Clause 26 — Employment support

Scotland Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:45 pm on 30th June 2015.

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Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment) 4:45 pm, 30th June 2015

I beg to move amendment 120, page 27, line 22, leave out from beginning to “for” in line 23 and insert “Arrangements”.

Amendments 120, 121 and 122 make provision for the Scottish Parliament to have power to legislate on arrangements for employment support programmes.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 121, page 27, leave out lines 27 to 29 and insert—

“(b) assisting persons (including persons claiming reserved benefits) who are unemployed or at risk of long-term unemployment to select, obtain and retain employment”.

Amendments 120, 121 and 122 make provision for the Scottish Parliament to have power to legislate on arrangements for employment support programmes.

Amendment 113, page 27, line 29, leave out

“where the assistance is for at least a year”.

This would allow the provision of employment programmes where assistance is for less than a year. The Scottish Government could develop support programmes for those who repeatedly move in and out of short periods of work, or admit people to the Work Programme early.

Amendment 122, page 27, line 34, leave out “another person” and insert

“a person other than the person making the arrangements”.

Amendments 120, 121 and 122 make provision for the Scottish Parliament to have power to legislate on arrangements for employment support programmes.

Amendment 9, page 27, line 36, after “person”, insert

“in conjunction with the local authority”.

Amendment 114, page 27, line 39, at end insert—

“(b) provision of support for disabled persons in the form of non-repayable payments to enable them to access employment, remain in employment, or move into self-employment or start a business.”

This amendment provides for the devolution of the Access-to-work scheme.

Amendment 10, page 27, line 41, at end insert “and

(d) temporary jobs paid at least the national minimum wage providing a route back into further work.”

Clauses 26 to 30 stand part.

New clause 43—Job search and support

In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998, omit Section H3 (job search and support).”

This new clause would devolve employment support programmes to the Scottish Parliament.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Amess. I am delighted that we have support for the amendments from our friends in the Labour party. As the SNP spokesperson on fair work and employment, I rise to speak up for the many who will look to the Scotland Bill to deliver on Smith and give the Scottish Parliament the tangible new powers so trumpeted by those on the Government Benches.

We on the SNP Benches find the powers on offer today sadly lacking, and I am disappointed to see the lack of willingness to accept any SNP amendments. Smith was clear on the devolution of employment programmes. He said:

“"The Scottish Parliament will have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted by DWP (which are presently delivered mainly, but not exclusively, through the Work Programme and Work Choice) on expiry of the current commercial arrangements. The Scottish Parliament will have the power to decide how it operates these core employment support services. Funding for these services will be transferred from the UK Parliament in line with the principles set out in paragraph 95.”

However, the Scottish Parliament Devolution (Further Powers) Committee, in its interim report on the draft Scotland Bill clauses, considered at paragraph 335 that

“the clauses as currently drafted do not fully implement the Smith Commission recommendations. The Committee considers that the Smith Commission intended that all employment programmes currently contracted by DWP should be devolved. Therefore, the Committee recommends that any future Bill should not place any restriction on the type of person receiving support or in regard to the length of unemployment any person has experienced. The Committee considers that this should include the devolution of the Access to Work Programme.”

At paragraph 337 the Committee recommended that

“the principles which will govern the operation of inter-governmental relations with regard to welfare, including employment support, should be placed in any future Bill devolving power in this area.”

The Committee expected that that would include the principles by which the Scottish and UK Parliaments could

“maintain scrutiny and oversight of the inter-governmental machinery with regard to welfare and employment support.”

The employment support clause, clause 26, as introduced, does not have any changes from the draft clauses. The UK Government have not, therefore, followed the views of the all-party Scottish Parliament Committee, on which there were Conservative members, and the Bill, as it stands, does not deliver on Smith.

There is no evidence of the respect agenda in the Bill. It is vital that the employment powers give Scotland the power to give Scottish solutions to Scottish challenges. It is not good enough to promise one thing in the Smith commission and then to come to this House with a Bill that does not live up to the promises made. Furthermore, the overwhelming mandate that the Scottish people have given the SNP indicates that they expect this Parliament to deliver beyond Smith. Smith is not the floor or the ceiling of our aspirations for the people of Scotland.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

The hon. Lady makes a compelling case for employment support to be devolved to Scotland, but does she agree that it needs to be devolved still further within Scotland so that local authorities in Scotland can develop work programmes to suit their needs? The needs of Glasgow, for example, are very different from the needs of the highlands.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point and I agree with him to some extent. We have had significant success with our Opportunities for All programme. He obviously has some insight into what I was going to say. I will come on to that later in my speech.

