuts. Additional funding has been allocated, but I direct them to their own Government south of the border, where cuts to the college sector—
- Liam McArthur:
Will the member give way?
- Paul Wheelhouse:
I will happily take an intervention.
- The Deputy Presiding Officer:
I am afraid that Mr Wheelhouse will have to close, as time has caught up with him.
- Paul Wheelhouse:
My apologies to you, Presiding Officer, and to Mr McArthur.
The cuts that unfortunately have to take place in Scotland are less than the Barnett consequential that we inherited from the UK Government.
- Margaret McCulloch (Central Scotland) (Lab):
I have said before that employment and education are very close to my heart because of my professional background in those fields. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
I listened to the Minister for Youth Employment’s speech with interest. Although there is certainly room for improvement in the strategy, there are areas of agreement. Measures such as guaranteeing the education maintenance allowance, enhancing the work element of the get ready for work programme and delivering more flexible support for 16 to 24-year-olds from disadvantaged groups such as young carers are all welcome. I had hoped, however, that the draft strategy would be more substantial, given the 83 per cent increase in youth unemployment to which the document refers.
Experience tells us that, sadly, the longer young people are unemployed, the further away from the labour market they will drift as they lose their confidence and self-esteem, their skills become dated and their talents go to waste. The strategy must prevent the injustice and indignity of unemployment, as well as offering young people a route back into work, with new measures to create new opportunities.
Many of those measures are voluntary, such as asking firms to take on staff when they receive Government contracts or encouraging firms to make voluntary opportunities available. Voluntary action is welcome, but it has its limits. My focus today is squarely on Government action that is guaranteed to help.
Members on all sides of the chamber will know of cases in which apprenticeships have been interrupted due to redundancies and jobs have been lost while employers, who are still struggling with the costs of the downturn, are left feeling too anxious to take anyone else on. The model that we have in this country for delivering modern apprenticeships ties a placement to a job, but in the current economic climate it is an investment that many employers cannot afford to make.
I advise the minister to look at alternatives that might work better in the current economy, such as the skillseekers model, which transfers the risks and responsibilities associated with taking on an apprentice to training providers. Those training providers, with their expertise in the field, could administer training allowances, identify suitable placements and give apprentices one-to-one support within a framework set by SDS, which would relieve the burden on employers.
Young people who cannot find work now have to be trained so that they can take advantage of the new opportunities that become available when the economy improves. Many in the training sector doubt that the market has the capacity to deliver that training under the existing model.
On the broader issue of how we encourage employers to recruit young people at this time, I ask the Government to look again at job subsidies, and consider again the merits in Scottish Labour’s proposal for a future jobs fund. The introduction of community jobs Scotland is a welcome development, but as it does not extend beyond the voluntary sector—as my party has suggested that it should—small businesses and other employers cannot access the cash.
I urge the minister to ensure that the new policies that have been announced since the Government reshuffle—such as the roll-out of activity agreements and the my work coach initiative—complement rather than compete with the life skills and get ready for work programmes. New ideas are welcome, but the minister must ensure that her budget adds value to the schemes and courses that are already in place, instead of diluting the national training programme further.
Activity agreements might work for some young people who are completely disengaged and have multiple barriers to work, but they will not work for all and will not work while the quality of the agreements differs from one council area to another, with no overarching framework to ensure fair and consistent high standards throughout Scotland. In some cases, an agreement is found to be honoured if there is only two hours of contact per week between the young person and an adviser, whereas the life skills programme—which is also aimed at some of the hardest-to-reach young people—requires a minimum of 15 hours of contact per week.
Does the minister accept that activity agreements should be regarded not as a positive destination, but as a transition towards the life skills and get ready for work programmes? Will she explain how she intends to roll out activity agreements throughout Scotland with a budget of £4 million when the Government allocated a total budget of £12.3 million to the pilots, which covered only 10 of Scotland’s 32 councils?
I totally support one-to-one work coaching but we need details about how the my work coach programme will be implemented. Why has SDS been chosen as the vehicle to deliver work coaching? Where will the work coaches be recruited from and how will they be deployed?
