Scotland's Skills for Tomorrow

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:38 pm on 25th April 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord David Steel Lord David Steel Presiding Officer, Scottish Parliament 2:38 pm, 25th April 2001

The debate is on motion S1M-1857, in the name of Wendy Alexander, on Scotland's skills for tomorrow, and on two amendments to that motion.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 3:18 pm, 25th April 2001

I am pleased to open this debate on Scotland's skills for tomorrow. The statement that I have just made brings us back to the skills issue. When we planned the debate, we had no idea of the sad news that we would now be contemplating, but there is something appropriate about the timing. As we tried to make the case for Scotland in recent weeks, it became more and more apparent that skills are at the heart of economic development and Scotland's competitiveness in the future. All businesses are now part of the knowledge economy. Employers must invest strongly in learning and skills if Scotland's work force is to be able to respond effectively to current and future business needs in Scotland.

Employment in Scotland is at its highest-ever recorded level. That is likely to change in the next few months as a result of the US down-turn and the difficulties that are faced in some sectors that are very important to the Scottish economy. However, we go into those difficulties from a strong base as 100,000 jobs have been created in Scotland since the UK Government came to power. Scotland has experienced a greater fall in unemployment compared with the whole of the United Kingdom, both in the past quarter and in the past year.

Nevertheless, who could be complacent on a day like today? Global factors still put us into situations involving companies such as Compaq and Motorola where jobs are lost in Scotland. There are difficulties in recruitment and retention even in a major industry such as offshore oil and gas. Those difficulties arise from an aging work force and the problems of attracting skilled young technicians. The need for relevant, high-class skills in every sphere of the working environment is at the heart of our competitive challenge. We acknowledge that there have been difficulties, but we have acted. Let me tell the chamber what we are doing to improve skills.

We are unlocking the enterprise network's learning and skills budget, directing it away from the volume training programmes of the past and towards customised, in-work packages. We are setting up a future skills unit to deal with the blind date between employees who are looking for work and employers who are looking for workers. We are going to be the first part of Britain to set up an all-age careers guidance service. That service will be aligned with the enterprise network and, in the case of large-scale redundancies such as those at Motorola, it will be linked to the rapid reaction teams.

We introduced the modern apprenticeship scheme, which has a target of 20,000 modern apprenticeships. Already, 17,000 modern apprenticeships have been created and we have achieved more than 5,000 engineering modern apprenticeships. We created the Scottish university for industry—learndirect Scotland—which will offer training anytime, anywhere to employees and employers alike. Discounts of 80 per cent will be available for selected courses in information technology. We are tackling the basic literacy and numeracy deficiencies, strengthening the IT component of our training packages and investing in the skills of the future.

When it comes to further and higher education, we are ensuring that one in two Scottish school leavers goes on to higher education and that every student, whether they are studying Roman history or advance particle physics, leaves IT-literate and has the opportunity to take up courses in entrepreneurship. We have removed the disincentives to learn by abolishing fees and reintroducing grants. This autumn, we are providing £1,000 more in real terms for the poorest students to live on than was available 20 years ago. We are creating 40,000 additional places in the further education sector, which has been seen too often as the poor relation, and are providing the best financial settlement for more than two decades.

We are also putting skills at the heart of economic development. As colleagues know, the new strategy for enterprise centred on learning and skills, global connectedness and growing businesses, which is linked directly to learning and skills. If we get learning and skills right and if we get the global connections right, the growth in businesses will follow.

That means that a culture of learning and skills must be our top priority. Most people aspire to learn to the highest level of their ability, but we must recognise that there must be jobs available to everyone. Careers Scotland is at the heart of that approach and will provide a one-stop shop for everyone. We have reduced 80 organisations to fewer than 20 and introduced a new structure that will work alongside the local enterprise companies. Careers Scotland will be much closer than ever before to the realities of the labour market and, through that route, Scots will get the best jobs, those that are most relevant to their skills.

Once people discover what skills they think they should have to make themselves secure in the job market, learndirect Scotland will provide them with anytime, anywhere learning. Already, 73,000 individuals in Scotland have opened individual learning accounts. We should think about that suppressed demand for learning, which was released in just one year. There is also the new deal programme, which is being extended. We have had great successes in the under-25 group, but we must do more to reach the over-25 group. That is now being done—we are allowing the new deal programme to start earlier in people's careers and putting a strong focus on preparing them for employment.

I want to make a point that is pertinent to today's debate: the trade union movement has a fundamental role to play in the learning and skills agenda. People trust their trade unions. For many workers, trade unions are organisations of trust. When workers get concerned about where they will find the skills of tomorrow, their trade unions or trade union learning representatives are very often their first point of contact.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

Given the minister's comments—and those of John McAllion in the previous debate—will she elaborate on how she intends to make the trade union movement central to the building and reskilling of the Scottish work force? There is disappointment in the trade union movement at large that employers such as Motorola and other inward investors are able to refuse to recognise the trade union movement and that no action is taken by the Scottish Executive. Will the Executive take action to promote trade unionism?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Yes. We have established the Scottish union learning fund, which supports workplace learning projects. My colleague Henry McLeish launched the fund last year. We have put extra money into it that will take it through this Parliament's lifetime. We have received strong support from the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the unions in selecting projects that should be supported. Much has already been done and more can be done in the future.

In fairness, the Opposition amendments touch upon probably the most fundamental and central challenge. We need a better understanding of what is going on in the labour market. It would be wrong for any member to say that we can second-guess the forces of globalisation. However, we can have better mechanisms for understanding what jobs are available here and now and where we believe those jobs will be in the future. Currently, information tends to be dated when it enters the system and major decisions are made on too limited information. We need a clearer understanding of the roles of key players.

Recently, the Braehead development arrived in my constituency. I was told that 17 organisations that offered to help the organisation to put people into employment had been through its door. That is why we said we want a new approach. We have charged Scottish Enterprise with the leadership of that. We are creating future skills Scotland, which will probably be a more ambitious attempt at labour market planning than has been tried for a long period. It will be a first for Scotland. There will be a future skills unit, which will operate on an all-Scotland basis and will understand the nature and needs of tomorrow's labour market. We want a co-ordinated and joined-up approach. That means that we need to get better at understanding the needs of employers and matching employees to those needs.

We are beginning to build the strongest links between learning and skills and Scotland's future business success. We are placing learning at the heart of Scotland's future economic agenda. We have to do more, but we have made a start on modern apprenticeships, on the new deal, on access to higher education, on the future skills unit, on the Scottish university for industry—all of which were unanticipated only four short years ago. Much has been done; much is still to do.

I move,

That the Parliament endorses the Scottish Executive's commitment to investment in skills as the key to Scotland's business success.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party 3:28 pm, 25th April 2001

The motion is inadequate for two reasons. First, it is simply self-congratulatory, when there is no reason to be so. Secondly, the motion is entirely lacking in specification and detail.

I seek not to detract from the concept that skills are essential to Scotland's economic progress. Indeed, the minister's phrase about a blind date is quite appropriate, although quaint. However, what is needed is not a mantra chant but a coherent strategy.

It is ironic that this debate follows the statement on Motorola. The closure of the Motorola factory is a tragedy for individuals, for a community and for the whole country. Although there is a global problem in that sector, other nations and companies are weathering the storm better than Scotland and Motorola. In particular, I refer to Finland and Nokia. While Bathgate mourns, Tampere thrives, because Finland recognised its position, analysed its strengths and weaknesses and invested in infrastructure and education.

We will debate infrastructure on another day, but today's debate encompasses education. In Finland, education is not simply about schools; it is lifelong. Education is not simply about skills, but about research and development. Finland has weathered the storm because it remained ahead of the game. In previous debates, the SNP has held up Finland as an example to follow, but we have met scepticism, if not open derision—though not on a par with the minister's comments on Ireland.

Such an attitude is insular and ignorant. Only a generation ago, Finlandisation was a derogatory term that was bandied about by the Henry Kissingers of this world, but not now. How times have changed. Finnish lessons must be learned in Scotland—and I do not mean linguistically, but strategically. Finland has learned that, when a country is geographically peripheral, investment in skills is essential. I quote from the Finnish minister for education:

"The national strategy chosen by Finland is to develop our country as a knowledge intensive society, in which a highly trained population and heavy investment in research create conditions for production based on knowledge and know-how.

Education and training cannot only be seen as a force reacting to change in society and working life, but as a force influencing and moulding them."

Finland has learned and so gained. The tragedy in Scotland is that, while we have significant skills shortages, we have far too many hands willing and wanting to work but lying idle. Numerous industries in Scotland either have a skills shortage or an impending shortage. Those industries are neither peripheral nor expendable: they are key and core sectors of the Scottish economy. They include the oil and gas industry, the electronics industry and the financial services sector. Even road haulage is now facing a shortage and an aging work force.