The people of Scotland deserve better. We need a streamlined system that looks holistically at how we support people back to work and what kind of employment they are offered, rather than the random approach that seems to take place much of the time at present. We need to look at people’s skill sets and expertise and what potential they have to offer. We hear much talk of aspiration from the Government Benches, yet the stream of people I have had through my door at constituency surgeries in Livingston in the past few weeks, concerned about benefit cuts and sanctions, suggests that the concept of aspiration and opportunity certainly did not make its way into this part of the Bill. If we are truly to give the unemployed opportunities through these programmes, the Scottish Parliament must have the powers it needs at its disposal, to tailor these programmes for those most in need.

As the devolution committee pointed out at paragraph 303, the original Scotland Act 1998 reserved employment policy. That included job search and support, with the exception of careers services and training for employment. Draft clause 22, which became clause 26 in the published Bill, set out further exceptions to the reservation in the 1998 Act: assisting disabled persons to select, obtain and retain employment, and assisting persons claiming reserved benefits who are at risk of long-term unemployment to select, obtain and retain employment, where the assistance is for at least a year.

However, a range of organisations expressed a view on whether the suggested clause delivered on the Smith agreement. At paragraph 306 Inclusion Scotland is quoted as saying in its written evidence:

“The Smith Commission proposes that ‘The Scottish Parliament will have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted by DWP.’ However, both the narrative and draft clauses appear to restrict this power to employment support schemes that last over a year. It is not clear why this restriction has been included and it appears to be a direct contradiction of the Smith Commission proposal.”

Inclusion Scotland argued that

“the most effective employment support schemes are short term schemes designed to identify the barriers preventing someone gaining employment and providing support, training and assistance to overcome these. If a scheme lasts for more than a year without supporting someone into employment, surely it has failed?”

Inclusion Scotland also pointed out that the UK Government also appear to have arbitrarily applied the reference to conditionality and sanctioning for universal credit to devolved employment support schemes, including the use of mandatory placements. It states:

“It is not clear how this is compatible with the Scottish Parliament having all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programme, for example if the Scottish Parliament determines that participation in such schemes should be voluntary.”

The Scottish Government’s view, presented to the devolution committee, was that the proposed clause fell short of implementing the Smith commission’s recommendations and that the Scottish Parliament should have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions. In a follow-up letter after giving evidence to the Committee, Deputy First Minister John Swinney stated:

“We strongly agree with the concerns about employment raised in evidence to the Committee. The main effect of Clause 22”— now clause 26—

“of the draft Scotland Bill suggested by UK Government is that it would devolve Work Programme and Work Choice only. We believe that devolution of employment support on this basis is inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of paragraph 57 of the Smith Commission report”.

The relationship between devolved and reserved powers and the two Governments is particularly important in relation to employment programmes. The importance of devolving those powers was highlighted by Jim McCormick of the Social Security Advisory Committee when he stated in evidence to the devolution committee:

“It strikes me that a revised work programme could help people at risk of long-term unemployment and disabled people into work and could support them in staying in work. Under the proposals, we might end up in a situation in which future public service providers in Scotland—which might be third sector providers—would be accountable to the Scottish Parliament for their financial performance and their programme performance but would still have to apply a conditionality system and a sanctions regime to those programmes.

As well as creating problems for claimants, that would create strange incentives for providers—it would create incentives for gaming and false reporting. That is a particularly jagged edge, because one thing that we know about the current social security system and the welfare reforms is that a tougher sanctions system has caused a great deal of difficulty for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. That jagged edge around conditionality is a particular cause for concern.”—[

Scottish Parliament Official Report


Devolution (Further Powers) Committee

, 19 February 2015; c. 15.]

In paragraph 311 of its report the devolution committee explored the interaction between reserved and devolved programmes

“particularly with regard to the DWP conditionality and sanctions regime remaining reserved”.

The report stated that that

“has been of particular concern to some of our witnesses.”

For example, John Dickie told the Committee that

“as far as working-age benefits are concerned, the current reserved conditionality and sanctions regime, which is undermining people’s attempts to move into work and towards the labour market, will still apply. That comes back to Jim McCormick’s point about the jagged edge between what we in Scotland might want to do differently in devolved employment programmes and the requirement for those programmes to work within a reserved benefits regime that too often imposes arbitrary conditions or conditions that are not helpful in supporting people to move into work and which imposes damaging sanctions on them when they fail to meet those conditions.”