The Government already supports coaching through the national training programme. I repeat my point that we should listen to training providers and add value to such programmes, because that is a better way of ensuring that Scotland’s young people are job ready.
- George Adam (Paisley) (SNP):
I welcome the youth employment strategy and congratulate the minister on her new role and the work that she has done so far in it. I wish her all the best for the future. I have known Angela Constance for many years and there is no doubt in my mind about her social conscience when it comes to the issues on hand.
A level of maturity is needed in this debate. To be fair, it has been demonstrated. John Park, in particular, was a perfect example. He was constructive and got the correct tone for the debate.
Margaret McCulloch mentioned modern apprenticeships. In sectors such as construction, apprentices who are in their second or third year can be affected by redundancy. I have had to deal with that as a local member. I have mentioned the case before in the Parliament but, luckily, I can announce that I managed to get the apprentices concerned jobs within the local authority. I asked the local authority to take on responsibility for them, although they obviously had to go through the full interview process.
We must have the political will to do that and we must ensure that the local authority and any other partner organisation are willing to take that forward. The minister has made it clear that the Scottish Government will work with any group, company, organisation or individual to support Scotland’s young people, and the Government has provided £30 million for training, work or education.
In the Renfrewshire Council area, Reid Kerr College has spent millions of pounds on its construction skills subject area to ensure that it can retrain people. Margaret McCulloch said that some people’s skills become dated, and she is quite right. They can become dated and outmoded, but people can retrain. For example, electricians can be trained to become part of the renewables industry. That training gives people, including self-employed individuals, a chance, but it is also mainly for young people.
We must work with everyone that we possibly can and ensure that we make an all-Scotland effort to increase youth employment. It is important for partners and stakeholders to help as well, and local authorities have a major part to play in that.
I will be slightly party political at this point. SNP-led Renfrewshire Council is helping young people in its budget this year by investing £2.5 million to fund the creation of 250 subsidised jobs, 1,300 training places and the opportunity for 800 young people to develop the work skills.
I asked the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth a question about that. He congratulated Renfrewshire Council on that approach and said that other local authorities should consider such investment as a way forward. That scheme would, of course, cover 16 to 24-year-olds. In effect, it would mean the Scottish Government working with 16 to 19-year-olds and the local authority working in its area with everyone else.
That is an example of a local authority working together with the national Government on its commitment to an education place or modern apprenticeship for all 16 to 19-year-olds.
As a parent in Renfrewshire, I find all that quite good. It just happens that my son and daughter are 18 and 20, so it helps them—I may have to declare an interest in that. In all that, along with the Scottish Government’s youth employment strategy, it is extremely important that we work with the stakeholders to ensure that we supply what businesses, local authorities and third sector organisations want from young people to move things forward.
As the minister mentioned, it is extremely important that we get younger people’s involvement at every level of government, whether it be through herself within this place or through community planning partnerships out in the community. I have always striven locally to get younger people involved and engaged in the political process. I agree with Chic Brodie that it would be of benefit if we gave 16 and 17-year-olds the opportunity to vote and decide on all these issues. When we empower people, they give something back and want to get involved.
We have disagreed today, but there has also been a positive tone in the debate. We should talk up the abilities of and opportunities for Scotland’s young people, showing the vision and promoting the possibilities for their future. We must provide a vision, not just a wish-list of things that we want to do because, as some Labour members have mentioned, what is important is not what we do in here, but what happens out there in the public with all our young people.
We must ensure that our young people receive support and have opportunities to get jobs for life. The debate should be conducted with maturity and should provide vision. Scotland needs independence to tackle the issue in its entirety, but we live in the here and now and, as the Scottish Government has mentioned, we have worked within the existing constraints and there are ways in which we can do things. The Scottish Government’s vision has shown the way forward. We could talk about this all day but, as I said, we are not important—the reality of young people’s lives outside this parliamentary bubble is. I have faith that the minister will ensure that the strategy makes a difference for all Scotland’s young people.
