Industrial Communities

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:02 pm on 17th March 2010.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 5:02 pm, 17th March 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-5895, in the name of Cathy Jamieson, on the Industrial Communities Alliance's real impact of the recession report. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion moved,

That the Parliament notes the report by the Industrial Communities Alliance (ICA), The Impact of Recession on Unemployment in Industrial Britain; considers that the current recession has greatly affected Scotland's former industrial communities, including in Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and the South of Scotland; welcomes the continued efforts of the ICA to influence policies, and would welcome detailed examination of the report and engagement with the ICA on the reports' recommendations.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Labour 5:07 pm, 17th March 2010

I am delighted to have the opportunity to put this motion before the Parliament. I thank all the members who signed the motion for their support. Indeed, I am delighted that it received cross-party support—it shows that, irrespective of party politics, we are all prepared to work together for the benefit of our local areas. I also thank Councillor Jimmy Kelly from East Ayrshire Council, who chairs the ICA in Scotland—unfortunately, he is unable to attend the debate—and Anne Houston, who acts as the secretary for the cross-party group on industrial communities, which will meet later this evening. Finally, I thank Alex Neil, the Minister for Housing and Communities, for taking the time once again to meet representatives of the alliance. We had a very productive meeting at which Mr Neil made the much-appreciated suggestion that we have a joint meeting later in the year. I wonder whether Mr Mather knows that yet. [ Interruption .] I see from his response that he does.

For the benefit of those who are not aware of the ICA, I should perhaps say a few words of introduction about this local authority association that campaigns on behalf of councils in the industrial areas of England, Scotland and Wales where many of the country's most socially excluded communities, including former mining communities, are to be found. Those communities have a wide range of problems that can be traced back many years to job losses arising from economic restructuring. The ICA brings together two long-established local authority groups—the coalfield communities campaign and steel action—and covers former textile, shipbuilding and manufacturing areas. As a result, our recently established cross-party group contains members not only from Ayrshire but from Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Fife and Scottish Borders.

Nearly 60 local authorities in nine regions throughout the United Kingdom make up the founding membership of the Industrial Communities Alliance. For two and a half decades, the components of that alliance have made a huge contribution to regenerating local areas and influencing policies. At a recent alliance event in Wales, I was struck by the similarity of the problems that the areas the alliance represents face. From south Wales through the midlands and Yorkshire to Scotland, a number of communities face the same long-standing issues.

The motion highlights the recent alliance report on the impact of the recession on the UK's industrial areas. The report is an important contribution to the debate on how we can deal with issues surrounding unemployment and the decline of the manufacturing sector. I was a bit disappointed that the Scottish economic recovery plan did not specifically mention the additional problems that our former industrial communities face. I look to the minister to confirm that those communities are very much part of the Scottish Government's thinking.

There are opportunities to promote a low-carbon economy in areas that have industrial and manufacturing histories and a great desire to reinvigorate their industrial base. I hope that those opportunities will be discussed in more detail. It is not a matter of looking to the past, as some people might think; rather, it is a matter of recognising that our national economy needs to be rebalanced and that manufacturing has a key role to play in creating jobs throughout our communities and must be supported.

I was delighted to join the Scotland Office minister Ann McKechin when she recently came to Ayrshire to take part in a jobs summit. That event highlighted the additional challenges that Ayrshire will face as a result of Diageo's decision to move out of Kilmarnock, which will have repercussions not only throughout East Ayrshire, but throughout Ayrshire and more widely in the South of Scotland region. Those who attended the summit were clear that everything possible must be done to give people who are out of work skills and opportunities to find other employment. In essence, we must learn from the mistakes that were made in the 1980s and 1990s, when many able people were simply written off.

A visit on Monday by the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism, Jim Mather, quickly followed Ann McKechin's visit. I appreciate the attention that is now being bestowed on Ayrshire: long may that continue. As the minister will know, the clear view from Monday's event was that there must not be just talking shops; rather, specific action plans are needed, with resources to back them up. I hope that the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood will work together on that with the three local authorities in Ayrshire, other public sector organisations, the trade unions and local businesses. That was the call from Monday's meeting.

The Industrial Communities Alliance report calls for more local input into local economic strategies and a leading role for local authorities. It would be fair to say that there has been a mixed response to the restructuring of Scottish Enterprise. In Ayrshire, there is concern that there has been a loss of strategic focus on economic development. I know that the three Ayrshire councils are keen to work together with the wider public sector and local businesses to improve the local economy. There is broad agreement that creating jobs must be a priority and that the actions that the UK and Scottish Governments have already taken must be built on. It would also be fair to say that people think that there needs to be a catalyst and something to focus on in future.