That has been discussed widely today. John also stated that he hoped that we could

“reduce the number of inappropriate or arbitrary tasks that people have to undertake to meet the benefit requirements. However, there will be a limit to that, because the benefits regime will be as it is now—unless, of course, we manage to get it changed in the way that we want.”

If the Conservative Government continue to vote as they have done, we will certainly not get what we want and people will continue to be sanctioned in the most iniquitous way. We in the SNP want an end to the punitive and iniquitous benefit sanctions that disproportionately affect women and vulnerable people and often those with mental health problems. In a modern society such as ours, how can we justify, or indeed explain, nearly 150,000 sanctions being applied in Scotland, affecting nearly 85,000 individuals, including nearly 3,000 disabled people, between the end of 2012 and September 2014? If we want to help people to find a job, how is making them hungry and unable to pay Bills and increasing their debt supporting them to do that?

Professor David Webster has highlighted that the number of sanctions resulting from the Work programme is, sadly, considerably higher than the number of people obtaining jobs from it. In Scotland, 46,265 sanctions were applied between June 2011 and March 2014 because claimants failed to participate in the Work programme. During the same period, 26,740 job outcomes resulted from the Work programme. That is rather ironic and very sad.

Dame Anne Begg, the former Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, has said:

“Benefit sanctions are controversial because they withhold subsistence-level benefits from people who may have little or no other income. We agree that benefit conditionality is necessary but it is essential that policy is based on clear evidence of what works in terms of encouraging people to take up the support which is available to help them get back into work. The policy must then be applied fairly and proportionately. The system must also be capable of identifying and protecting vulnerable people, including those with mental health problems and learning disabilities.”

Turning to the Access to Work programme and the lack of clarity in this area, John Swinney said:

“In respect of Access to Work, we have asked the UK Government to clarify whether Access to Work will be devolved under clause 22”— now clause 26—

“and they have made clear their expectation that as this programme is a JobCentre Plus service to customers and not a contracted employment programme it will remain reserved.”

In response, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions explained that there were two different definitions because

“claimants need different types of support to enter the job market and that, in the early stages, some of this comes from Jobcentre Plus, which remains a reserved issue. In the longer-term, claimants are referred onto Work Programme or Work Choice and the aspects of the provisions to be devolved.”

In their response to the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee report, the Scottish Government made their view clear:

“Clause 26 of the Scotland Bill is inconsistent with the letter and spirit of paragraph 57 of the Smith Commission Heads Of Agreement”.

Scottish Ministers think the relevant clause of the Bill “contains limitations” that mean it does not deliver on Smith in full. Those limitations are that support can only be provided to, first, those at risk of long-term unemployment; secondly, those claiming reserved benefits; or, thirdly, for assistance lasting for at least one year.

The key policy point is that the way to tackle long-term unemployment is to intervene early. Indeed, one of our main criticisms of the current Work programme is the time people have to be unemployed before the programme is open to them. We wait until people are long-term unemployed—nine months for those up to 24, and 12 months thereafter—before acting, when we should act to support them into employment before they become long-term unemployed.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland 5:15 pm, 30th June 2015

The hon. Lady is making a marvellous speech about the devolution of the Work programme. I had a private Member’s Bill last year to devolve the Work programme not just to the Scottish Parliament but to the local authorities that are delivering many of the programmes. Would she go further and agree with double devolution down to local authorities?

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

I would certainly be interested in taking a closer look at that and discussing it with my colleagues. I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s intervention.

To deal with youth unemployment, that approach is supported by the EU. We are keen for the powers that we were promised to be delivered to Scotland. Delivery of those powers and agreement on our proposals today would help to create a more joined-up approach to employment service provision for disabled people, as well as for the many others who have been mentioned, and more integrated support for these vulnerable groups.

Although it is demand-led, the current DWP spend on Access to Work in Scotland is disproportionately low. The Scottish Government have previously stated that the programme should be devolved to allow us to promote a more equitable share of spend in Scotland and to get more disabled people into sustained employment.