In a global economy, what encourages growth, both indigenous and extraneous, is education with a skilled work force and adequate infrastructure. Education, as I said, is not simply a mantra chant but a prerequisite in a knowledge economy. For too long, Scotland has competed in an economic league for assembly line jobs that are subject to undercutting from competitors, be they from eastern Europe or the southern hemisphere. To compete in the premier league for the high-value jobs, and to keep ahead of technological changes, requires investment in skills. A precursor to that must be that the available work force leaves school not just literate and numerate, but educated for learning. In a knowledge age, the pace of history is accelerating, and learning is most certainly a lifelong concept.

The tragedy in Scotland is that, while we have skills shortages in so many sectors, we have so many hands lying idle. Much of the difficulty relates to a failure of Governments—current and past—to invest adequately in education. The basis of a skilled work force is built upon a sound and solid education.

Some of my colleagues will comment in greater detail, but let me say that it is not the responsibility of an employer to train an employee in literacy or numeracy. That is the responsibility of Government. The employer fine-tunes the individual for the skill or task, but he or she can only do so if the individual is job-ready. Within schools, we have fewer youngsters undertaking and obtaining qualifications in technology. That is matched by a reduction in the number of places at university for teachers of that subject and, indeed, by the absence of rooms to teach it in some private finance initiative schools.

What, though, about current Government schemes to upskill Scotland? Perhaps the first problem for any employer or individual is this: just who is in charge? Who is responsible? Is it the Executive, or is it the Department for Education and Employment south of the border? Why is it that the minister can make a statement on Motorola, but cannot organise a jobs fair outwith the country? What is the divide of responsibility between Edinburgh and Sheffield? That needs to be clarified. Moreover, why should there be a divide at all? If the Finns can do it, why cannot the Scots?

What about current schemes? Leaving aside the difficulty caused by a multiplicity of forms and bureaucracy, are we making best use of limited resources? Let us consider, for example, skillseekers training allowances. Why are there no foundation modern apprenticeships north of the border? It has been pointed out to me that foundation modern apprenticeships, aimed at level II qualifications, are of benefit to employers and would-be employees south of the border. Surely a similar concept should be available here.

What about the use of limited resources? The skilling up of Scotland is not to be restricted to one area only. However, with finite resources, some focusing is surely essential. Is not the future of our country in science and technology? Is that not where it is at in the 21st century?

Why then has this Executive so neglected such an important subject? Why is it that, when we consider Highlands and Islands Enterprise or Scottish Enterprise's skillseekers expenditure, hairdressers and beauticians are invested in to a greater extent than those in science and technology? Is it not absurd that we spend almost £11 million training hairdressers and beauticians, in comparison with only £3 million for scientists and engineers?

Finally, skills must be demand-led, not supply-driven. We are not living under a latter-day soviet where quotas of relevant trades were produced to order. It did not work in the 20th century and it certainly will not work in the 21st. The best producers of skilled workers will be the industries themselves. They, after all, know what it is that they are looking to achieve through training.

As an aside, would it not be better to encourage employers by offering tax breaks on expenditure on training, rather than by apparently trying to encourage by a modest grant and a maze of application forms? Moreover, it is quite clear in skills training, as in higher education, that certain sectors are far more cost-intensive than others. One grant does not fit or cover all. A flat rate does not differentiate between the hairdresser and the engineer.

In summary, the Executive's commitment to improving skills in Scotland is welcome. However, if that phrase is not to be vacuous and void, the skeletal statement must be fleshed out. There must be recognition that a basic all-round education is a prerequisite, that employers are best suited to carry out and supervise training and that, whilst all areas of skills are welcomed, as a nation we must focus and specialise. In the knowledge age and in a global economy, the underfunding of science and technology must be rolled back.

If we do that, I have no doubt that, in years to come, others will seek to learn from us in Scotland. Finland is to be credited for achieving so much with so little. The tragedy in Scotland is that with so much we have achieved so little. It does not need to be this way. Work is undone, crying out for hands to complete it. As a Parliament, we must ensure that we add value to labour in the 21st century. Initiative, not simply endeavour, ideas, not simply actions, and skills, not simply sweat, are now not only necessary, but a prerequisite.

As a nation that produced not simply engineers and craftsmen by the thousands, but more Nobel prize winners per capita than any other nation on earth, surely it must be within our wit and competence to allow the skills and talents that exist in our people to flourish. They are entitled to no less; we must do far more.

I move amendment S1M-1857.1, to leave out from "endorses" to end and insert:

"notes that, under changing global economic circumstances, a sustainable future for Scotland is dependent on a high skills, high value knowledge economy; recognises that significant skills shortages have been allowed to develop in key sectors in the Scottish economy; regrets that, to date, government has neither quantified nor predicted these shortages, far less been able to take action to fill the skills shortfall, and therefore calls upon the Executive to take immediate action to identify and quantify Scotland's current skills shortages and likely future shortages, tailor investment in skills to meet current and future demands and shortfalls and work closely with industry to assure a demand-led integrated approach to training, further and higher education."

Photo of Annabel Goldie Annabel Goldie Conservative 3:36 pm, 25th April 2001

For a debate on a subject as serious as skills, the Scottish Executive's motion is disquietingly bland and complacent. As is so often the case with the Scottish Executive, the words of its self-indulgent, self-congratulatory motion are a world away from what is happening in the business community in Scotland. Indeed, if one considers the text of the motion, it is about as exciting as inquiring whether someone takes milk and sugar in their tea. The Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning's speech sought to liven up the motion a little, but in a sense the content disclosed the underlying problem. If I counted correctly, nine particular initiatives and entities were mentioned, all of which seek to address the problem of skills.

Out in the business community, influential members of that community are expressing real concerns about the fact that there is a skills shortage. That skills shortage is not currently being addressed. There is a concern that the skills that are being provided are not relevant to the needs of the business community and that, as Mr MacAskill indicated, the delivery of skills provision is variable throughout Scotland. Indeed, in some places, such provision operates on an apparently haphazard basis, with no audit of the final outcome to ascertain how many individuals have demonstrably benefited from the attempts to provide them with and improve their skills. That skills gap is threatening the future of Scottish business. Unless those deficiencies are addressed urgently, the Scottish Executive might as well ask Scottish business to run a car on a tank full of water.

What are the facts? Let me quote directly from business, from a meeting with Electronics Scotland, which I attended yesterday with some of my colleagues from the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee. The meeting was held at the Sun Microsystems plant in Linlithgow. We were given a clear and direct message. The three big issues confronting the electronics industry and presenting challenges over the next decade are skills, business climate and e-commerce. I will comment on the latter two issues briefly before turning to skills.

Business climate was mentioned in the context of representing the realities of taxation and regulation. Those are not imaginary political myths, used by nefarious politicians to cause embarrassment to opponents, but the oppressive and repressive stifling realities for many businesses in Scotland today. The comment on e-commerce was equally disconcerting. Although we may pride ourselves on being ahead of the game in Scotland and congratulate ourselves on having done a great deal to advance the awareness and implementation of e-commerce, the reality is that many of our international competitors are far more proactive in the use of e-commerce. They regard it quite simply as a tool of business, just as our predecessors regarded the broker market and the trading centre. For our international competitors, e-commerce is a means to go out and negotiate, carry out options, seek business and offer deals. In Scotland, we seem to be far less active in that respect.

Let me turn to skills, in particular to the views that were relayed by the influential group of people with whom we met yesterday. The message is stark: Scotland is not producing people with the right skills for the electronics industry. It is anticipated that over the next five years, that industry will need 5,000 engineers per annum. The current university output is somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000. It is clear that not enough youngsters of school age are being made aware of electronics technology when at school, partially because it comes under the general heading of engineering, which still has a spanners-and-oily-cloth image, and partially because of a bias on the part of parents in relation to engineering.

It seems clear that if we are to make sensible progress towards increasing the provision of youngsters with the necessary technical skills to enter industry, particularly the electronics industry, there has to be a change of attitude at primary and secondary school level. It would make a lot of sense if technology, and not computing—the two should not be confused—became part of the core curriculum as early as secondary 1 and secondary 2, because it is clear that if we plant the appropriate seeds we will get the right crop, and if we do not, we will not.

The reason for my amendment is not merely to address the blandness and nakedness of the motion, it is to point out where another area of deficiency is to be found. Not only is there a need to address the gaping void in the current provision of skills for business, but a hard look has to be taken at what currently masquerades under the banner of the provision of skills, be that by way of new deal, skillseekers, apprenticeships or whatever. Indeed, whatever spin the Executive may care to put on new deal in Scotland, the facts are unimpressive.

The Employment Service research report ESR33, published in December 1999, found that in the first year of new deal for young people, approximately 50 per cent of individuals leaving unemployment via new deal would have left unemployment anyway. Also of concern, as the report pointed out, is that of the people who left new deal for young people, a proportion rejoined the claimant count, so the current estimate is that as few as 40 per cent of youngsters may have been helped. That finding may be coupled with the April NDYP figures, which show that 27 per cent of jobs gained by new deal leavers do not last longer than 13 weeks. It is estimated that new deal for 18 to 24-year-olds has cost around £20,000 per job.