- Margaret McDougall (West Scotland) (Lab):
I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. We should make no mistake: in Scotland, we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to youth unemployment. According to the document, more than 100,000 18 to 24-year-olds are out of work—little wonder that so many young people feel that they have no hope and no future. North Ayrshire has a youth unemployment rate of 30.3 per cent, which is one of the highest rates in the country, although the council is doing everything that it can to reverse the trend. For example, it is directly employing twice as many apprentices this year—a total of 90—as well as subsidising local employers who take on young people and providing mentoring schemes to help young people into work. However, it is restricted in what it can do because of the Government cuts of 23 per cent over the next three years. What additional specific support is being given to councils in areas of extremely high youth unemployment?
I welcome the publication of the Government’s youth employment strategy. Worryingly, however, I found at least three instances in the document of the Government making a veiled reference to separatism. The document is not the place to promote the SNP’s separatist agenda and I find that extremely disrespectful to the youth of Scotland. The Parliament should focus on what it can do now, not on what it might be able to do in the future if it had more responsibilities. We need positive action now to eradicate youth unemployment. For a start, the Scottish Government could reverse the £33.3 million of cuts in one year that amount to 6 per cent of college budgets. Those cuts are counterproductive when we are trying to tackle youth unemployment. I acknowledge the announcement of further funding for support for students but ask whether that will be targeted specifically at colleges in areas of high unemployment.
We need to invest in young people and equip them with the right skills so that they can progress in the workplace and make a contribution to Scottish society. Young people are not a homogeneous group, so I am glad that the strategy document recognises that. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. We need a range of options, from apprenticeships to college and university places. We need to work with the public, private and third sectors and the UK Government to tackle the issue head on and reverse the current trend.
The commitment to 25,000 modern apprenticeships this year is a start. However, when I submitted written questions to ask what progress had been made towards meeting the target, I was referred to Skills Development Scotland, which told me that I would have to wait until April 2012 for the figures to be collated. As far as I am concerned, that is not an acceptable response.
We need an emphasis on the retention of apprentices after their apprenticeship is finished, so that people feel valued, rather than just a temporary stopgap for an employer, which an apprenticeship can often feel like. I suggest that a fair employment commission be established to oversee employer activity, investigate complaints and take enforcement action against rogue employers.
We should look to all three sectors to steadily increase the rate of apprenticeships and ensure that funding is in place for that to happen. The Tories in Westminster have done us no favours by abolishing the future jobs fund, which helped to get young people back into work.
I welcome the minister’s announcement that funding for the community jobs Scotland scheme will continue beyond March this year and run until 2013, but it should go further. The scheme has been extremely successful and has created 2,000 positions. According to the SCVO, 1,356 jobs have been filled, 132 are at interview stage and a further 512 positions are waiting to be filled. That shows the capacity that the third sector has to deliver. Therefore, I support the extension of the scheme and would welcome an increase in its future funding to the level for the current year.
To solve this crisis—and it is a crisis—we need all sectors, bodies and Governments to come together to develop innovative solutions and strategies. We need to ensure that apprenticeships remain in place, and we must increase their number across all sectors. We need continued investment in the community jobs scheme. We need to reverse the damaging and punitive cuts to the college sector to ensure that our young people develop the proper skills for today so that they can take Scotland forward into the future.
- Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green):
I welcome the youth employment strategy, as action to address the startling number of young unemployed people is essential. I also welcome the fact that we have a dedicated minister to drive that work forward. As has been mentioned, the number of 18 to 24-year-olds claiming jobseekers allowance for at least 12 months has doubled in the past six months and has increased by more than 225 per cent in the past 12 months. We have heard about the social and economic costs of long-term unemployed young people becoming long-term unemployed adults. There are personal costs, such as the effect on people’s confidence, and costs to their families and wider relationships.
We all know and agree that the issue must be tackled, and there is cross-party consensus on the urgency that is required. We have heard about support for new jobs, skills mismatches and the impact of funding cycles when third sector expertise is used not to deliver outcomes, but to seek funding extensions. I will offer some practical ideas to help.