In summary, it is not just the SNP that sees significant flaws in the Bill. Citizens Advice Scotland notes:

“The Smith Commission Report…provided that the Scottish Parliament should have powers over all employment programmes currently contracted by the DWP. However, Clause 26 of the Bill restricts the powers devolved to employment support programmes that last at least a year. It is unclear why this restriction has been included; the Bill as drafted would appear to only devolve the Work Programme and Work Choice; which is inconsistent with Smith. Clause 26 as currently drafted does not clearly devolve powers over the Access to Work Scheme.”

Both the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Scottish Association for Mental Health support the amendments, which serve to devolve all employment powers and functions to Scotland covering Access to Work, devolution of services and Jobcentre Plus.

In Scotland, with the limited powers we have, we have proven that we can make a difference to people’s lives. The SNP Scottish Government have done their best to mitigate the damage done by Westminster cuts to date, but time is running out. If we do not gain the powers that were promised, we cannot continue to protect the vulnerable and grow our economy.

We have an excellent track record on apprenticeships and training for young people. In 2007, just 15,000 people started modern apprenticeships. We are now delivering more than 25,000 of them, and we will increase the number to 30,000 by 2020. To reply to Andrew Gwynne, the Scottish Government’s Opportunities for All programme has also been a significant success, with more than 90% of young people going on to positive destinations. In my own county of West Lothian, the figure stands at more than 96%. We are glad to announce today that the Scottish Government has got its 250th business, a nursery in West Lothian, to sign up to the living wage.

The opportunity to work is one that the vast majority of people in Scotland seek. The SNP wants dignity in work for all, and I commend our proposals to the Committee.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I will speak particularly to amendments 113, 9, 114 and 10, and much of what I will say will echo what Hannah Bardell said about the devolution of employment programmes.

It is clear that there are different labour markets not just between England, Scotland and Wales but within those nations. That is why I echo the point that my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne made about the opportunity that our amendments and the SNP amendments offer not just for devolution to Scotland but for double devolution of labour market programmes within Scotland.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

As a Greater Manchester MP like myself, my hon. Friend will know that as part of the cities and devolution package, Greater Manchester will be invited to bid for the next phase of the Work programme. Does that not suggest that, as my hon. Friend Ian Murray said,double devolution is needed in Scotland so that communities can develop work programmes that are specific to them rather than centralised in Holyrood?

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I agree. The intention stated in the Labour manifesto was to devolve labour market programmes to what we described as a combined authority footprint. That would enable recognition of the fact that local labour markets differ and recognition of the different industrial history and characteristics of people in particular parts of the country. Importantly, it would allow close alignment with the skills and industrial opportunities in particular communities. We want to see that opportunity for the devolution of labour market programmes to a sensible, localised level; I doubt whether it would be the whole of Scotland, because labour markets differ significantly within Scotland. There are considerable differences between the highlands and the central belt conurbations, for example.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir SNP Chief Whip

I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady is saying, but does she not recognise the difficulties for an area such as my own, where unemployment is low but so are wages, and in which there are fairly prosperous parts as well as parts that are not prosperous? It is difficult to say that a local authority area is suitable for devolving responsibility down to.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I readily accept that a local authority area may be too small. What is important is to get the geography right, and the whole of Scotland might not be right. We want the opportunity to explore the right geography for devolution rather than assuming that centralising responsibility in Holyrood will necessarily be the best way of meeting the needs of labour markets across Scotland.

It is also important to recognise that devolving programmes only if they will last longer than a year misses the point for a lot of people who suffer poor employment outcomes. Our amendment 113 specifically addresses that point. Contrary to popular prejudice, it is extremely rare for people never to have worked. People who experience poor labour market outcomes have mostly been in and out of poor-quality, poorly paid work for many decades. That has often been true of many generations of their family. If we devolve the opportunity to develop labour market programmes to the Scottish Parliament at an earlier stage, we can break into that cycle not of worklessness but of moving in and out of poor-quality work. Interventions could be developed that would enable people to sustain work and progress in it, which the Work programme has not succeeded in doing.

Photo of Neil Gray Neil Gray Scottish National Party, Airdrie and Shotts

Is it not better for people to find the right job for them than to find just any job?

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

There is certainly good and long-standing evidence, for example from the United States, that if more time is invested in equipping people with the skills and qualifications they need to move into better jobs with better pay, they are more likely to get into sustainable employment that means they will escape poverty. A shocking characteristic of our labour economy is that people often move into work but do not escape poverty, thereby contributing to the very high levels of in-work poverty in this country today.