In any debate about skills, perhaps the most depressing feature is that only 10 per cent of new deal participants complete their training courses and leave with a qualification. To suggest that new deal is an effective skills provider is frankly nonsense. If the response is that it is not meant to be a skills provider, the question has to be asked, what does it exist for, and is it a justifiable use of such extensive sums of public money?

On the matter of apprenticeships in general, not just modern apprenticeships, to return to the meeting with Electronics Scotland, I must ask the minister why one of the businessmen who was present at that meeting should express total scepticism about the effectiveness of the apprenticeship system? Analysis shows that only 50 per cent of apprentices actually pass. That is on the back of variable provision throughout Scotland as to the available funding for people who are seeking apprenticeships.

Clearly, that is a totally haphazard and random way to approach the provision of skills, and is an area that I suggest the Scottish Executive, in conjunction with the enterprise network, should urgently investigate. Indeed, if one examines the projected increase in the provision of apprenticeships in terms of the enterprise and lifelong learning budget, as recently disclosed, the demand becomes ever more clamant. The amendment in my name is an attempt to address the manifest deficiencies of the motion as it is currently framed.

I move amendment S1M-1857.2, to leave out from "endorses" to end and insert:

"recognises that investment in skills is the key to Scotland's future business success and calls upon the Scottish Executive to ensure that the skills being provided are relevant to the needs of Scottish business and that the delivery of skills provision is monitored to ensure maximum effectiveness in skills enhancement."

Photo of George Lyon George Lyon Liberal Democrat 3:43 pm, 25th April 2001

I begin by expressing the support of the Scottish Liberal Democrats for the Executive's commitment to improving Scotland's skills base. The policy is fundamental to Scotland's future prosperity. Indeed, this debate is very relevant, coming as it does on the back of the tragic announcement of the closure of the Motorola factory at Bathgate, with the loss of 3,100 jobs. One of the key lessons that Scotland must take on board from this tragedy is the need to move Scottish manufacturing up the value chain and away from basic commodity business.

At the commodity end of the marketplace, Scottish manufacturing is wide open to economic down-turns in the global economy, which results in low-value production either being slashed here in Scotland or relocated to low-cost competitor countries in the far east. The closure also highlights Scotland's over-reliance on the electrical engineering sector, with this one sector accounting for more than 50 per cent of Scotland's overseas manufacturing exports.

That is an extremely vulnerable position for any country. Any down-turn in the electronics sector is likely to have a disproportionate effect on Scotland's economy. That position must change. The Scottish economy must widen its economic base, diversify and, above all, move up the value chain, away from commodity production. The Executive's commitment to upskilling our work force and to education is important to that. As the motion says, that is the key to ensuring Scotland's future business success.

If Scotland is to attract inward investors that are willing to establish high-value and high-tech manufacturing businesses and is to develop, grow and expand indigenous high-tech industries, we will need a highly trained, highly skilled and well-educated work force. That must lie at the heart of our economic policy. I welcome the Scottish Executive's commitment to ensuring that that is created. That is a fundamental requirement of any modern, developed economy.

Kenny MacAskill said that Scotland should emulate Finland. There is a tremendous success story in Finland. However, in considering its economy's success and Nokia's position in that economy, we must note that Nokia accounts for 28 per cent of Finnish gross domestic product. That is an extremely vulnerable position for any country, and it compares poorly with that of Scotland. We rely heavily on narrow sectors for our production base and our exports, but we are not as vulnerable as I suggest that Finland is.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats support the Scottish Government's continued commitment to education and to putting upskilling at the heart of our key economic policy. If the policy is to succeed, we must hope that we minimise Scotland's future exposure to another announcement such as that in Bathgate yesterday. I pledge the Scottish Liberal Democrats' support for the motion.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 3:47 pm, 25th April 2001

I support much of what has been said about the need to create a highly skilled and well-paid Scottish work force. Scotland should not be considered as a national assembly line, where little or no research and development takes place and where skills of a high order are of no account.

In addition to creating a highly skilled Scottish labour force that can compete successfully in an international or global labour marketplace, we must do all that we can to retain and enhance the skilled jobs that put Scotland in the premier labour league. I am thinking of our superb shipbuilding skills, to which I will return in a moment.

Motorola's recent decision to make thousands redundant and Compaq's decision to make 700 employees redundant in my constituency emphasise the need to ensure that our constituents are given the means to acquire the high levels of skills that will enable them to find jobs that have good terms and conditions of employment. Like the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, I met senior management at Compaq about the redundancies there and I intend to meet the workers forum later next week. I told the management that everything must be done to ensure that those who must leave the company are given every opportunity to find jobs elsewhere—I hope that those jobs are nearby. I also said that those who are made redundant should be given a decent settlement.

We must do all that we can to allow people to become highly skilled. Given that cheap labour can be hired elsewhere, that is right and necessary. We need a highly skilled work force sooner, rather than later. Such a skills base must be strengthened by a powerful and thriving research and development culture. Our motto should be, "We are not an assembly line." I will say a little about the retention and expansion of the superb skills in our traditional industries, particularly shipbuilding. In the debate, it is important that we do not lose sight of the traditional industries. Many members recently signed my motion to praise Fergusons of Port Glasgow for winning a substantial contract to build a fisheries research vessel. I know that that vessel will be built to the highest standards and delivered on time.

A number of my constituents are employed in the Scotstoun and Govan shipyards—both of which are first-class yards. There appears to be dithering in Westminster over the building of the Ministry of Defence vessels that would keep those yards alive. The contracts are signed and the cutting of the first steel should have begun by now. The skilled workers in those yards, and others who could be employed, deserve to have their future secured now. I have been in correspondence with the minister and know that she has begun to make representations to her colleagues in Westminster to stop the dithering and let the vessels be built. I ask her to continue to make those representations.

By all means, let us assist with the creation of skills that our country and constituents need. Let us ensure that we educate everybody appropriately, no matter what their age is. We should be encouraging apprenticeships in the traditional industries, a good example of which is the apprenticeship programme that is offered by Glasgow City Council's direct labour organisation.

Let us ensure that our remaining industries are recognised and that needless bureaucracy and red tape do not bedevil them.

Photo of Irene McGugan Irene McGugan Scottish National Party 3:51 pm, 25th April 2001

No one will deny that there is a general skills shortage throughout the country. That is confirmed by our recruitment of nurses from overseas. If anybody has tried recently to get the services of a plumber, a joiner or an electrician, they will know that a major skills and manpower gap also exists in those areas.

As Kenny MacAskill and Annabel Goldie indicated, to focus the debate we must go back to basics. It is not possible for employers or training agencies to reskill or upskill people successfully if those people have not had an education that enables them to respond effectively to that kind of challenge. A good starting point would be to give serious consideration to the question, "What is education for and what skills do children most need for the future?" That is a big question, but it is probably the most important question that faces us when we look at education and skills. Every aspect of the curriculum should reflect knowledge and understanding, learning skills and personal and social development. Education should be about enriching experience and imparting new skills. Education is not just about jumping through examination hoops or narrow learning for monotonous jobs. Education is not only a utilitarian means to produce workers for our society. Education as a mere adjunct of economics has proved to be a policy prescription that devalues and straitjackets education to no good purpose. Education should be about drawing out thinking skills, and about encouraging pupils to think critically and creatively at school and, later, in the workplace.

On a day when the Motorola situation focuses our minds on the issue, we should remember that there is continuing concern about the reduction in the availability of technological studies in Scotland's schools. Technological studies covers electronics, structures, pneumatics, robotics, computer control, problem solving and creativity— all those are included in the subject. The recent Government publication "Created in Scotland—The Way Forward for Scottish Manufacturing in the 21st Century" effectively makes a case for a technology curriculum, especially for technological studies. A case could equally be made for science, engineering and modern languages, all of which would better enable Scotland's work force and industries to compete in, and adapt to, national and international markets.

That all starts at school, but it is good to see the development of closer links between schools and businesses. Such links need to be further encouraged. Companies now require, if they are to be successful, to be much more sensitive to the wider impacts of their activities and to support much more proactively the communities in which they work. The benefits to young people are enormous. Pupils are helped to realise the correlation between what they are learning at school and the development of their careers.

Not many people would disagree that education is about passing on knowledge. It is about developing each person's talents and about the teaching of skills that will lead to a full and satisfying life at work and leisure. If our country is to play its full part in the world, it must have a skilled and well-educated population that is adaptable and capable of leading the way in research and innovation. Education reaches beyond the experience of schools, but schools must provide the basic knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that are necessary in Scottish society and in the world.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour 3:55 pm, 25th April 2001

Much has been said today about the changes in the Scottish economy—changes that are self-evident. In my constituency, I am confronted daily by the reality of that change. The so-called smokestack industries have been replaced by the sunrise industries. We used to work on the banks of the Clyde; now we work in online banks. Seventy per cent of our manufacturing jobs are in electronics. We have shifted our dependence from shipbuilding to the electronic sector.

