Engagements

First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 16th September 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour 12:00 pm, 16th September 2010

To ask the Deputy First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S3F-2555)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Later today, the First Minister and I will attend the papal mass in Bellahouston park. I am sure that the whole Parliament will want to take the opportunity to welcome His Holiness Pope Benedict, who arrived in Scotland a short while ago, on what is a great day for the whole country. [ Applause .]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I am delighted to welcome our guests to the country and to my constituency. I will welcome to Bellahouston park anyone else who is heading there, too.

This week's Scottish unemployment figures showed that a shocking 50,000 more Scots are out of work now than at this time last year. The Salmond slump is hurting families across the country. Our unemployment rate is 8.9 per cent, compared with 7.8 per cent for the rest of the United Kingdom. The gap is growing and is a clear sign of Scottish National Party failure. Will the Deputy First Minister take any responsibility?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Johann Lamont is absolutely right to raise the important issue of unemployment. The rise in unemployment that was announced yesterday is of great concern, because we should remember that behind the statistics and our political sparring are people and families. However, in the interests of balance, I point out to her that yesterday's statistics showed a rise in employment and a fall in the economic inactivity rate. Two out of three of the latest indicators show encouraging signs and show that Scotland is doing marginally better than the rest of the UK. Of course, that does not downplay the concerns that we should have.

More people are in the jobs market, which is why it is encouraging to see from yesterday's statistics that more jobs are available overall, and particularly in sectors such as construction. We must continue our efforts to create employment. That is why our capital investment and our support for skills and training are important. We must also recognise the risks to economic recovery. One of the biggest risks is the massive cut in capital spending that Labour planned when in government and which the new coalition Government will continue. That risk to our recovery is another reason why the Parliament needs full economic powers.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The SNP was left £1.5 billion in the kitty for the rainy days, but the SNP's problem is that—unfortunately—it squandered that when the sun was still shining. It is one thing to express concern in government, but the Government needs to take action.

Yesterday, we were appalled to discover that 3,000 fewer teachers than in 2007 are in our schools now. [Interruption.]

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

The Deputy First Minister's feeble education colleague is presiding over the lowest number of teachers for eight years. Those jobs are needed by our economy and by our children, to help them. Is that what Nicola Sturgeon calls protecting jobs?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Johann Lamont forgot to say that of the £1.1 billion that she mentioned, £600 million was spent by the previous Administration before it left office. She needs to put all the facts before the chamber.

The issue of teacher numbers is very serious, but I am surprised that Johann Lamont has ventured—dared—to raise it. It is a bit rich for Labour to criticise on teacher numbers when Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council was responsible for one quarter of all the teacher posts that were lost in Scotland last year. Two thirds of the drop is accounted for by 12 Labour councils.

We want as many teachers as possible to be in employment. That is why, in this difficult economic climate, it is encouraging that we have the lowest teacher unemployment rate in the United Kingdom. Just yesterday, nearly 200 teacher jobs were advertised on the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities portal. I hope that all of us across the chamber welcome that. Above all, I hope that we welcome the progress for pupils. Class sizes are the lowest on record, thanks to the Administration's efforts.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

We do not need an English teacher—me—to tell us that that was not an answer, but we might need a maths teacher to help us count the alibis. It is a different minister but the same approach: "It wisnae me." What of Nicola Sturgeon's own area of responsibility? Already, with the biggest budget ever in the life of the Scottish Parliament, what do we see in the health service, for which she is responsible? Four thousand national health service jobs gone. Fifteen hundred nursing jobs gone. Twelve hundred of those jobs have been lost in the city of Glasgow. We are in serious circumstances. What is Nicola Sturgeon doing to protect jobs, not get rid of them?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

In the spirit of trying to find some consensus, let me say to Johann Lamont that I, on behalf of the Scottish Government, will take responsibility, as we do every single day, for addressing, as far as we can within our powers and resources, the challenges of the economic climate that we live in. It would be better if, in return, Labour took any responsibility for having created the economic climate that we live in.

I am glad that Johann Lamont has moved on to employment in the NHS. The figures that she cites should not come as a surprise to anybody who listened to the statement that I made on 4 June in this Parliament about NHS workforce projections over the course of this financial year, but let me put those figures in context. Since we took office in 2007, more than 9,000 extra workers have been employed on the front line in our NHS. That is more nurses, more doctors and more allied health professionals.

As I do my job in steering the NHS through the difficult economic climate that has been caused by Labour, I will continue to give important guarantees to those who work so hard in our health services. First, we will have an absolute focus on the quality of care. Secondly, there will be, as a result of those workforce projections, no compulsory redundancies. Thirdly, more staff will be working in our health service at the end of this session of Parliament than there were at the start of it.

Photo of Johann Lamont Johann Lamont Labour

I hate to think what would happen if Nicola Sturgeon was not taking responsibility. If she defines that as taking responsibility, what would she do if she were not taking responsibility? Her complacency is stunning. If someone takes responsibility, they act on the powers that they have.

Unemployment in the city that we both represent is growing month on month but, as we all know, the only Glasgow job that Nicola Sturgeon is worried about is her own. She is the Cabinet member who is cutting 670 nurses and midwives in Glasgow. She also cancelled the Glasgow airport rail link, and with it 1,300 jobs and apprenticeships that mothers and fathers in my constituency and across Glasgow are desperate to see their sons and daughters get. We know that she is on work experience today, sampling the job that she really wants more than anything else, but the real question about being responsible is, when will she and the SNP stop fretting about their own prospects and start putting the people of Scotland first?

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

I, like every other member of this Parliament, will leave my own job to the good judgment of the electorate, but let me say to Johann Lamont that this Government is working hard in Glasgow and across Scotland to deal with and steer Scotland through these very difficult economic times. That is why we have more modern apprenticeships, for example, than ever before. It is also why such a significant proportion of this Government's capital investment is in and around the city of Glasgow. I will take no lessons from Labour on the economic climate that we live in, but I will take responsibility—as does every minister in this Government—for steering us through it. We would be far better equipped to get through the economic difficulties that we face if this Parliament had full economic powers. If Labour wants to take more action, it should back that position.