We would like earlier intervention and the opportunity to devolve programmes over a shorter period than 12 months. Amendment 10 would offer a replication of the successful future jobs fund that Labour introduced in the wake of the financial crash. The DWP’s own evaluation showed that fund to have been extremely effective, not just in rescuing people at that time of crisis when unemployment rose sharply, but because the long-term employment outcomes of those who went through that programme are significantly better than for those who were not offered that opportunity. The amendment offers the chance for the devolution and development of programmes such as the future jobs fund that the Scottish Parliament may be interested in developing.

I echo the comments of Hannah Bardell on the Access to Work programme. It is integral to the labour market chances of disabled people that they have the financial support afforded by that programme to enable any adjustments that may be necessary to allow them to participate in the workplace. That spans all levels of employment from entry-level to extremely senior jobs, and it is important that the Scottish Parliament has the opportunity to make the most of that fund.

Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West 5:30 pm, 30th June 2015

I was a Unison activist and I found that the Access to Work programme not only helps people get into work, but helps existing employees who develop a visual impairment, for example, to continue in employment. It is a device that helps people to stay in work, not just get into work.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

The hon. Gentleman is right. The Access to Work programme is a device to help people enter, stay in and progress in work, and it supports very senior people in highly qualified positions. It would be regrettable if changes to the programme were to put that at risk.

There could be real advantage to devolving Access to Work or similar programmes because the decision-making and administration processes might be swifter and more attuned to the needs of the local labour market and workforce with that level of devolution. Given the problems that we know are being experienced with the national programme—which appears quite inflexible in the way it deals with people—perhaps the measure could be devolved as part of this package.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Perhaps I should sit down and allow my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne to guess what might be in my speech—he could also give us Saturday’s lottery numbers while he is at it.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

He might not be that good. If he had won the lottery he would not be wearing that suit—I can be nasty to my own side, as well as to the SNP.

Clauses 26 to 30 are largely concerned with minor and technical changes to existing legislation. Amendment 113 would allow the provision of employment programmes where assistance is for less than one year. The reasoning behind that does not require much explanation, other than to point out that many people move jobs several times a year, especially in the current highly fluid labour market in which there is a dearth of long-term secure employment. Indeed, the labour market seems short-term and insecure with poorly paid work. Many people in part-time jobs are looking for full-time work, and many people are on zero-hours contracts.

The Smith agreement states that the Scottish Parliament

“will have all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes currently contracted to DWP”.

However, clause 26 currently restricts the powers devolved to employment support programmes that last at least a year. Amendment 113 would remove that restriction to allow the development of programmes to support those who move in and out of work within one year.

Amendment 9 emphasises that employment support programmes in Scotland must be developed in close conjunction with local authorities. That will ensure that service delivery is tailored to the needs and circumstances of local communities and is responsive to the local jobs market. In that regard, we are happy to support amendments 120, 121 and 122, which provide for the creation of new employment programmes in Scotland, on the understanding that they are developed and run in close conjunction with local authorities.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir SNP Chief Whip

Can the hon. Gentleman expand on the position of local authorities? I made the point to Kate Green about the nature of many local authorities in Scotland, which would make it slightly more difficult to devolve the issue to local authority level than in certain other areas.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I agree to a certain extent. In the area the hon. Gentleman represents, many of the local authorities are either incredibly small in population terms or incredibly large in geographical terms, and that would have its challenges. But many local authorities work together on many aspects of Scottish local government life. For example, Edinburgh works closely with Midlothian, a local authority that is smaller than my constituency. East Lothian, West Lothian and Fife also tend to work together on many issues. While we would like to see double devolution to local authorities, it does not necessarily mean to one individual authority. Many authorities would probably work together to try to make the best use of work programmes and job opportunities.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I will give way to my hon. Friend, who will probably tell me what I am about to say.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

I can tell him that the bonus ball will be 32.

The issue of local authorities is important. Of course, the Manchester example is not one single local authority: it is a combined authority of 10 metropolitan borough councils. It would also be possible in Scotland and other parts of the UK for local authorities to come together to bid for the work programmes.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I hope the bonus ball this week is not 32, otherwise we will be in trouble.

My hon. Friend is right: it is about local authorities working together. There is nothing wrong with saying that the Scottish Parliament has been a centralist Government—that is what happened as a result of the policies that were pursued. That is a legitimate choice for a Government to make. All we are suggesting is that perhaps some of the work programmes that would be best delivered by local authorities are sent to them. I know that my own local authority, Edinburgh, runs several highly successful programmes, such as the JET programme for young people and other programmes to get disabled people and others into work, and we should trust them to do that.