However, the situation is more complex than a simple replacement of traditional employers with new, high-tech industries. They are dynamic industries, which continually change—faster than we can imagine. If that change is to be an opportunity rather than a threat, we need a highly skilled work force that has the ability to adapt quickly to change. If we refuse to learn from the past and do not bring about a revolution in lifelong learning, Scotland's high-tech industries will end up in a museum, next to shipyards, coal mines and steel works.

Much has been said today, from some strange quarters, about workers' rights. From the commitment of the early pioneers of the Labour movement to the important right of workers to free access to training, education and personal development, to the Executive's commitment to a revolution in lifelong learning, we have given Scottish workers the skills that can pay the bills.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

Does the member recognise that much of the legislation that gave workers rights—not only in the 20 th century, but in the 19 th century—was passed by Conservatives, from Disraeli onwards?

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I know—from listening to Mr Monteith's contribution to other debates—that although there is continual nit-picking about apprenticeship schemes, their cost, their failure rate and their success rate, we can have hour upon hour of debate about money for higher education, without any of that nit-picking criticism. I will judge the member on his performance now, not on the past.

The benefit of education and training is not only to workers. It creates more job security, and in return for treating workers as an asset rather than an expense, management is rewarded with a confident, flexible, highly skilled and highly paid work force, which can give its company the edge in the global market place. However, if we consider the problem solely in terms of the work force, we will be guilty of an over-simplistic approach. We must also ask questions of the management. Is it up to the job?

In a previous life as a trade union official, I equated weak, inefficient management with job losses, redundancies, low pay and no training for workers. Upskilling does not happen under management that has a blinkered, sweat-shop mentality. It happens only in partnership with ambitious, progressive, far-sighted companies. The benefits on both sides are clear, but the challenge is to convince employers and employees of those benefits and of the need to invest and participate in education and training.

Today's announcement, the trade union fund, individual learning accounts, learndirect Scotland, more money to help vulnerable young people move from school into work, an extra £9 million to develop an all-age career service and £22 million to implement the recommendations of the Beattie report are all more than welcome.

Yesterday's announcement about Bathgate hangs heavy in the air. It is at a difficult time such as this that we need to search for the positives. Some of us on the Labour benches remember the last time around at Bathgate, 20 years ago, when we campaigned with Jim Swan and others.

Unemployment was used as an economic tool against people in this country, with the side benefit of doing in the trade unions while they were at it.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I am sure that Duncan McNeil does not need to be reminded that, at that time, the unemployment rate in West Lothian was in excess of 17 per cent. It is now down to less than 4 per cent as a result of the efforts of the Government.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

The minister might also wish to note that in Greenock and Inverclyde the unemployment rate was 22 per cent in the mid-1980s under the Tories.

Photo of Duncan McNeil Duncan McNeil Labour

I am afraid that I must wind up.

If the terrible event in Bathgate can have any positive effect, if it can become a driver for change in the attitudes towards workers' education, if it can teach us once and for all the value of education and training and if we can learn to learn, then all is not lost.

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative 4:00 pm, 25th April 2001

Wendy Alexander talked about removing disincentives. Let me start by reminding members that the disincentives to higher education were introduced by Labour. To remove those disincentives is merely to recognise that they were disincentives. That is something that the Labour party refused to recognise initially. It is recognised that the graduate endowment that has been introduced is also a disincentive. Why else would 50 per cent of students who might otherwise qualify to pay that tuition tax be given a waiver?

I recognise and welcome the Executive's commitment, as expressed in the motion. However, although we can acknowledge the commitment of the minister and the Executive, there is also much that we can do to question whether that commitment will bring coherent policies. I argue that the Executive's policies are not coherent and that they will not deliver the goals that they seek to achieve.

There are skills shortages—it is clear from the material that is available, for example, that chefs are difficult to come by in tourism. That is something that I experience now and again in Edinburgh. In financial services, firms in Glasgow and Edinburgh have difficulty in attracting senior fund managers. Representatives of such firms have expressed their horror at the possibility of higher taxes in Scotland, which would exacerbate that difficulty. That is a point that Mr McAskill might want to bear in mind with regard to his party's policies.

A recent survey found that 78 per cent of companies in the call centre sector have experienced skills shortages. Politicians who deride working in call centres should be aware that they are building up a perception that makes it difficult to attract people into jobs in that sector. We have heard much about the electronics sector today, and for good reason. It is clear that software engineers, test engineers and managers who have international experience and skills are in short supply.

I would particularly like to mention education itself. The number of maths graduates who come into teaching has halved in the past four years. Not only do we have skills shortages, but we have shortages in teaching the skills that are so important to our children, who then go on to college and university.

I acknowledge the efforts that have been made by the Executive and I welcome the increase in funding for higher education. However, increasing the funding is not the attractive solution that it first appears, because the proposals for funding that have been circulated by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council will lead to cuts in many of our higher education institutions. Let me give two examples. If the funding proposals were accepted, Napier University would see its funding cut by £1 million. The Robert Gordon University, which is known to many and has a great reputation in the fields that we think are especially important today—

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Does Brian Monteith accept that the Government has injected £672 million, through SHEFC, into funding for universities? Does not he accept that the image that he portrays presents the Government as having made cutbacks, when in fact extra funding is going in? Does he acknowledge that a love of mine is the whole disability arena, and that the massive injection that has been put in by the Government, at Westminster and Scottish levels, has made quite a formidable difference to people who have disabilities and who are in universities?

Photo of Brian Monteith Brian Monteith Conservative

I thank Helen Eadie for that rather extended intervention. If she had listened to the previous part of my speech, she would have heard that I acknowledged and welcomed the increase in funding. I make the point that a number of institutions will still suffer, despite that increase in funding. Helen Eadie would do well to consider such institutions in Fife.

We should consider not only the institutions, but the sectors. We have heard much today about the important sectors in education. Let us consider the proposals again. Funding will drop by £3.1 million in engineering and technology, and by £1.2 million in education. The McCrone committee produced proposals—which have been accepted—that we must have more teachers. At the same time, SHEFC is suggesting that funding of teaching courses should be cut. That is what is not coherent about Government policy and I suggest that that needs to be changed. SHEFC's recommendations have not yet been accepted and there is an opportunity to change them. I am sure that many members of whatever party would join me in saying that the recommendations must be considered again.

In putting together a programme of policies that can achieve the required skills, it is important that the Government adopts—dare I say it—an holistic approach, which would ensure that the policies that are produced by one department would match the policies of another. Only if that is achieved will pupils and graduates in future have the opportunity to find the jobs that are waiting for them.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP 4:06 pm, 25th April 2001

I find it impossible to support the Scottish Executive's commitment on reskilling Scotland, because it is a very narrow, free-market orientated commitment, which lacks any vision of an industrial strategy that involves public ownership.

I will make some comments about that in a moment. First, I must say that the minister was being slightly disingenuous in her earlier comments when she referred to Germany's opposition to the European directive on consultation and information. I am sure that she is aware that Germany now supports that directive. Germany opposed the directive until a couple of months ago because it felt that the directive diluted protection for employees. Similarly, Denmark felt that the directive would dilute its employment protection.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Would it be diluting our rights if we were to move away from a statutory right to redundancy pay, which exists in this country, but which does not exist in Germany?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

The minister is deliberately trying to mystify us. The adoption of the directive would in no way, shape or form affect the statutory right to redundancy pay. The minister knows that. It would have guaranteed that the workers at Bathgate did not hear about the loss of their jobs on the radio. They would have been consulted and they would have had statutory negotiating rights. They would have been able to ensure that they could see Motorola's books and to discuss why Nokia, which has produced such a large increase in its market share, is able to outdo Motorola—the second largest mobile phone company in the world—and whether that was to do with product design and other matters.

The point is that workers in this country are easier to sack than are workers in any other country in Europe. That is why the Government must stand condemned—as the unions have condemned it. Since 1997, new Labour has refused to sign up to the European directive on consultation and information and it should be condemned for that. I hope that the minister will be prepared to do that.

It is a pity that in the course of her remarks the minister mocked, as did some other Labour members, the idea of occupation of Bathgate as an option for workers who are defending their jobs. It is worth bearing in mind that in 1971, some 30 years ago—

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I will finish this point, then I will let the minister in.