A recent survey that was commissioned by Elizabeth Finn Care suggested that access to public transport is a major barrier to people finding work. Of the 1,110 people who were surveyed, about 40 per cent expressed serious concerns that linked limited public transport and transport costs to finding job opportunities. Elizabeth Smith highlighted the fact that all policies are interlinked. In the current jobs market, the provision of an affordable and attractive public transport system will remove a major structural barrier and must be a useful thing that the Government can do. I have written to the minister suggesting that approach. The youth employment strategy recognises the importance of maintaining local access to colleges, but the ability to get to your job or place of learning reliably and affordably is important.
The second practical issue that I want to raise is the fact that some young people need help with application forms. As members will be aware, most job-seeking young people maintain a curriculum vitae, but employers often ask applicants to fill out an application form. The feedback that I have received suggests that the forms are often not as universally accessible as they might be and that they work differently on different computers. Completing large sections of the forms involves time-consuming and repetitive copying and pasting or the rewriting of information from a CV on to the form.
This may seem a minor issue, but the young people to whom I have spoken have convinced me that it is making it more difficult in some cases for them to apply for jobs, especially when they are desperately keen to complete and send off as many applications as possible every week. Several people have told me that on occasion they have simply been unable to complete an application form, which was entirely unusable with the limited access that they had to information technology.
Members can be assured that they are determined young people whose frustration at such processes adds to the on-going stress that they feel as they try to find their own productive role in society. I can understand that employers want to ensure that they get all the information that they need, but a universal approach would be helpful. I would be grateful if the minister could explore what the Government can do to assist in that regard.
We have talked much about support for education in the debate. I recently met college students in Edinburgh who raised issues such as reduced tutorial time and cuts to higher English courses. They were also keen to help their fellow students and spoke about broadening awareness among the student body of credit unions as well as of the astronomically high rates that are offered by pay day lending companies that were appealing to some of their fellow students who are struggling on tight budgets. I would welcome any action that the minister might take to increase awareness of appropriate financial assistance for young people.
I met, too, the first wind turbine apprentices in Scotland. Their belief in the value of what they are doing and the part that they will play in Scotland’s low-carbon economy was clear. There is no doubt that their skills will be in great demand. They were largely young men, but there are encouraging signs that young women, too, are keen to take up places on that course.
Barnardo’s has raised the issue of the even greater difficulties that are faced by young people leaving care. I welcome the minister’s comment regarding that group and look forward to learning more of the proposals in that regard.
There is a wider point about how we value work and volunteering. Concerns were expressed at the most recent meeting of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on children and young people that job centres are not supporting young people who want to volunteer. There were stories of staff refusing to accommodate volunteering placements when arranging meetings. As members will know, such placements can offer a pathway into paid employment that will provide the stability and finance that those people need to build a successful future. I would welcome action on that, too.
- Mary Scanlon (Highlands and Islands) (Con):
First, I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests.
By and large, the tone of the debate has been constructive. I particularly welcomed the speeches by John Park, Liam McArthur and Alison Johnstone, which I thought were highly constructive. I have congratulated Graeme Dey previously on completing a whole speech without mentioning a separate Scotland. I am afraid that I cannot congratulate anyone today in that regard. I listened carefully, but Jamie Hepburn, George Adam and Paul Wheelhouse squeezed in that reference in the dying seconds of their speeches. Alex Salmond would be very proud of them.
We very much welcome having a dedicated minister for this area and look forward to regular updates from Angela Constance. We also welcome the regional youth employment events, because it is important that the issue is not centralised. The work with the private sector and chambers of commerce is welcome, as is the £2.5 million challenge fund for social enterprises, for which I have tremendously high regard; they can do a wonderful job in helping to get people into employment.