Photo of Eilidh Whiteford Eilidh Whiteford Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Social Justice and Welfare)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Opportunities for All programme, which was mentioned earlier, is a good example of a policy area in which the Scottish Government are working closely with local authorities to deliver services and opportunities for young people? Similarly, the Scottish welfare fund is another good example of a scheme administered and delivered by local authorities. When the hon. Gentleman talks about a centralist Government, he needs to remember that 90% of ring-fenced funding has been devolved to local authorities by the Scottish Government. He might want to take a look at Wales, where the Labour Government seem to want to abolish local authorities all together.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I did not want to turn this into a political argument: I merely wanted to point out that work programmes are best delivered by local authorities. If the Welsh Government have made the decision that they are best delivered in a different way, it is up to them. The hon. Lady highlights, however, that devolution across the UK provides an array of ways to deliver services, and I hope that the Scottish Government take note of this debate and consider whether we should have double devolution. The principle of subsidiarity across the European Union and the UK, which my hon. Friend Mr Allen promoted in his new clause, should sit happily and firmly with the Scottish Government and their relationship with local government.

Local government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities have said clearly that local authorities across Scotland feel that they have been strangled, and we need to address that important point.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir SNP Chief Whip

I am not trying to be difficult, but it seems to me that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment would provide that the Scottish Parliament “must” devolve the power to local authorities. It would not always be appropriate for a local authority—or even a group of local authorities—to have that power. If he wants to pursue devolution of such powers, more flexibility would be needed, and the amendment is flawed in that regard.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

In all the time I have known him, the hon. Gentleman has never been difficult. We are debating a Bill that we feel does not go far enough in spirit or substance. We want the Scottish Parliament to have more power. The hon. Gentleman, the Scottish National party Chief Whip, wants to hold on to that power with both hands. He does not want to release any of it but wants to keep it in Edinburgh and Holyrood, so he can build an ivory tower for Scotland. He does not want to give it to local authorities.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

I am delighted that I have been able to give the hon. Gentleman a little exercise by making him bounce up and down.

Photo of Michael Weir Michael Weir SNP Chief Whip

The hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords on many Bills. He is misrepresenting what I said—not deliberately, I am sure. As I read it, if the amendment is agreed to, that would mean an obligation to devolve to each individual local authority. That is not what he is saying now about a conglomeration of local authorities. The amendment is flawed; the idea behind it is not so flawed, but the way it is written is.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

We are in trouble: I cannot even persuade the people who agree with the broad principle, and I am trying to persuade the Government to accept the amendment. It may be badly drafted, but the hon. Gentleman knows how this place works. We table our amendments in Committee to press the Government to do something about a particular piece of legislation, and the Government ultimately reject them. Of the 87 amendments that I tabled to the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill, 87 were rejected, although I was delighted that four or five came back as the Government’s own ideas on Report. That is essentially what will happen. The Secretary of State said he would go away and reflect, and I am sure he will do just that—go away and reflect on the amendments he may be able to claim as his own, and those he will ultimately reject on Report.

I have a lot of time for Mike Weir. I put on the record that we agreed on most things when we crossed swords in other Committees, particularly with regard to the privatisation of Royal Mail and the Postal Services Bill. We do not always disagree.

The broad principle of double devolution—transferring powers from Holyrood to local communities—is one we should all support to ensure that we have powerhouse local authorities in Scotland and to place power closer to the people we seek to represent. It is a fairly obvious thing to say, but local authorities know their local jobs markets better than anyone else. The landscape of a jobs market in one local authority, or one conglomerate of local authorities, will be very different from others.

We should be looking to tailor employment support programmes not just to individual needs and individual community needs, but to areas where there will be a greater need for a certain skill set than in other areas. For example, my city is at the forefront of financial services and academia. Rural constituencies will be completely different. Local authorities would be able to tailor those programmes. Crucially, something we tend not to talk about in this House is not just transferring power but transferring the resources that go with it. Local authorities in Scotland are being completely starved of the resources they require to do the job we want them to do.

Hannah Bardell made a great speech. She said many things we would absolutely agree with. One glaring omission, however, was anything on retraining, education, further education and reskilling. Further education is not just the mechanism for young people to go back into education, or to be retrained or reskilled; it is the place where many people get a second chance. They are able to go back to something they perhaps failed at many years ago, or to retrain after having a family. Scotland is suffering from having 144,000 fewer college places than we did in 2007. That is hampering those second chances.