In 1971, a group of workers occupied their factory—that is why we still have shipbuilding on the Clyde, even although it has been undermined. Only four years ago, workers in Glacier Metals occupied their factory and that is why they still have a factory. If the workers at Bathgate determined that they wanted to occupy their factory to save their jobs, we should give them support, not ridicule.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Will Tommy Sheridan comment on whether the SNP's plan to take back the asset—or to occupy the factory—would have any adverse impact on Motorola's operations in East Kilbride, South Queensferry, its planned facility at Livingston, or the prospect of more than 1,000 jobs in Dunfermline? Would such a plan make a difference?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

That answer goes to the root of what new Labour is all about. New Labour has a begging-bowl mentality that says, "Let's not do anything that might frighten away this employer".

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I will try to answer the minister's first intervention, if she does not mind.

As this employer refuses to recognise trade union membership, the Executive should be condemning rather than congratulating it. If the employer were to withdraw—on the basis of blackmail—from East Kilbride or anywhere else because of a threat to appropriate what is deservedly ours as it was paid for by taxpayers' money, we would simply have to consider appropriating the facilities in East Kilbride and elsewhere. It is simply unacceptable that we should be blackmailed by this employer. In days gone by, new Labour—in its old guise as old Labour—would not have been blackmailed either.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Is it the practice of old Labour, of new Labour or of neither to enforce on the company the largest-ever clawback of RSA because of that company's failure to meet its obligations?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

It is neither old nor new Labour practice; it is simply overdue. It was the very least that the Executive could have done. It is incredible that Motorola has been lauded as an example for many years, even although for 10 years and despite the efforts of the trade union movement, it has refused to recognise trade unions. That deserves condemnation, not congratulation.

Presiding Officer, I hope that you will acknowledge the fact that I have taken four interventions.

Photo of Patricia Ferguson Patricia Ferguson Labour

I already have, Mr Sheridan. Could you please come to a conclusion?

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I want to return to the lack of a public strategy. I attended a meeting of the Cuba solidarity campaign recently, and I was impressed to hear a Cuban minister explain how, in the teeth of obstacles such as an illegal 41-year blockade by America—which, unfortunately, this country continues to support—Cuba has been able to develop an indigenous pharmaceutical industry to the extent that it now exports vaccines worldwide and is regarded as a world leader, particularly in vaccines for meningitis. However, there is nothing in the strategy for Scotland about developing a publicly owned Scottish pharmaceutical industry that would be able to serve our national health service, rather than the NHS being continually ripped off by the multinational pharmaceutical companies that overprice their products. The strategy says nothing about a publicly owned one-power-generation industry to match the targets of a country such as Denmark, which is now able to employ 15,000 workers, and 40 per cent of whose power will be generated by wind power within the next 30 years. The strategy shows a lack of public vision.

Photo of Cathy Peattie Cathy Peattie Labour 4:13 pm, 25th April 2001

First, I declare an interest in Falkirk Women's Technology Centre and the Linked Work & Training Trust (Central).

I welcome the minister's statement. Throughout my working life, I have taken a keen interest in training and education, particularly in encouraging to return to education those who have left school early. Never has that message been any stronger than today.

In my constituency of Falkirk East, people in the petrochemical cluster have told me that they are having real problems in recruiting staff. The situation is the same for the offshore oil and gas industry. One major employer told me that if they could not find the necessary staff and skills in my area within the next 10 years, the company would have to consider moving overseas. That obviously has implications for the economy. Contractors in the petrochemical industry also face the problem that most of the staff they are able to recruit are over 50—it is difficult to find younger people.

As we have heard, we must examine what is happening in schools. Young people in schools are not considering the option of a career in industry, nor have they been encouraged to look at the technical aspects of work. Kids who go to university, and those who could be fitters, techies, electricians and so on, should be encouraged to consider a career in industry. We are not taking only about graduates; the folk who use the tools and wear the overalls in industry are equally important. The number of pupils who take standard grades in technical studies has dropped steadily over the past five years, which has obvious implications for highers in the subject.

So, where do we go from here? We must encourage improved links between industry and schools in order to create a better understanding of modern industry. We must consider what education is being provided in our technical studies units. There is also a need to develop training partnerships such as the one that exists in my constituency, between British Petroleum at Grangemouth, the local enterprise company, Falkirk college and the technical training centre. We must develop such partnerships to deliver well-organised, accredited training to young people—and to not-so-young people who have been encouraged back into training—and to extend the good modern apprenticeship system that exists in the Grangemouth area.

We should also consider projects and pilot schemes such as those in Leeds and in other parts of Europe, which are called second-chance schools. They bring young people who have left school early, or who have been excluded from education, back into school to help them to develop their skills with a view to employment in industry. That is done in partnership with education departments and industry, and the outcome is positive, with more than 90 per cent of the young people finding jobs.

We also need to establish partnerships with the voluntary sector to provide initiatives such as women's technology centres like the one that exists in my constituency. We must work with voluntary organisations, local authorities, the colleges and enterprise companies to provide women-friendly training to get women back into the workplace. In many cases, the women have never been in the workplace; they have left school early and had their children, and the option of their returning to work generally means low-paid part-time jobs. Women who take part in the initiatives go into full-time jobs that have real training and qualifications, which are important.

There is also the Linked Work & Training Trust in the central region, where the approach has been to work with community activists in partnership with Glasgow University, the voluntary sector and the local authorities. People work—in a paid job—towards a degree in community education or community development. We should lift people's aspirations. Working people have the right to be able to hold a qualification and employment is important if we are to get people out of poverty. People need a decent wage and they have the right to expect that. They need the tools and the passports to a real job and sustainable employment.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party 4:17 pm, 25th April 2001

I hope that the minister, who is having a conversation with a colleague, will listen to what the Opposition parties have to say in this debate on a very important subject.

The challenge that faces the Parliament is to develop our economy and work force to equip Scotland for the new century and to provide long-term, secure employment. Judging from the terrible events of this week, it is clear that we have a long way to go.

We are now in what many people term a post-industrial, knowledge economy and the business community is crying out for the skills to survive in that economy. I read a report by Alan Wilson, the chief executive of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, which referred to the survey that it conducted recently of companies in Scotland. The results showed that the

"top priority by far was skills development, addressing such areas as skills shortages, life-long learning and issues around the knowledge economy."

The SCDI then published a report called "Skills Shortages in Manufacturing", which addressed issues such as

"the widening deficit between technical subjects taught in education and the needs of industry and commerce."

It is clear that we must concentrate on skilling Scotland for the 21st century, to ensure that we do not find our economy at the mercy of overseas-based companies that will leave Scotland at the drop of a hat when a better offer is made— perhaps by the Governments of the Indian subcontinent or Asia. We must concentrate on attracting companies to Scotland because this is where they want to be and because there is nowhere else for them to go if they want the best work force. We must create a skills base that is so valuable that, when inward investors have to cut costs or restructure, Scotland is the place that they can least afford to leave because they will not be able to find a work force of equivalent quality elsewhere in the world. At the moment, there is a danger that companies are happy to leave, as it makes no difference where they are based as long as they can keep their wage bills down. In the eyes of too many countries, Scotland is just another location that can be sacrificed in the interests of cost cutting.

We must aim for better quality jobs, for instance in companies that are interested in pursuing research and development, as we are unable to compete in the international market for low-skilled jobs. We should give support to companies to invest in research and development, so that they have a stake in the country and are less likely to leave. We must also support research in our higher education sector. Two years ago, I was stunned to learn that Robert Gordon University got less Government research money than did the philosophy department at the University of Edinburgh. That situation must change and is doing so, slowly.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour

On the subject of supporting research and development, does Richard Lochhead recognise that the proof-of-concept fund was recently doubled? That fund provides considerable support to all sorts of companies across Scotland.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

The recent investment of Government research money is simply making up for the deficit from past years. The new Scottish universities that were referred to by Brian Monteith have had a huge gap in Government research funding in relation to the preparation of graduates for industry. We must address that essential issue.

Companies have to tell Government the skills that they need and many, particularly in the oil and gas industry through its training organisation, are doing that. There is a massive skills shortage in the north-east of Scotland and the minister must do more to address that. The average age of engineers in the North sea oil industry is 50 and a huge number of vacancies has to be filled.

I have only a couple of minutes left—

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

We are talking not only about high-technology skills, but about skills across all industries, including those in rural Scotland. Today, we are concentrating on high-technology skills, but we should develop skills that will ensure that Scotland can be best at what it does best, including the production of meat products and fish products and other areas of the rural economy. Those areas benefit the whole economy.

We must also consider the training budgets. Millions of pounds go into those black holes, yet no one is examining how successful the budgets are and whether they are delivering the appropriate skill developments.

Westminster rule in Scotland, particularly during Thatcher's years, has been associated with massive redundancies as a result of short-term policies and a lack of vision. The sad reality is that as long as Scotland is locked into a Westminster mentality, that situation is likely to continue. The Scottish Parliament has a duty to learn from past mistakes and I urge Parliament to support the SNP's amendment today to allow us to get on the right track.