There are several excellent examples of things that are happening in my area as a result of the future jobs fund. Organisations such as the Forestry Commission and East Ayrshire Council are now providing employment and training that would simply not have been possible during the current economic difficulties without that fund. However, there is emerging concern that the take-up in Scotland could be better. I hope that all councils will look again at good practice and see what more they can do, particularly now, when a new batch of school leavers are heading towards the jobs market.

In Scotland, and in the Scottish Parliament in particular, we have also sought to deliver on apprenticeships. My colleague John Park deserves recognition for his work on promoting that issue in Parliament. Thousands of Scottish youngsters now benefit from investment in apprenticeships. I hope that we can consider more imaginatively how we can make more use of the future jobs fund to support that.

I recognise that there is a long way to go to ensure that full employment, especially for hard-to-reach benefit claimants, becomes a reality rather than just a vision. The alliance report indicates that there is still hidden unemployment in several communities in the UK. People who claim incapacity benefits could be reskilled and retrained.

I am conscious that there is a shortage of time. I would like to finish with a couple of points, although I am not able to go into them in huge detail. I recently met a young man who is disabled but wants to work. He told me that although he is not mobile he has other skills that employers could use if only he was given the training and given a chance. That plea to be given a chance is reminiscent of the story of hundreds of thousands of people throughout Scotland and the UK. They are people who perhaps lost their jobs or were out of work in areas that were affected by the major recession of the 1980s and 1990s.

I recall that when I was a young social worker—perhaps, Presiding Officer, you will recall this, too—benefits take-up campaigns were run and we all worked hard to get people on to benefits, simply because that gave them more cash in their pockets. We must deal with that legacy, but we must also recognise that the hardest-hit areas have a higher rate of poor health, a lower rate of educational achievement and long-standing unemployment issues.

The report makes several recommendations on short-term working subsidies, which I believe could offer greater support to businesses in Scotland. I hope that, during the debate, we will explore some of the issues in more detail. The report's recommendations are far reaching, but perhaps none more so than the point that we must achieve a move back to industrial capital, as opposed to financial capital, if we are to support our economy in future. I look forward to the debate and hope that the minister will reflect on the recommendations in the report and take up the opportunity to work with the alliance and the cross-party group on industrial communities to deliver a fairer deal for our industrial communities.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative 5:16 pm, 17th March 2010

I congratulate Cathy Jamieson on securing the debate and on raising the important issue of unemployment in our former industrial communities. She eloquently identified the problems in her constituencyCarrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley. My constituency—Ayr—suffers from similar problems, as does much of west and central Scotland.

The case study in the report on East Ayrshire, which Cathy Jamieson mentioned, and the recent job losses that have been caused by Diageo withdrawing from Kilmarnock highlight the problems of post-industrial decline and the long-term unemployment that is left in the wake of industrial job losses. Everyone in Ayrshire deplores the unemployment level in East Ayrshire—12.6 per cent—which has come about as a result of the Diageo withdrawal. From taking part in the march through Kilmarnock and attending the rallies, like Cathy Jamieson, I am aware of the impact in human terms that the closure has had on people's lives, not just in Kilmarnock but throughout Ayrshire and the west of Scotland.

In my constituency, particularly in north Ayr, long-term unemployment is a huge issue. The problems seem almost intractable. The telling feature in our areas of high deprivation is the effect on people's health generally and on their life expectancy in particular. The level of incapacity benefits is an indication of the effects of unemployment, and possibly a better indication than the raw figures on the number of unemployed people. I have been struck many times by the heartbreaking situation of the many people who, through absolutely no fault of their own, are unable to find work. Cathy Jamieson correctly highlighted the loss of dignity and the spiral of decline that can flow from that.

That is enough analysis and hand-wringing; we need to find solutions to the problem. I and other Ayrshire members were pleased to welcome Jim Mather to Ayrshire on Monday to discuss the problem and find a sensible way forward. Although I was unable to be present to hear the conclusions that were reached that day, it is self-evident to me that there are many ways of starting to address the problem.

