Construction Industry (Employment)

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 5:36 pm on 24th May 2000.

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Photo of Alasdair Morrison Alasdair Morrison Labour 5:36 pm, 24th May 2000

I thank members for their speeches and join them in congratulating Johann Lamont on securing the debate and raising a number of issues relating to employment and training opportunities in the construction industry, especially in Glasgow.

The construction industry is undoubtedly doing well. Scottish construction industry output grew by 2.6 per cent in 1999, which is very good news after a number of lean years. However, that growth was broadly the same as the growth in the Scottish economy as a whole last year. The figures do not suggest a boom, but steady and welcome growth.

Recent business survey evidence from the Scottish chambers of commerce is also encouraging, but it too does not point to a construction boom. In fact, a boom is not necessarily what we want. Longer-term prosperity and job security in the industry will be better served by a measured approach to investment.

Having sounded that note of caution, I can say that the transfer of Glasgow's council housing into community ownership has major significance for the city. Robert Brown highlighted the fact that the transfer offers empowerment to local communities throughout Glasgow. The transfer will offer investment of £1.6 billion—one tenth of the Scottish Parliament's entire annual budget—in the city's housing within 10 years. It therefore offers the prospect of new opportunities for employment and training in the city.

It is estimated that more than 3,000 new jobs will be created by the investment: about 1,700 of them in the construction industry and another 1,400 with associated suppliers. The challenge to us all is to ensure that the people of Glasgow—in Pollok and elsewhere—benefit from the creation of good quality jobs in the construction industry. That point was made ably by many colleagues.

We know that disadvantaged young people and long-term unemployed adults in Glasgow have great difficulty getting into the new jobs that are being created by a number of sectors in Glasgow. I noted carefully what Johann Lamont said about the city council and the important issue of pre-vocational training. As members will recall, the Beattie committee report that was published in September 1999 made a number of recommendations about the expansion of pre-vocational training. The setting up of an action group was announced earlier this month and there should be an action plan on that issue shortly.

The Scottish Executive funds and supports Scottish Enterprise and other public agencies to tackle these problems through a range of programmes, including Glasgow works, skillseekers, training for work and the Glasgow employment zone. I have highlighted those initiatives, but we all accept that more needs to be done.

Glasgow City Council and Scottish Enterprise Glasgow are now working closely together to ensure that the opportunities arising from the housing transfer make a difference to Glasgow's employment problems. Glasgow City Council is committed to the provision of 1,000 construction-based accredited training places in the current financial year. Johann Lamont was right to highlight the council's pioneering work in that important area.

Planning is already under way through Glasgow City Council, Scottish Enterprise Glasgow, the Scottish colleges of further education, the new deal programme, the European social fund, the Construction Industry Training Board and private sector construction companies to co-ordinate training programmes with the proposed housing improvement works programme to identify skill requirements and to align training activity and funding with any identified skills shortages. Those points were highlighted by Kenny Gibson, among others.

The Executive has given an additional £300 million to the modern apprenticeship programme. In 2000-01, the Wise Group will provide work and training opportunities to 750 long-term unemployed Glasgow residents. A majority of those people will work on housing-related activities such as energy conservation, safety and security and landscaping.

Members have singled out the training needs of young men and women. The Executive places great importance on increasing the level of skills and qualifications among young people. This year the youth training budget will be £87.5 million. We place particular emphasis on increasing the number of young people in modern apprenticeships, which support young people training at craft and technician level.

The construction industry currently has nearly 4,000 modern apprentices in training, with 1,800 entrants in the current year. I am also pleased to note that Scottish Enterprise Glasgow is now having greater success in recruiting young people from Johann Lamont's constituency, from Easterhouse and from other deprived areas into the wider skillseekers programme and into modern apprenticeships. I have no doubt that, with the council and other partners, it will seek to increase the number of opportunities for those young people among the projected new jobs.

Finally, I come to the important issue of safety, on which members were right to dwell. The Executive supports the construction industry's initiatives to work towards improved safety and regulatory standards. I am pleased to say that our construction industry in Scotland has been active in that area for some time. That is encouraging.

The Scottish Construction Operatives Register Executive—shortened to SCORE—was launched by the Scottish industry in 1995 to maintain a register of construction operatives who have achieved agreed standards of training. Those standards include tuition in practical safety awareness and are intended to encourage operatives to think about possible risks in the construction environment. Sadly, we know that it is a dangerous and hazardous environment.

The standards of training in safety and other areas required by SCORE are significantly higher than those specified by the construction skills certification scheme, which is intended to be UK-wide but now finds favour mainly south of the border. In an important development, the construction skills certification scheme has recently been extended to include a short computer-based multiple-choice test of knowledge of health and safety issues. It can be carried out at many centres throughout the United Kingdom and is designed to show up areas of weakness in operatives' knowledge of the relevant safety regulations to help identify training needs. SCORE complements that scheme with a more pragmatic approach.

The construction industry in Scotland clearly understands the need to improve regulation and safety issues. The industry deserves our support and encouragement in its efforts to deal with the problem and in applying a sound practical approach. The construction industry is well placed to take advantage of the new opportunities in Glasgow, and the Executive will work with all the agencies in Glasgow to ensure maximum benefit to the city's residents.

Meeting closed at 17:43.