Photo of Ian Jenkins Ian Jenkins Liberal Democrat 4:22 pm, 25th April 2001

I agreed with the tone of Irene McGugan's remarks. Education is about more than training and passing examinations and we must remember that. When I started teaching, there was an old-fashioned phrase, "transfer training", which, I assume, meant that if someone's mind was trained as well as their hands, their skills could be transferred much more easily. We must get the basis right before we go on to the higher levels and talk about training for individual jobs.

I welcome the creation of the careers Scotland model and the clarification and focusing of the process of matching skills to needs. I welcome the fact that people are recognising the synergies that exist between education, enterprise, lifelong learning, schools, businesses, colleges and other training agencies.

In relation to the minister's statement, I should support the minister by saying that, even on a small scale, the concept of the redundancy support team works well. Members of the work force who were made redundant after the closure of Murray Allan of Innerleithen responded well. They were not trained in high-scale skills, but were given small-scale direction with a wee bit of training here and there. That has put people into jobs by giving them opportunities that were not there before.

Other things that the minister would approve of are being done in the Borders. The economic forum is working. The council, the enterprise company, the area tourist board and such bodies are working together and may start to involve the careers service more as well. The Borders economic forum is starting to perform labour-market surveys that will allow us to direct the training to provide the skills that are needed by business. We need to find out what is needed and work out how we can fit the training to that.

There is a desperate need in the Borders for new opportunities and for diversification. However, there are also opportunities in existing industries. The textile industry, even though it is being redrawn, needs highly skilled people. Tourism will not recover unless we have people with high-quality skills. Brian Monteith talked about the requirement for chefs. Other skills are needed to run proper tourism businesses and those skills can be acquired—information technology is relevant to the whole of our economy.

There is real evidence that the Executive's programmes are beginning to work in the Borders. A high proportion of school leavers go on to tertiary education; the proportion of those who are going to further education establishments is also high. There is evidence that people from other sources—including disabled people and people with learning difficulties, and from among the unemployed—all have more opportunities now, under the schemes that are in place. Scottish Enterprise Borders plans to have 315 young people starting skillseekers programmes this year. There are people doing Scottish vocational qualifications and modern apprenticeships. Targets that have been set in that regard have already been exceeded and the targets for the coming year are ambitious. Three hundred and seventy-five adults have started training under the training-for-work programme, which we must bring to fruition.

The situation of further education colleges in rural areas must be considered carefully, so that they can provide the relevant courses. The colleges must take on students in order to gain funds, yet fewer students are available to them than in other areas.

Will the minister please re-examine those apprenticeship schemes under which small businesses—small building firms, for example—have to send people away for the six-week units that are involved, but cannot afford to? There must be a more flexible structure for apprenticeships. If we can do the training properly, we add value to the lives of individuals, to the economy and to our communities.

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party 4:27 pm, 25th April 2001

This debate comes hard on the heels of the statement on Motorola and I wish to refer to that in my speech. It is striking that 5,500, mostly manufacturing, jobs have been lost in the Lothians in the past two years. We have become very good at reactive skills and retraining—the minister made a point on that in her statement, in relation to Continental Tyres—but we are not very good at being proactive about skills and retraining. That is the balance that the debate should focus on.

I want to discuss education as a form of infrastructure for government and give some examples, but first I will tackle some of the points that the minister made. She was being deliberately disingenuous when she talked about the SNP's legitimate and serious calls for pressure to be put on Motorola to offer—at no cost—its plant to public agencies in order to secure work for the future. Why is it okay for £17 million to be clawed back in payback for public investment from regional selective assistance, but not okay also to claw back the plant, which has benefited from that public investment? Is it because the first is contractual, while the second is moral? If the first is contractual, it would have happened anyway, as the Motorola officials said last night.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Do I take it from that that Fiona Hyslop and the SNP have ruled out the possibility that Motorola might continue to use the plant for contract manufacturing? Secondly, when does Fiona Hyslop want the plant to be handed over: now, when workers are still working, or in a year's time?

Photo of Fiona Hyslop Fiona Hyslop Scottish National Party

The minister must take into account the fact that, as she herself said, the public agencies—Scottish Enterprise and Locate in Scotland—should be part and parcel of marketing the plant. However, the benefits from that should not be in the form of profits to Motorola, but should go to the community of West Lothian.

When I visited Motorola in the summer, I was told an interesting story about its modern apprenticeship or skillseekers programme—I am not sure which. Under the programme, four young people came to Motorola from Lanarkshire. Only one of them failed the programme, but all four had to give up the opportunity of jobs. Why? Not because they—including the three who succeeded—were no good, but because they could not get to the factory because of transport problems across West Lothian. It is not just a matter of education, but one of transport—of infrastructure.

Let us take the example of Continental Tyres and the retraining of its former employees, which has been referred to today. Why was it so important that the Parliament took action to secure a better redundancy package for the Continental workers? Because that bought more time for the workers to get better training and skills, in order to get a better job.

Let us take the other example in West Lothian: Project Alba, which has to scour the world for graduates because it cannot secure the number of graduates that it needs.

Let us consider other areas, such as construction, as this is not just about high-tech skills. We need to rebuild Scotland, but there is a dearth of the skills that we need in construction.

I will reflect on the valuable speeches of Irene McGugan and Duncan McNeil, who said that we have to learn to learn. When I worked in business and was recruiting, we wanted flexible minds—the ability to learn—but we also wanted people who had social skills. If profit will come from ideas in future, people must be able to communicate their ideas. Part of the problem that business faces relates to personal development, and addressing that must be part and parcel of what we do.

I am concerned that the minister over-invests the new deal with the idea that it provides retraining and skills for the future. It is about job readiness—nothing more and nothing less—and it is wrong to suggest anything else.

On universities, anyone watching the Scottish Parliament debating the subject of skills for the future would ask what skills those are, but I am not sure that they would know that from the Government speech. We need to decide what we want to specialise in—biotechnology, electronics, or finance—and, as has been said, focus on that.

We need to invest in our intelligence capital and reach a critical mass so that we regain our reputation as one of the highest-skilled peoples in the world.

Photo of Elaine Thomson Elaine Thomson Labour 4:31 pm, 25th April 2001

I think we agree that skills development is essential to ensure that Scotland can compete and succeed in the developing global knowledge economy and that we can meet the twin challenges of ending unemployment and resolving the skills shortages that are clearly appearing all over the economy.

Many sectors have been mentioned, such as fish and other food-processing industries in the north-east, IT and electronics, engineering and oil and gas, about which I am very concerned.

I have been struck by the problems in technology and engineering. We need to excite people about careers in technology and engineering. When members of the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee were in Aberdeen last summer, we were told about research that showed that young people as young as eight are being turned off technology. We need to address that issue.

As has been said, the oil and gas industry has some severe skill shortages and will face difficulties in finding enough people. I was pleased to hear the minister and Cathy Peattie refer to that.

Yesterday, at a meeting with Electronics Scotland, it struck me that the difficulties facing oil and gas are similar to those facing the electronics industry. The issue is the need to attract more people into technology-based careers. As has been said, we are not producing enough engineering graduates—design engineers, software design engineers and the like.

However, the recent moves by the Scottish Executive are putting in place the cornerstones that we require to address skill shortages. There is learndirect Scotland—the Scottish university for industry—which is providing all sorts of training to all sorts of people and is backed up by the individual learning accounts. I was pleased that the individual learning accounts were piloted in Aberdeen. They play a part in encouraging people in sectors that are less traditionally involved in learning, such as fish processing, to participate in learning. It is clear that a lot of work is needed to encourage such people to get involved.

The learning houses in Aberdeen are another way of engaging socially deprived communities in learning and ensuring that they develop the skills that they need.

Careers Scotland is another of the cornerstones of a coherent strategy for Scotland to tackle the skills shortage. Another part of that strategy is the future skills unit, which will identify skills shortages and will us much improved labour market information.

Those three approaches form the three angles of a triangle and underpin Labour's commitment to ensuring that Scotland has the support and infrastructure that it requires to get everyone into work and to meet the challenges of skill shortages.

I suggest that the SNP's amendment is fantasy—it totally fails to recognise the work that is being done, both by the Scottish Executive and by the enterprise agencies. The way forward for Scotland is clear, whether we are talking about oil and gas, food processing, information technology or electronics: we cannot compete by continuing to mass produce low-level, low-value products. Yesterday at Sun Microsystems UK, Hugh Aitken, the chair of Electronics Scotland, made it clear that Scotland's future in electronics lies in producing the high-value, high-skill solutions and products.

Given the current difficulties in the electronics industry, I must mention some of the parallels between that industry and the position that the oil and gas industry was in a number of years ago, as well as highlighting the effective role that was played by PILOT in resolving some of those issues.

I see the Presiding Officer is asking me to wind up, so I will close there.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

We now come to winding-up speeches and I ask members to stick fairly rigidly to time. I call Robert Brown to speak on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. Mr Brown, you have four minutes.