First, notwithstanding the foregoing debate, it is important to say that the glass is half full rather than half empty, in that Ayrshire still has a great deal going for it. By that I mean that we must build on what is already in place. The reality is that it is often easier to expand and grow existing businesses than to attract or build new ones. Therefore, we must build on the aerospace cluster around Prestwick airport, which has a world-class reputation for maintenance, repair and overhaul, that has recently been boosted by Ryanair's welcome decision to create a further 200 jobs there.

As Cathy Jamieson said, we must provide more and better targeted training and apprenticeships for the likely growth sectors in the economy of Ayrshire and the west of Scotland. We must continue to put in place infrastructure that increases Ayrshire's connectivity to central Scotland and England. That means giving the A70 trunk road status and upgrading the strategic link to the M74. We must create and brand Ayrshire as a location and destination of choice for business and tourism alike so that Ayrshire receives more consideration from those who are contemplating inward investment and inbound tourism than it has had in the past.

My view is that, notwithstanding our problems, we must aspire to a branding image that shouts from the rooftops what a terrific and favoured place Ayrshire is. For that reason we should call ourselves the riviera of Scotland, perhaps taking in the whole of south-west Scotland, because we have a fantastic area to promote and sell—but that is not happening sufficiently well at the moment.

We all agree on that. We must position ourselves to take advantage of renewable energy developments onshore and offshore. We should note the availability and sustainability of the ports of Ayr, Troon and Hunterston for those developments, given that land and skills are available in and around Prestwick airport and elsewhere to develop and build wind turbines—all of which gives us a huge potential to sustain jobs and create new ones.

It is self-evident that, if we are to reduce unemployment, we must create employment. Ayrshire must work coherently and collaboratively to support and create new jobs and new businesses. In turn, that will have a positive impact on health and standards of living. Although Cathy Jamieson and I might have slightly different route maps on how best to achieve that goal, I am certain that she and other MSPs share that goal, and I am happy to support her motion today.

Photo of Jeremy Purvis Jeremy Purvis Liberal Democrat 5:21 pm, 17th March 2010

I, too, congratulate Cathy Jamieson on securing this evening's debate. I regret that I will be unable to make it to the cross-party group on industrial communities because I will be chairing a meeting of the cross-party group on supporting veterans in Scotland. Otherwise, I would very much have liked to be at that meeting. I also congratulate Cathy Jamieson for attracting an audience of 26 of her colleagues for her speech. I regret that John Scott and I have been unable to be an equal draw and to encourage them to stay in the chamber to listen to the pearls of wisdom in our speeches.

In my office, I have a photograph of Galashiels. It was taken by the Royal Air Force when it took—this is a little-known fact—aerial photographs of all Scotland at the beginning of the second world war to enable comparison of areas before and after the war in order to identify bomb damage. I show it to pupils from the Borders part of my constituency and recently showed it to some sixth formers from Galashiels academy. The photograph shows Galashiels as it was when the RAF came down the Tweed valley, through the plumes of smoke from the textile mills, to the Gala Water. I hide the Eildon Hills and ask the pupils where they think the photograph was taken. Most say that it is Strathclyde or other parts of industrial west central Scotland. However, our industrial heritage is also part of our rural heritage.

I have the pleasure of representing Penicuik and the Borders, which are mill communities. They relied heavily first on a renewable source of electricity in hydro power but then very much on the Midlothian mining communities. It is no accident that, when the textile mills started to decline in the 1950s, the demand for coal reduced and pressure was put on the Lady Victoria pit in Rhona Brankin's constituency. Manufacturing has many links and a decline in one part had inevitable consequences for others. In looking back to that decline, we can learn lessons for the future.

Solutions and support cannot be provided in isolation from other parts of Government activity. We need to pay particular attention to the communities that provided Scotland's industrial heritage. That is true in considering regeneration for Walkerburn, where the community was established for industry. In fact, the village is named after part of the process of producing textiles. It is also true of Penicuik, which provided the best-quality paper in the world. Since I was elected, I have seen the decline of the Dalmore paper mill in Penicuik, which made the paper on which Winston Churchill's memoirs were printed.

For generations, the communities in such places provided people to serve the industries. We know that the communities now face particular pressures and that tailored solutions are required. The Industrial Communities Alliance report, which I read before the debate, gives us a good indication of the pressures, particularly in relation to long-term unemployed people. However, societal and family elements are often hidden. I am constantly told that, even today, people who do not go into heavy industry or the equivalent of the mills are considered by some not to be doing a real job.