If the devolution of the Work programme does end up at the Scottish Parliament, I hope it ultimately ends up with local authorities.

Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

The hon. Gentleman is shaking his head, so it must be true. We would then be able to resolve the issue of the college places that have been lost.

Amendment 114 would provide for the devolution of the Access to Work scheme to the Scottish Parliament. Access to Work provides practical advice and support to disabled people, and their employers, to help them to overcome work-related obstacles resulting from disability. It is an incredibly powerful and important programme. A close friend of mine, Mark Cooper, who has cerebral palsy, has been on it for some time. He took a job that covered maternity leave in Glasgow, 45 miles away, and was able to work with the employer and the programme to travel to Glasgow and secure an adapted workplace.

None the less, Mark drifts in and out of employment because of his disability. The obstacles facing people with disabilities have to be overcome, and the devolution of the programme to local authorities would certainly allow it to be better tailored to local needs. Access to work is closely aligned with employment support, and several charities, including Inclusion Scotland and the Wise Group, are in favour of its devolution to Scotland.

Finally, amendment 10 would allow for the introduction of a jobs guarantee providing a temporary job paying at least the minimum wage to provide a route back into employment for young people or people who have been out of work for more than two years. It is similar to the jobs guarantee in our manifesto at the general election, and would allow us to devolve some of the responsibilities for getting young people back into long-term employment. Again, local authorities would be best placed to deliver that, despite the fact that the hon. Member for Angus thinks it a bad idea.

I hope the Government will reflect on some of these issues, as the Secretary of State said he would do, and, if they disagree to them today, come back on Report not just with the proper devolution of employment, disability and access to work schemes to the Scottish Parliament but with mechanisms to get them out of the hands of Edinburgh and into those of local authorities.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) 5:45 pm, 30th June 2015

I begin by commending the contributions not just on this group but throughout the day. It has been said that the Government are not doing as the Smith commission said we should. We are clear that the commission recommended that the UK Government devolve all powers specifically in relation to contracted employment programmes, but the amendments go well beyond that remit and would include the powers to operate support through Jobcentre Plus.

Beyond that, there are key reasons why the amendments do not work. First, there would be no clear demarcation of responsibilities between the Scottish and UK Governments around the provision of employment support. The UK Government would retain the Executive competence under existing legislation and could continue to operate employment programmes and Jobcentre Plus. This would create a confusing, disjointed and misaligned landscape of support that could hinder employment support as much as it helps move people back to work.

Clause 26 manages that risk by creating clear lines of accountability between those claimants for whom Scottish Ministers can create employment programmes and those who will continue to be supported through the Jobcentre Plus structure. In particular, it makes it clear that the Scottish Parliament can only provide employment support for claimants at risk of long-term unemployment where the assistance lasts at least a year and for disabled claimants likely to need greater support. It thereby draws a line between such schemes and the core functions of Jobcentre Plus, enabling a smooth delivery of an integrated welfare and benefits system and, importantly, resulting in a better service for claimants.

In the debate around the devolution of contracted employment programmes, there have been extensive discussions through the joint ministerial working group on welfare, which has played a key role in ensuring a seamless transfer of responsibility. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, these are ongoing discussions, and, importantly, officials are working to set up the right framework and ways of working. On the Work programme, our officials have had many meetings with Scottish Government officials on a range of aspects relating to the delivery of contracted employment support programmes. That engagement is good. It is concerned with how we can work together to develop integrated local support and the issue of Skills Development Scotland in jobcentres, which of course is going strong today.

I would like to touch on some of the other points raised in this debate. Hannah Bardell spoke about the current system for employment. The Government are delivering on the current system for welfare reform and it is working in Scotland, too, as demonstrated by record levels of men and women in employment. Importantly, they are providing more support for getting lone parents back to work. In Scotland, benefits reform has seen 2 million people back in work and employment continuing to rise. That is to be commended and supported. For our ongoing discussions at official and ministerial level, it is at the heart of what we are trying to achieve.

Amendment 113 applies to the matters that clause 26 will except from reservation for job search and support. Clause 26 delivers on the Smith commission agreement to give the Scottish Parliament the legislative competence to establish employment programmes that support disabled people and that offer long-term support to benefit claimants at the risk of long-term unemployment. I have no doubt that that is welcomed by all hon. Members. The amendments to clause 26 would have changed the scope of the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to allow for the provision of employment programmes for those at risk of long-term unemployment where assistance, as I have said, has been ongoing for less than one year.