Photo of Robert Brown Robert Brown Liberal Democrat 4:36 pm, 25th April 2001

This is an important debate, but the party political posturing sometimes obscures the level of agreement that exists across the chamber about some of the priorities in the area of skills.

Liberal Democrats have been pressing the themes of the debate for a long time. There is an underlying theme: business success creates the conditions for people to earn a reasonable living and funds the public services that sustain our quality of life. Another theme is that of a sustainable economy with a robust, long-term future, and the centrality of developing high-level, adaptable and targeted skills of the kind that the marketplace needs. A further theme is that of the limits on the powers of Government, whose proper place is to provide the infrastructure, training, education and support that is required.

I welcome the streamlining of the careers service. I am no expert in that area, but I get the impression that the streamlining must be followed by a cranking-up of the cutting edge of the service. I am struck by how things come round full circle. The original labour exchanges were introduced by the Liberal Government of 1906 to match employers and potential employees. However, job centres now often lose out to employment agencies. The "Yellow Pages" for Glasgow has several pages of those agencies, because, I presume, both employers and employees find their services more relevant than those that are offered by the public sector.

Careers Scotland—a better name than visitscotland, which operates in a different sphere—must be characterised by meeting customer demand and an appetite for success. I believe that the Scottish Government is setting in place a robust structure for careers Scotland's work, as the minister outlined when she opened the debate.

While export markets have a growing presence—the importance of that area is vital—business must be based on a sound home market.

I will illustrate that comment by giving the example of A G Barr. Scotland is the only country in the world where soft drink sales are not dominated by Coca-Cola, because we have Irn-Bru. The company has been able to chip away at export markets on the basis of its sound home market.

The same is true in the building trade. I have dwelt before in the chamber on the growing opportunities in Glasgow, among other places, for the building trade, with the acute hospitals review, the schools programme and the stock transfer. However, I am not entirely convinced that we have been able to take advantage of those possibilities to train enough tradespeople to meet the requirements of the building industry, partly because of the industry's image problem and the lack of people who are interested in entering it. The issue is one of demand, but no supply.

Someone—I think that it was Brian Monteith—touched on nursing and the professions that are allied to medicine. There is significant risk that the funding mechanisms for universities and colleges, which are being examined, will be altered and that that will damage the growing potential of some departments, particularly in the newer universities, such as Glasgow Caledonian University or Paisley University. The risk is that, by prioritising courses of international excellence, we might penalise courses of national excellence, which are the seed germs of the future.

The engine house of the Scottish economy is, and will be, our universities and colleges. It is crucial that we get that element of the system right. Above all, Scotland is an intelligence community—that is potentially our big nugget of success. In that context, I was surprised to hear Tommy Sheridan going on about the need to build a public sector pharmaceutical industry. If there is one sector in which Scotland has been successful, it is the pharmaceutical industry, based on the intelligence community.

In conclusion, I come back to the party positions. The SNP would make our economy dependent on the price of a barrel of oil and the Tories have a commitment to swingeing cuts and a record of poor investment—poorer investment than in any other country in the European Union. Neither party has much to offer in support of business. The motion concentrates on skills. Those are crucial and I support the motion.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:40 pm, 25th April 2001

I do not think, minister, that the chambers of commerce, the Confederation of British Industry, the Scottish Council Development and Industry, industry groups and research and development organisations in Scotland will be very impressed with the selfish tone of the Executive's motion. The area is of critical strategic importance to the Scottish economy.

We live in a global economy. There has been evidence of that in the debate and, sadly, in the announced job losses in Bathgate and elsewhere before those. The country needs to have relevant skills. That was not detailed at all in the minister's speech. There has been comment on the future skills unit, but that unit does not exist yet—although the Executive has been around for a couple of years and the Labour Government has been around for two years more.

There is no real audit of outcomes in skills provision. There is a limited budget and it is vital that we know what is coming out at the other end. The skills that young people, retrained people and graduates attain should be measured.

The skills mismatch in the economy has to be addressed. I recommend that the minister approach some of the universities to run some research on that matter. The minister would find that very enlightening.

We have moved away from the screwdriver or assembly economy into a high-technology, high-value economy. Obviously, that economy will also support less skilled jobs and we have to be aware—as others have said—that skills are needed at all levels in society.

The parlous state of funding for further education, and especially higher education, has been mentioned. It a serious problem. I hope that the minister understands that many of Scotland's universities are sliding into deficit. It costs money for universities to conduct research. We have to be more creative to ensure that universities are able to conduct that research, perhaps through connections with private business. Much research is going abroad. That is not good for our long-term economy.

Members have talked about schoolchildren's perception of technology and engineering and the difficulties that they have with those subjects. We must get across the point that engineering and the new technologies are not sunset industries; they are sunrise industries. As others have mentioned, we need to create a new perception in schools—and in teacher training colleges, in postgraduate certificate in education courses and right down into the primary schools—that getting one's hands dirty and being involved with engineering technology is not a bad thing. It is not slave labour; it is high-skill labour that has jobs for an awful lot of people. We must create the right environment in which we can do that. My colleague, Brian Monteith, talked about that at length and Irene McGugan made a good speech about the importance of getting the right culture into schools.

I will pass over the new deal because everybody has had a go at it already and it is not an answer to very much at all.

Mr MacAskill talked about the global economy and quoted Finland as an example. There is more to life than that. He highlighted one important thing: one cannot spend more money on hairdressers and on the service industries unless investment has already been made in the high-skill areas that will attract further investment.

I was surprised at George Lyon's speech, which gave nothing but supplicant support for the Executive.

I am sorry to see that Duncan McNeil is not in the chamber, because he was right when he said that change must be speedy. We must also grasp the fact that change allows opportunity. Yes, he had a little bash at the Conservatives, but he forgets that I have often talked at length in this chamber about the right of access to education or training that is appropriate to the need of the individual. We cannot dumb down; we have to fit people to their particular area.

Brian Monteith talked about policies not being coherent. In view of what has been going on in the economy in the past few days, that is fairly obvious. He also talked about the high tax disincentive.

Tommy Sheridan was consistent, as usual, on public ownership—but he seems to think that employers will just arrive and invest. They need a background to come into and they want encouragement. I hope that Mr Sheridan realises that a reduction in unnecessary bureaucracy and in some taxes would encourage outside investment to come in to provide the resources that we need.

Cathy Peattie talked about skills at all levels. She was right to do so because that is the essence of Scottish education. It is traditional: we have always tried to educate our people. We must not move away from that philosophy.

Richard Lochhead mentioned the opportunities for training in the rural economy. We have to consider some of the primary industries and the need to have good training schemes for them—especially in fishing, fish processing and agriculture—when there is huge economic pressure on them.

The Conservative amendment is focused and constructive. We kept it brief to point out to the minister the opportunities for action by the Executive. I hope that she will listen to all the comments that have been made in the debate from different parts of the chamber and that she will come back to us in the near future with some real plans as to how she will cope.

Photo of George Reid George Reid Scottish National Party

For the Scottish National Party, I call Duncan Hamilton. You have up to seven minutes, though six would be helpful.

Photo of Duncan Hamilton Duncan Hamilton Scottish National Party 4:46 pm, 25th April 2001

I am not sure to whom it would be helpful, but I acknowledge your request.

Before I deal with the substance of today's debate on skills and, in particular, the skills match, I will make one or two comments on the debate surrounding Motorola—especially the attempts of the Minister for Enterprise and Lifelong Learning to misrepresent the position of the Scottish National Party. Let me put the record absolutely straight. Of course we welcome the £17 million repayment that the minister referred to, but just as the minister trumpets that repayment, will she concede that it was, in fact, a contractual repayment that the company has said it would have made anyway? Will she accept that the role of the Government now is to move on to the next step?

It would be an act of good faith on the part of Motorola to make the asset of the site available. That is not to truncate any of the other efforts that are being made, it is not to undermine those efforts and it is certainly not to rule out any of the other options that the minister is considering, but would it not be appropriate for the Government to suggest, as a next step, that Motorola making the site available is a moral imperative?

Tommy Sheridan mentioned consultation. Today, Ms Alexander gave a nod and a wink in the direction of progress, saying that it is vital that the work force is consulted. I suggest that she really has to talk to her colleagues. I quote from The Herald from this morning:

"The EU confirmed to The Herald that its consultation and protection of workers directive is being resisted by Britain, Ireland and Denmark."

It is the UK Government that is resisting implementation of the directive. I would be interested to hear from the minister whether the position of the Scottish Executive is to support the UK Government's opposition. If she is going to support the UK Government's opposition, she cannot, in the same debate, stand up and say that she supports the rights of workers and the right to consultation.

Motorola gives us another example that links nicely into this debate. Skills are important, but there is much more to it than that. Motorola has a highly productive and a highly skilled work force, but that was not enough to deal with the vagaries of the global economy. That should focus our efforts on the need for urgent action to ensure that the skill base that we have and the skill match that we try to achieve is effective. That is especially important in light of the news from some commentators this morning that we may be heading for some form of recession.