Many factors underpin employment and there are as many types of unemployment, which are set against the background of huge uncertainty and huge national debt across the euro zone countries. The UK Government is to be congratulated on facing up to its responsibilities in tackling the debt and reducing waste and duplication in the public sector. Unlike nine euro zone countries that have lost their AAA rating due to their inability to put in place economic and fiscal measures to address their deficit, the UK retains the top rating. European economies and markets will recover only when the debt crisis is resolved and output, demand and employment growth reverse the current slowdown.
- Chic Brodie:
Will the member give way?
- Mary Scanlon:
No, if the member does not mind. I might let him in later, but I would like to make progress.
Scotland’s unemployment rate has been higher than the UK rate for 13 consecutive months.
The new Minister for Youth Employment is welcome to her post because, under the SNP, youth unemployment rose from 11 per cent in the first quarter of 2008 to 23.5 per cent in October 2011. The rate has more than doubled since the SNP came to office, although, to be fair, youth unemployment has been rising since 2004, which was well before the recession.
The topic of employability constantly crops up in researching the subject. The point has been made that the three essentials for a modern, progressive workforce are the right skills, the right knowledge and the right attitude. For young people without the right attitude, there is no better place to be than in further education classrooms with mature students who have suffered the hardship of unemployment, a lack of suitable job skills and experience, and jobs with long hours and low pay. Mature students’ focus and no-nonsense approach to learning can soon change negative attitudes to work, training and learning.
I hope that the minister will address the issue of employability, as we seem to have got things right in our universities, but not in our schools. In fact, the unemployment level for graduates from Scottish universities is lower than the UK level, and graduates from Scottish universities have the highest rate of positive destinations, including employment, further study, and a combination of work and further study. Graduates from Scottish universities also start with a higher average salary within a year of graduation than graduates in the rest of the UK.
The Smith group report states that Scottish education is still too rigid and focuses too much on preparing students for university and college. I listened carefully to the minister, and I hope that the closer working with the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning will bring improvements in outcomes at school. Youth unemployment should not be tackled only when people become a statistic. I think that John Park said that issues should be tackled when people fall out of work, but it is critical to get people into work in the first place.
According to the Scottish survey of achievement, one in six Scottish pupils is leaving primary school without being functionally literate. That is 17 per cent of 12-year-olds. It is worrying that while 75 per cent of pupils in primary 3 are able to meet the required standard in maths at that level, the figure drops to 40 per cent in S2. With more than half of Scottish school leavers finishing school without achieving a single higher, surely it is time to look more closely at better integration of schools and further education colleges.
Jamie Hepburn talked about the resource to FE colleges since 2007. I was a bit surprised that he raised that matter. I have checked with the Scottish Parliament information centre. I asked whether it could confirm the further education cut following yesterday’s announcements. That cut is not £33 million; it is £33.3 million. A lot of figures have been going around in recent days, but if anyone wants to challenge the figure, the further education cut is £33.3 million.
- Jamie Hepburn:
The point that I was trying to make was that investment since the Administration came to office to 2014-15 is 40 per cent higher than it was under the previous two Administrations. I ask Mary Scanlon to reflect on the fact that the cuts are emanating from her Government.
- Mary Scanlon:
I listened carefully to what the member said and I could not understand why, at a time when 105,000 youths are unemployed in Scotland, and given the increases in recent years to put youth unemployment at its highest, his Government has cut funding for FE colleges by £33 million.
I welcome the Welfare Reform Bill and the support that it gives people for two years to get into work. I support the amendment in the name of Liz Smith.
- Ken Macintosh (Eastwood) (Lab):
Almost every contribution this afternoon has made it clear that we all take youth employment very seriously and there is a lot of common ground on which we can work together. That is certainly the approach that we wish to take. It is in the nature of political debate that it often focuses on weaknesses and criticism, but any criticism should be taken as constructive and not as overt hostility.
In that vein, I repeat our welcome to the minister. We welcome not just her appointment and the recognition that it gives to the jobs crisis that Scotland faces, but the launch of a strategy that has £30 million in resources to invest. I believe that we are making progress simply by describing the scale of the challenge that faces young people in Scotland today. Kezia Dugdale made that point in her opening speech, and the minister responded to her and clarified the issue, although I note that the minister was careful to avoid using the word “crisis”; she always talks about difficulties and challenges. We still seem to agree that the country faces a formidable difficulty.