We must consider the skills for the future and use people who have worked in industry and who have skills to offer, as Cathy Jamieson was correct to say. We must convey the fact that people are doing real jobs and are contributing hugely to Scotland's economy. Of course, many communities were knocked by white-knight industries that came along and raised hopes that were dashed—that happened with electronics in the Borders.

All that can add to a depressing environment. However, there is good news. I take absolutely John Scott's point about the future and how we address it. That involves three aspects. The first is physical infrastructure and regeneration, the second is human infrastructure and regeneration and the third is ensuring that the Government focuses on action that can make a difference.

Whether we are talking about making Penicuik, in my community, the heart of vocational and skills education, or about the Tweed valley, which survived on textiles and is now the world leader for mountain biking, we must be creative in ensuring that what the Government makes a contribution. If we trust and empower our communities, I have a feeling that they will give us many solutions. However, the Government must recognise that specific and separate support for industrial heritage and industrial communities is required.

Photo of Willie Coffey Willie Coffey Scottish National Party 5:26 pm, 17th March 2010

I, too, congratulate Cathy Jamieson on securing the debate. I am not sure whether Bob Dylan has ever been mentioned in a Scottish Parliament debate, but I will refer to him later.

The ICA's report says:

"The old model of economic growth, based on ever-rising personal and corporate debt and the expansion of the financial services sector, is surely bankrupt."

That is quite a statement and it has been coming for a long time. The bubble well and truly burst with the near-collapse of the banks and the level of personal debt to sustain economic growth is measured in trillions of pounds. That the ICA advocates re-establishing our manufacturing roots will be welcomed by many communities that continue to be blighted by long-term unemployment and which the boom bypassed and brought little direct benefit to.

The UK national debt of about £845 billion, which is 60 per cent of gross domestic product, and personal consumer debt of about £1.5 trillion—a trillion is a million million—are hardly a firm basis for economic recovery. Long after we leave this place, our successors might well ask why that was allowed to become the economic order of the era in which we live.

The ICA's report is a breath of fresh air. It concerns itself—naturally—with some specific initiatives, but it also makes welcome comments about supporting older as well as younger workers and about retaining skills that remain but which are not being deployed. The report mentions the importance of economic regeneration and the priority of creating new jobs. That is not too surprising, but the emphasis is welcome and must encourage communities that hope again for a brighter future .

One major challenge is that the number of companies that are headquartered and which conduct research and development in Scotland is reducing. They are a vital resource to create the new industries that will produce jobs in our communities. All the advice that we are receiving is that we need to develop an industrial strategy to improve Scotland's competitiveness in today's and tomorrow's key industry sectors. We must be clear about the fact that we lead the field in some of those sectors. In addition to pure service industries, which include finance and tourism, we need to look for new developments in the creative industries, energy, food and drink and the life sciences. We can rebuild jobs for the 21st century in those industries. Recent announcements of progress in renewable energy are particularly welcome.

We should not forget the increasing importance of co-operatives, which offer a trusted, solid and sustainable model for economic growth. I said that I would mention Bob Dylan. The co-operative movement has adopted in support of its principles one of his iconic songs, which contains the lyrics:

"How many times must a man look up

Before he can see the sky?

... how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?"

Those are fitting words in the context of communities crying out for help from the despondency of unemployment.

I have previously highlighted the important role that science can play in generating new jobs. Scotland still has an impressive presence in all aspects of science, but scientific advance is usually turned into jobs after the advance has been patented. I was amazed to read recent evidence of the UK as a source of patentable ideas. Based on gross domestic product, the UK has fallen behind countries such as Denmark, Finland and New Zealand in terms of the number of international patents. That is surprising, although it may say more about the dynamism of smaller economies. I would be interested to see the evidence on Scotland's position. The emphasis on that in the report is welcome. We have to encourage communities that seek to move in that direction.

In its report, the ICA focuses on the important role of local authorities in economic development. I agree entirely with that and welcome the Scottish Government's decision to empower local authorities in terms of regeneration. Discussions have taken place between local authorities and Scottish Enterprise on the subject, and I look forward to positive news for East Ayrshire Council in that regard in the near future.

Those who were able to attend this week's jobs summit, as Cathy Jamieson and I did, heard of the need for Government to act smarter in supporting local areas. It does not make a lot of sense for local authorities to invest in getting people back into work if the complexity of the benefits system acts as a disincentive. The matter was raised at the summit. I look forward to hearing what steps the Government may take in response.