We want to ensure that the employment landscape in Scotland is not confusing when it comes to the support structure in Scotland. Importantly, we want to ensure that Jobcentre Plus continues to deliver effectively for claimants, while also giving employers greater continuity in respect of the overall landscape.

I shall speak now to amendments 9, 10 and 114 collectively and show how clause 26 already covers many of the points raised by them. Amendment 9 is designed to add to the illustrative list of the ways in which the power to make arrangements for employer support might be used. Members will be pleased to hear that the list provided in the clause is purely illustrative and that it would be possible for the Scottish Government to work with local authorities and other partners and stakeholders to design and deliver employment programmes. The same applies to amendment 10, which is designed to add to the illustrative forms of the assistance that Scottish Ministers might provide under clause 26.

On the point about the devolution of the Access to Work programme, which is the subject of amendment 114, we have not sought unreasonably to limit the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. Non-repayable awards such as those provided through the Access to Work scheme are already covered in clause 26. As such, the Scottish Government can choose to introduce a similar form of support for disabled people additional to that provided by the Access to Work programme, should they wish to do so. Given that Access to Work is an integral element of the support we offer, let me be clear that this Government intend to continue the Access to Work provision in Scotland and will retain the associated funding.

I hope that my response has assured hon. Members that clause 26 fully enables the Scottish Parliament to make the provisions covered in amendments 9, 10 and 114 and has set out a clear rationale as to why the Access to Work programme will remain a reserved programme.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Fair Work and Employment)

We have had a fascinating debate, and it has been a pleasure to participate in it. It seems to me that there is much agreement across the Benches on this side of the House. Kate Green made some important points about tailoring work programmes in de-industrialised areas, and I certainly agree with much of what she said about West Lothian. Although Livingston is its name, it does not fully take into consideration the many former mining towns in my constituency. I well know the impact of de-industrialisation and the need for tailored work programmes there.

Ian Murray touched on the future jobs fund, and I would certainly be interested in looking further at how we can work together on that. The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston highlighted the importance she placed on it, and made it clear that she saw the importance of devolution.

My hon. Friend Chris Stephens spoke about his experience as a Unison representative, the importance of access to work for those with disabilities and how those who were already in work could be helped to find further employment if they developed a disability. My hon. Friend Dr Whiteford spoke passionately—as she has throughout the debate—about Opportunities for All. That initiative has been a huge success in Scotland, and it is a very good example of how local authorities can work closely with the Government. I think that my hon. Friend Mike Weir and I are still stuck on the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh South about the detail of the devolution of those powers to local authorities, given that, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan, 90% of ring-fencing has been abolished.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh South also referred to college funding. He may have missed my comments about the increase in the number of modern apprenticeships, and the investment that has been made by the SNP Government. We are clearly investing more in colleges than Labour ever did. College resource budgets increased to £526 million in 2015-16, which is well above Labour’s highest level of £510 million in 2006-07, in cash terms. The number of full-time students aged under 25 has increased by more than 15%, and the number of those aged over 25 has also risen.

The Minister talked a great deal about Access to Work, and why it should not be devolved. He spoke of the success of the current system, and said that it might become disjointed if further powers were devolved. We would argue that there is already a significantly disjointed approach, given the number of problems caused by benefit sanctions. I know that many of our constituents come to our surgeries, and walk through the doors of our constituency offices, with harrowing and desperate stories about sanctions, and citizens advice bureaux have informed us of a number of such cases.

A CAB in the south of Scotland reported that a client had been sanctioned for the second time for failing to log into Universal Jobmatch. The client’s local library had been closed for refurbishment, and there was no other access to public computers in the local area. The sanction was upheld following a mandatory reconsideration request, and the client produced a letter from his doctor stating that his mental health had declined as a direct result. He was also building up council tax debts, and his home telephone had been disconnected.

We must remember that we are not just debating statistics today; we are debating real people’s lives, and real situations. We are talking about people left in desperate circumstances as a result of benefit sanctions. If we do not change the system, people in Scotland and throughout the United Kingdom will continue to suffer.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 260, Noes 316.

Division number 33 Scotland Bill — Clause 26 — Employment support

Aye: 260 MPs

No: 316 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.

Clauses 26 to 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.