Construction Industry (Employment)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:33 pm on 24th May 2000.

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Photo of Allan Wilson Allan Wilson Labour 5:33 pm, 24th May 2000

I will be brief. I thank Johann Lamont for lodging the motion. I identify myself with her comments on the failure of the private sector to invest in our young people.

Economic boom and bust traditionally manifests itself first in the construction industry. The period of bust that occurred a few years ago saw construction firms reducing or dispensing with not only apprenticeships, but time-served tradesmen.

There has been an absence of a proper apprenticeship scheme for a number of years and the result is that we have an aging skilled work force. Skills that should have been passed down to properly trained apprentices are passing into obscurity as tradesmen retire. I was interested to hear Kenny Gibson's example about the 16 slaters in Glasgow. That is the best example I have heard—16 trained slaters in Glasgow would constitute almost half the total in apprenticeships in Scotland. If an apprenticeship lasts four years, only between seven and nine people will qualify to replace retiring tradesmen in Scotland in any given year.

In Scotland, few national construction companies have apprenticeship policies and, left to their own devices, they would have no intention of introducing them. Management agents are now involved in most major new construction projects, including, I understand, the Parliament building. I have asked the Presiding Officer how many apprentices are employed or are likely to be employed on that project. I will be interested to hear the answer, because there would normally be few, if any, on projects on which management agents are being used.

Another vestige of the boom-and-bust period is the 714 certification that Robert Brown referred to. Many tradesmen of my acquaintance have to pay 26 per cent or more of their earnings, which is deducted at source, to pay their backlog of unpaid tax. Their situation is critical and demands Government intervention, or our ability to compete worldwide for major construction projects will diminish. Opportunities for productive and rewarding employment for a generation of young people will diminish as a consequence of that. I am concerned about that and I know that it concerns Johann Lamont and everybody else here.

I am also concerned about the disparity between the amounts spent by local enterprise companies on 18-plus apprenticeship training, which David Davidson referred to. I support the call in the motion that the Executive do everything in its power to address that.