Two of my colleagues mentioned the Johnnie Walker and Diageo situation. A company in the modern era might take jobs away from our communities, but it can never really take the identification of a product such as Johnnie Walker away from Kilmarnock.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour 5:31 pm, 17th March 2010

I congratulate Cathy Jamieson on securing the debate. I am delighted to support her timely motion.

As with Cathy Jamieson's area of Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, my constituency has had to face up to the demise of traditional industry over the years. In the case of Midlothian, the key industries in the past were coal mining, paper making and carpet making. Paper making and carpet making no longer take place in the county. Indeed, coal mining now employs only a limited number of people in the opencast sector and at the excellent mining museum at Newtongrange. That is very different from the situation in the past, when many thousands of job were in the deep mining sector.

The museum is an example of how Midlothian has had to make the transition from an economy that was based on manufacturing industries to one that is reliant on tourism, bioscience, life sciences, earth sciences and the public sector. Despite the successful development of those industries, Midlothian has not been immune to the global economic downturn. Indeed, in the last month, Midlothian recorded its 19th consecutive monthly increase in claimant count unemployment. As several members mentioned for their areas, the Industrial Communities Alliance report estimates that the true unemployment figure for Midlothian is twice the claimant count. Long-term unemployment and unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds have risen much faster over the past year in Midlothian than they have in Scotland as a whole. That is of huge concern.

In the space of four years, while the number of claimants per unfilled Jobcentre Plus vacancy has risen rapidly from 2.4 to 11.2 in Scotland, the number for Midlothian has risen even more steeply, from 2.8 in 2006 to 19.5 today. That is a staggering increase, which demonstrates the scale of the challenge in areas such as Midlothian.

The ICA report is absolutely right to identify youth unemployment as a priority. I applaud Midlothian Council for its work with partners to provide opportunities for young people. Despite being one of the smallest local authorities in Scotland, Midlothian Council has used the UK Government's future jobs fund to deliver more than 100 jobs for young people in the private, public and voluntary sectors over an 18-month period. That is real help that puts people into real jobs. In his remarks, will the minister elaborate on what the Scottish Government is doing to assist such initiatives?

I turn to the issue of young people who leave school and do not find a job or go into education or training. I am very concerned that Midlothian now lags behind not only neighbouring East Lothian, Edinburgh and the Borders but every other local authority in Scotland in this regard. It is a concern to me that one Midlothian youngster in five leaves school and can find no job or opportunity to improve their skills. I welcome the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council's allocation to Jewel and Esk Valley College of £789,000 from partnership action for continuing employment—PACE—redundancy funding to help to tackle the issue, but more needs to be done. Of the £28.1 million of economic downturn funding, £8.4 million is still to be allocated to colleges for additional student places. Will the minister assure us that support for additional places will be targeted on areas with a high number of young people who are not in education, employment or training? Many of those areas continue to struggle with the loss of traditional industries, despite good work by councils such as Midlothian Council to diversify local economies into other sectors.

I strongly believe that the issues that industrial communities face are best addressed through the partnership working at all levels that is taking place. I welcome the ICA's report as a constructive, thoughtful and extremely timely contribution to the debate. I look forward to hearing how the minister intends to respond to the challenges and opportunities that the report presents.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party 5:36 pm, 17th March 2010

I put on record my thanks to Cathy Jamieson for raising the issue of our former industrial communities and putting it in context so well. As she said, the Industrial Communities Alliance has evolved to handle these historic legacy problems, so that we can learn from mistakes, learn from elsewhere and move on. I spent my boyhood years in Greenock. Latterly, as an accountant, I audited companies such as John G Kincaid & Co Ltd, Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Co Ltd, Lithgows Ltd, John Hastie & Co Ltd, Drummond tin, Mitchell's and so on, all of which are gone. What has replaced them has never been enough, and some communities in Ayrshire have not had even that interim solution.

I have listened carefully to the debate and am grateful to the Industrial Communities Alliance, especially Professor Steve Fothergill, for the work that it has put into its report. The Scottish Government is always willing to listen to and consider new ideas and approaches. I understand that the alliance and Alex Neil met this afternoon and that we have three action-agreed responses. We face the possibility of an emergency budget that could create further difficulties, but Mr Neil has agreed that he, the alliance and I will meet in September or October and that ICA will contact officials on other issues to provide views on areas where funding rules are prohibitive at present.