One hundred thousand young people are out of work in Scotland. That is 100,000 individuals who are seeking employment and looking to their Government for help. The cost to our economy and society of maintaining such high levels of unemployment is immense. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations in England, which has established a commission on youth unemployment, has estimated that the benefits bill will be more than £4 billion this year, with more than £10 billion being lost in economic output.
The real costs of youth unemployment go far beyond the financial. Unemployment, particularly if it is without hope, takes a huge emotional toll on young people. In some cases, they face a downward spiral into depression, poverty and even drug addiction. Those of us who remember the 1980s know that we still live with the damage that was done to our society in a time when unemployment was a price worth paying. Estates in our cities and sometimes whole towns and villages bear the scars of mass unemployment and still have a sense of hopelessness and poverty of ambition.
- John Finnie (Highlands and Islands) (SNP):
Given the member’s awareness of the 1980s, how does he respond to Alistair Darling saying that he would have made cuts that would have been deeper and more savage than that?
- Ken Macintosh:
Alistair Darling was being realistic in the face of a worldwide recession. At no point did he say that we should use the power of the state to crush the unions and destroy our steel-making industry and so on. He was making a completely different point, which has been misinterpreted by a Government that has just passed a budget that will put thousands of people out of work. I do not want to strike an overly party-political note, but lots of members have said that today and have then gone on to do so. This is a difficult time and I suggest that members in glass houses should not throw stones.
The director of the Scottish Drugs Forum has said that we need to learn lessons. The focus of our debate and public discussion has been on unemployment, but it is worth mentioning the related problems of underemployment and unfair employment that can accompany joblessness. Wage freezes, overtime bans and other cutbacks are adding to the number of working poor in this country. That can give rise, in turn, to feelings of resentment and social tension.
Just this week, Citizens Advice Scotland produced a report on fair employment that highlights an increase in poor working practices. Employers are under pressure to reduce costs while workers put up with bad conditions for fear of losing their jobs. That is part of a vicious cycle that is created by downwards pressure in the economy. I am sure that there is unanimity among members that the best way to counter it is to create a virtuous cycle of economic growth, just as we need, where possible, to get people to pay taxes rather than claim benefits. We need to shift the emphasis from state intervention trapping people in welfare dependency towards subsidising their employment.
The community jobs scheme is a move in that direction, as I have suggested before. I understand that the scheme’s impact and value have yet to be fully assessed, but I am pleased that the Government has agreed to continue it, with a view to making further improvements.
The minister announced that £6 million of her £30 million would be used on the scheme. What is less clear is how the Government intends to use the rest of that money to tackle youth unemployment. The money is welcome but, as I said in yesterday’s debate, my concern is that we should not have a series of initiatives. Margaret McDougall put it well—I am sorry; I mean Margaret McCulloch. I am confusing my Margarets again. Margaret McCulloch put it well: the budget needs to add value to programmes that are already in place.
All Governments of all hues are prone to initiativitis and Scotland is a world expert in projects—a little money here and a pilot scheme there. The enterprise zones could be a good example of that. They are welcome in select areas, but the evidence is that they displace jobs rather than truly create them. When Adam Ingram asked a question last week about the job creation or displacement effect of enterprise zones, I was a bit concerned by the answer from the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth, who said:
“At this stage it is not possible to quantify the number of jobs that might be created in Scotland’s enterprise areas.”—[Official Report, 2 February 2012; c 6064.]
The same argument applies to the so-called public health levy. A letter from the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers says:
“we believe that the levy has been set far too high at a level which will seriously endanger the terms and conditions of employment of existing staff, the level of employment in the stores affected and future investment and jobs”,
yet the measure’s impact on jobs has not been assessed.