Various commentators in business a.m. said this morning that 4,000 jobs have been lost in the past three weeks, which account for 10 per cent of the total electronic sector payroll. That suggests that a lot more is to come. In the next 18 months, some analysts say, that job loss of 4,000 may rise to 8,000. That is a matter of profound regret. It tells us clearly that we have no fat and that we have no margin for error.

If ever there was a time to ensure that the skills match was in place, it is now. We do not have any other option. That is why there has been general agreement in the chamber today that more information and effort to try to match those skills is important. The motion is not particularly contentious—indeed it is only one sentence.

To match the skills, the skills must exist. Many members have made the point that there is a skills shortage. Kenny MacAskill made that point in relation to the financial and electronics sectors—and was supported by Annabel Goldie. In the electronics sector and the oil and gas industry—which are of crucial importance to our economy, as some Liberal Democrats noted—there is a real skills shortage. If there is to be real partnership between education services and industry, we must revisit our position.

Much has been made of Irene McGugan's speech, which summed up the spirit of the debate—it was constructive, although certainly not complacent. The role of schools is vital. Let us leave aside the issue of tuition fees—we could go on all day about whether that is an incentive or a disincentive—and go back a stage to the position in schools.

Irene McGugan mentioned languages. Let us remember that it was not so long ago that we were comparing and contrasting the position of Scottish students in Scottish schools and their ability to learn modern languages with those of their international counterparts. The 1999 figures—the most recent that we have—show that 45 per cent of the 1976 total are sitting a language higher. In a global economy and an increasingly European market, is that really sufficient?

What are we going to do about the other side of the coin in schools—the 7.5 per cent decline in the number of modern languages teachers? That suggests that we are going in the wrong direction. If we are going to target modern languages—as we should and as every member will agree is a constructive way forward—let us not forget that the school is the starting point. The same point is true in respect of maths, as was outlined by Mr Monteith, and technical studies, which was commented on by Cathy Peattie. Industry is willing and able to pick up the challenge of being the other partner is the process, but let us at least give industry a chance.

To match the skills to the jobs, the jobs must exist. We heard only brief mention of rural Scotland. I suggest that we should remember the importance of jobs in all of Scotland. Richard Lochhead made the point that in rural communities there must be jobs not only in the primary and ancillary industries, but in other areas for those who are currently employed in primary industries and want to move out of them. What has been the assessment of their skills? At every surgery I hold in the Highlands and Islands, I see someone who wants to get out of one of the primary industries or a young person who wants an alternative to following in the family footsteps. What options are we offering the young people in rural Scotland? What kind of skill match is there in rural Scotland? I suggest that it is not very high.

If we think forward to job creation, we can see that it does not have to be that way. We have talked before about the contrast between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland. We have talked about the west coast of Ireland, which is just as remote as rural Scotland and has many if not more infrastructure problems, yet it is looking ahead in a creative and dynamic fashion by investing in things such as broadband provision, with 11 pilot projects. Rural Scotland can be connected; the skill match is just as important, if not more so, in rural Scotland as elsewhere.

We know that this is about matching skills, but let us not be complacent. Let us identify the shortage, admit the problem, teach the skills and try to secure the high value employment that could insulate us against the vagaries of a global economy, the worst excesses of which we have seen this week.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour 4:54 pm, 25th April 2001

We have had a very useful debate that has given an insight into the complexity of some of the areas. As was reflected in many speeches, it has become clear that many of the challenges in this area are perhaps not those of policy, but of operation—simply doing it better. However, some policy issues were raised and I will deal with them now.

Kenny MacAskill began by talking about Finland and Ireland. The issue was whether we get it right because we are small or because of our constitutional status per se. That is a very simplistic view of the world. We get it right because policy makers make the right decisions—whether 10 years ago, 50 years ago or today.

I come to another substantial matter, to which Duncan Hamilton referred. Can it be confirmed for the record that the SNP is asking the Scottish Executive to demand an asset back before we get to the negotiating table and, most important, before we discover whether Motorola is prepared to continue production of a different product on that site or to use that site for a contract manufacturer from a different site? That is an ill-judged position.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Scottish National Party

Of course we are not suggesting that if Motorola wishes to retain operations at Bathgate we should take that away from it. We are saying that if Motorola is withdrawing lock, stock and barrel, it is entitled to take the fixtures and fittings, but given what was put in by local and national public money, there is a moral obligation on Motorola to allow the premises to remain and be used by others.

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

Making demands before even discovering whether production will continue at the site is a case of selling the jerseys.

Kenny MacAskill raised the delicate issue of hairdressing in Glasgow. It has come up in the Parliament before. As I am regularly told to get a haircut in Glasgow, I can tell the Parliament that Glasgow takes less than 1 per cent of the expenditure on hairdressing—data that were given to Mr MacAskill. More important, in Forth Valley, for example, expenditure on science and engineering-associated professions has risen by 130 per cent over the past four years. That is significant expenditure on science and engineering professions.

That takes me to the important point that Annabel Goldie raised, which is that one of our difficulties is that not enough students want to go into science and engineering. Too often, engineering has a poor career image. People think that it is about boiler suits and screwdrivers. For that reason, we are piloting the manufacturing image initiative, which will lead to initiatives in every school in Scotland next year and give people an insight into the reality of modern engineering. That is one of the ways in which we can tackle the problem of people not wishing to embark on an engineering career, perhaps through a misapprehension as to what it might involve.

I will address a couple of operational issues that were raised. Annabel Goldie touched on a couple, one of which was modern apprenticeships. I reassure her that in the period since this Government came to power, the completion rate for modern apprenticeships has gone up from around 50 per cent towards 75 per cent, so progress is being made.

Similarly, on the effectiveness of the new deal, the independent economic evaluation by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has shown that the new deal has been a very important contributor to the national economy and has improved the unemployment trade-off by increasing effective labour supply. It has been a key contributory factor in the reduction of youth unemployment by three quarters.

I note in passing, because Fiona Hyslop also criticised the new deal, that neither of the principal Opposition parties is in favour of using the windfall profits of the privatised utilities to fund an initiative to put people back to work, which has made a major contribution to the creation of 100,000 additional jobs in Scotland over the past four years.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative

If we are talking about initiatives and putting money in, has the minister considered the plea from many people who supply engineering apprenticeships in their factories—with modern equipment that costs money—who want funding to follow the apprentice as funding follows the academic student?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

We have made a number of improvements to the modern apprenticeship scheme. There were 27 engineering graduates from the modern apprenticeship scheme in the year we came to power. Today, there are in excess of 5,000 modern apprenticeships in engineering in Scotland, which is a record of which we are incredibly proud.

Looking to the future, Robert Brown made the point that we need to improve the service that the careers service in Scotland provides. We hope that careers Scotland will do that. Fiona Hyslop asked the reasonable question, in which skills areas—such as biotechnology and finance—do we wish to see specific skills plans in future? That is an important question that the future skills unit is examining. Elaine Thomson highlighted the importance of initiatives to help people from non-traditional backgrounds into information technology and the importance of learning houses in doing that.

Trish Godman talked about the importance of working closely with management and the consultative forum at Compaq. We are glad that she is doing so and she has the Scottish Executive's support.

I will deal with what our debate on skills means in the context of Motorola, which we started this afternoon's meeting by discussing. The skills service that the Parliament should offer people includes job fairs for everyone and customised training for an individual who has identified a job but needs new skills and training—whether through the university for industry or other routes.

Photo of Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan SSP

I thought that the minister would start to address consultation—it almost left her lips. When she gets round to that issue, will she confirm that the Tory Government refused to adopt the European directive on consultation and information and that, since 1997, her Government has also refused to adopt the directive, which would have given the workers at Bathgate more protection?

Photo of Wendy Alexander Wendy Alexander Labour

I have acknowledged that the situation is unsatisfactory. We have embarked on considering new UK legislation. We are consulting trade unions and the Confederation of British Industry about that. We want change. The one anxiety has been about how change would impact on very small companies. However, the need for new legislation exists. I return to the point that we must ensure that we preserve statutory redundancy rights so that workers know how much pay they will get. Workers in other countries do not have that information.

I will conclude with what we must do for the affected workers at Motorola. Customised training, particularly in information technology, support on interview techniques, full jobcentre services, marketing to local employers and advice on self-employment and business start-ups are all under way.

I am confident that we can succeed, as we have in the past. In the 1980s, Bathgate suffered an unemployment rate of 17 per cent. People know the stories of British Leyland, Polkemmet and Plessey. Through hard work, commitment and many of the initiatives that we talked about, such as the new deal, the unemployment rate in West Lothian has fallen to 3.8 per cent. In the past five years, 7,000 jobs have been created in that community. Such a challenge lies ahead of us. In the next few months, the situation will be difficult, but we have had success and we are committed to having success in the difficult circumstances that are ahead.