Many issues were raised in the session that we held on Monday in Ayr; I am sorry, it was in Kilmarnock. I give the Ayrshire members who are present a total assurance that we intend to drive forward on those issues. The importance of local authority leadership and the need for a pan-Ayrshire approach were mentioned, but many practical measures—on planning, public sector procurement, internationalisation, on-going collaboration across the private, public and voluntary sectors, and better links with the business community—were suggested.

The cross-party approach that was evident at the meeting was striking. The four Labour, one Conservative and three Scottish National Party members—including me—who were present all came to the same conclusion. We have a focus on industrial communities throughout Scotland and realise that those communities have faced and are facing a considerable challenge, especially during this recession, which is the deepest in living memory, has manifested itself over the past two years and may continue for some time. The Scottish Government is meeting that challenge, through the economic recovery plan, by supporting jobs in our communities, strengthening Scotland's education and skills, and investing in innovation and the industries of the future.

It is important that we combine such actions with talking to people. Jeremy Purvis made a significant point about trusting communities—getting in among them, bringing in people who can help them and benefiting from their success. It is a matter of trying to achieve the cross-pollination that has taken place among some successful social enterprises, with people being taken from one area to cross-pollinate another. We have strengths in all the key components that we need—in water, energy, food and drink, and education, as well as the tourism possibilities. I am keen for us to go the extra mile to make that happen. Our approach is the right one, although we need to do more and bring more people together.

I recently met Susan Deacon at Celtic Connections. I found that, although we come from different places, with different experiences and different backgrounds—and different gender, clearly—we have come to the same place as far as solving problems is concerned. My version is to get everyone in the same room; hers is more modern, as we would expect from a younger woman: to get everybody in the same space. We can do that.

There is now a greater degree of cohesion from Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Enterprise, Scottish Development International, local authorities, Skills Development Scotland and the Scottish funding council. The Scottish manufacturing advisory service recently went through an expansion. That might sound oblique, given that we have lost the manufacturing base, but a new level of resilience is being created.

I was out last week listening to Gilad Tiefenbrun, Ivor Tiefenbrun's young son, who has essentially rescued their company and has allowed it to evolve. I listened to Rhona Brankin telling us about the proud manufacturing tradition in Midlothian. I wonder what it would be like if we had a few more Gilad Tiefenbruns, who could help to move technologies forward.

Work is being put into the Scottish manufacturing advisory service, and there is much happening at the Strathclyde institute for operations management.

On short-term subsidies, the Scottish Government has responded rapidly to the downturn by putting in place a comprehensive support package for education and skills through ScotAction. Through ScotAction we have invested £145 million to help unemployed people to enter the labour market. We will continue to prioritise skills and investment training by providing 34,500 training opportunities, including new apprenticeships and training for the unemployed. I heard today that we have exceeded targets on that.

The budget for 2009-10 accelerated £293 million of capital spend, on top of the £53 million from 2008-09. That has supported 5,000 jobs, including 3,000 jobs in construction. Members all know the story of what has happened there.

The key thing that I wish to emphasise is almost the same as the message that Willie Coffey gave us at the end of his speech: there is a need in the world economy, particularly in the west, for a new beginning. There is a need for a new approach that is less based on debt and which seeks to resuscitate the real economy, real communities and real people and to get real businesses under way. I believe passionately that that can be done.

Photo of Rhona Brankin Rhona Brankin Labour

I am not sure how long the minister still has to speak—I was worried that he was getting into his peroration. He did not respond to my specific question about whether the funding council will favourably consider areas such as Midlothian, which has such a high level of young people not in employment, education or training.

Photo of Jim Mather Jim Mather Scottish National Party

The member makes a valid point. Regretfully, I cannot put myself up as spokesman for Mike Russell, but I believe in having that debate, and it is perfectly reasonable to have the funding council, Skills Development Scotland and other players in the room when we have debates on such matters. I refer again to the session that was held in Ayr—in Kilmarnock, rather; I must have Ayr on my mind. It was at Grange academy in Kilmarnock, and it was excellent, with lots of bright youngsters about the place. The session was very useful, but we must take such events to the next level, with the relevant people in the room. It might have been useful, for instance, to have people from procurement or planning at that session on Monday. It certainly would have been good to have people from the funding council, Skills Development Scotland and so on. We have managed to achieve that at a local level, having run some sessions in Argyll and Bute. We must go through a rite of passage to get to that point.

The former industrial communities of Scotland, like other communities, have our whole-hearted commitment. I look forward to the meetings that are to take place, and I hope that we can move forward progressively together in this area.

Meeting closed at 17:44.