Despite today’s strategy, I am slightly anxious about whether employment and tackling unemployment are central to the Government’s thinking, even in its own economic policies. Perhaps the best example of that is from the cuts to our colleges’ budgets. There is no getting away from the contrast between talking about the importance of youth employment on the one hand and cutting tens of millions from Scotland’s colleges on the other. Many members—including Liz Smith, Liam McArthur and my colleague Siobhan McMahon—have made that point. Siobhan McMahon suggested that such action reveals the gap between the rhetoric and reality, but—like many other members—she also cited examples of good practice that is taking place in areas such as Falkirk and North and South Lanarkshire.
Many members took a consensual tone. Even Christina McKelvie and Jamie Hepburn promised that they would do that, although they struggled to maintain that promise. Jamie Hepburn tried to make a rather disparaging point about North Lanarkshire Council’s £1.5 million. As John Pentland has helpfully passed me a copy of the Wishaw Press, I point out in the interests of accuracy that the figure is £15 million, which is a more substantial contribution.
- Jamie Hepburn:
I have right here the front page of the Cumbernauld News & Kilsyth Chronicle, which refers to £1.7 million. That is what I was talking about, Mr Macintosh.
- Ken Macintosh:
I counter with the Wishaw Press, which refers to £15 million—take that, Mr Hepburn.
Many members have commented on John Park’s speech, which raised an important point about apprenticeships. We have had a big discussion about who created the apprenticeships in Scotland. Leaving that aside, an important issue is the number of apprenticeships that are available and the age groups to which they are available.
- The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick):
The member needs to start winding up.
- Ken Macintosh:
I quite liked Chic Brodie’s analysis, although not necessarily his conclusions. He talked about the entrepreneurial spirit in Raploch. He also talked about throwing down gauntlets and slaying dragons in relation to going to university—his speech was of a medieval bent.
I have not been able to talk about the role of the public and voluntary sectors, to which Liam McArthur and my colleague Kezia Dugdale referred, or about the important role not just of big procurement projects but of helping sole traders—architects, graphic designers and so on—who sometimes struggle to access tenders because of their turnover and size.
- The Presiding Officer:
The member must wind up now.
- Ken Macintosh:
We have a long way to go in tackling the employment crisis, but all parties have shown their willingness to seek the elusive goal of the full-employment society.
- Angela Constance:
The debate has been a somewhat curious mix of the collegiate and the constructive, but it has inevitably dipped now and again into feisty exchanges. I suppose that we are all politicians and we just cannae help ourselves.
I have enjoyed every member’s speech. Maybe I did not agree with every word that every member uttered but, overall, every member who spoke did so positively. There have been many suggestions and many invitations for me to take members up on. I am glad that the regional events on youth employment have been welcomed, and I am keen to have member involvement in them.
I am never one to deny the breadth or depth of a problem. I think that the fact that 105,000 young Scots between the ages of 16 and 24 are unemployed speaks for itself—it shouts loudly. It is not possible to diminish or repackage that fact in any way. I reassure Kezia Dugdale that there are no hidden statistics. We capture the over-18s who do not present to the job centre, because our measures are based on the labour force survey, which relies on young people declaring that they are unemployed. That is why the unemployment rate for young people between the ages of 16 and 24 is 24.7 per cent, not the 6.6 per cent claimant count. I believe that Skills Development Scotland does a good job in tracking young people who do not find positive destinations.
I am clear about the fact that, if we are to overcome what I call a national challenge—others can call it a national crisis, but at the end of the day that is semantics—when we talk about young people and how we will overcome the challenges that they face and improve their prospects for the future, our narrative must be solution focused and positive. Therefore, I have difficulty with some of the language and the discourse around the idea of a lost generation. I will not lie down to the politics of despair because, fundamentally, I do not believe that there is any member of the Parliament, regardless of our political differences, who will stand by and allow there to be another lost generation. I know that across the chamber, regardless of party politics, there is a collective memory of the 1980s and I, for one, am not going back there. If Mary Scanlon will forgive me for dipping into feisty political comments, I will not take any lectures from the Conservatives on youth or adult unemployment.
At a basic level, the purpose of the youth employment strategy is to ensure that across Government, and across the public and private sectors, we are all on the same page, are all facing in the right direction and are all determined to do the right thing—to defend our young people. The strategy is not a glossy document, nor is it “War and Peace”—that is deliberate.
The same is true of the Government’s motion. I deliberately penned a motion that was straight to the point, in the hope, I suppose, that members across the chamber would welcome that. Normally, Government motions are criticised for being long-winded and for bragging about all our achievements. For the record, I could oblige by mentioning the 300,000 training opportunities that the Government has delivered, the 46,500 training opportunities that we will deliver year in, year out for the lifetime of the session and, not least, the 25,000 modern apprenticeships, the 14,500 training places and the 7,000 flexible training opportunities, as well as the opportunities that will be created by community jobs Scotland.
- Neil Findlay (Lothian) (Lab):
The minister may be aware that I wrote to her in early December about a training project in my area that had to close through lack of funding. When will I get a reply from the minister and a meeting?
- Angela Constance:
I am pleased to tell Mr Findlay that I am always delighted for members of any political party to write to me about the specifics of what is happening in their community, not least when it is about the constituency that I represent.
Mr Findlay will be aware that the project in question suffered not at the hand of this Government, but at the hand of a Government elsewhere, which took away the funding. However, he should not worry—the letter is, indeed, in the post.
My issue with the Labour Party amendment, at a practical level, is that it deletes half of my factual and straight-to-the-point motion and then largely reiterates what is already in the youth employment strategy. I would have preferred a more collegiate, upfront recognition of the fact that, despite the bluster that we all participate in, we will stand shoulder to shoulder with our young people and do the right thing.
- Kezia Dugdale:
As a matter of record, the Labour Party will vote for the SNP’s motion. If the minister cannot vote for our amendment, will she comment on my suggestion about addressing the one-year funding cycles, which choke progress around youth unemployment?
- Angela Constance:
I welcome Kezia Dugdale’s constructive contribution. I would have been more inclined to support the Labour Party’s amendment if it had included some of the positive suggestions by its back benchers. Siobhan McMahon spoke passionately about her concerns and her interest in young people seeking work who are on the autistic spectrum. Her point is that we could do far more to better link the good work that is articulated in the autism strategy with the youth employment strategy—[Interruption.]
- The Presiding Officer:
I am sorry, minister, but there is far too much noise in the chamber. Members who are coming into the chamber to vote should pay the minister the courtesy of being silent so that she can continue her speech.
- Angela Constance:
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
This Government—and, I hope, this Parliament—is in this for the long haul. I am aware that, when all-age unemployment was at 4 per cent, youth unemployment was at 14 per cent.
We should not allow there to be any collective amnesia about another issue that was touched on at the start of the debate, which was that, in 1999, when the Parliament opened, youth unemployment was 64,000 and, in 2007, before this Government’s predecessors left, it was 62,000. I hope that the Labour Party can forgive my scepticism about its talk about full employment, because no Labour Government—either in Scotland or in the United Kingdom—has ever delivered full employment, either for young people or anyone else. [Interruption.]
Those Labour Party front benchers who are heckling from the back of the chamber and spend more time attacking an SNP Scottish Government than they do fighting the Tories will probably find that it will be they who will be spending more time on the back benches, not I.
We will all participate in the political bluster, because we all feel passionate about our country. However, at a fundamental level, I believe that our young people have the right to work, and I believe that they will have the right to vote for a Parliament that can deliver that right to work. I will take no lessons from members of the Opposition who complain about the actions or inaction of this Government, when they would rather have us sit back and quietly accept our pocket money from Westminster or try to fight for the economic interests of our young people with one hand tied behind our back.
On that note, I will take my seat, with an assurance to Kenneth Macintosh that I very much look forward to becoming, on behalf of this Parliament, that expert on procurement who will be absolutely dedicated to shaking down every available opportunity for our young people.