To ask the Scottish Executive whether the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth has met the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning to discuss tackling youth unemployment. (S3O-11581)
I have done so. Tackling youth unemployment is a high priority for the Scottish Government. I keep regularly in touch with Cabinet colleagues as we continue to take forward action to ensure that young people have the skills that they need for future employment. Most recently, we focused on summer leavers—from school, college and university—and agreed a £6.5 million package of additional support.
The cabinet secretary may be aware of recent Scottish Trades Union Congress analysis of unemployment figures that shows that the number of young people claiming jobseekers allowance for six months or more in Scotland has risen by 33 per cent in the past year. The same analysis shows a very worrying rise in my constituency of Midlothian of 95 per cent over the same period. Given that young people in my constituency are less likely to go into higher or further education than young people elsewhere in the country, I am concerned that the situation may get even worse. In order to avoid denying a whole generation opportunity, what plans does the Scottish Government have for targeted support for areas such as Midlothian, where youth unemployment is rapidly rising?
Through the summer leavers initiative in particular, the Government is trying to recognise the fact that particular points in the calendar and—the data point us in this direction—areas of the country are more susceptible to unemployment. The summer leavers initiative was designed to accept the principle that targeted action is required and to focus action where it can provide the greatest opportunities for young people.
I will be happy to consider any suggestions that Rhona Brankin has in relation to the situation in Midlothian. Through the services that have been put in place by the Government, the work of Skills Development Scotland and the activities of the college network, people in Midlothian will have access to a range of different opportunities.
However, if there are specific gaps in the range of support that is available, I would be happy to consider those, as I am sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning would be.
Our recognition of the summer leavers issue shows that we recognise that there will be certain points in the calendar when the challenge in finding appropriate destinations for young people who are leaving school, college or university becomes more acute. An interesting fact about the summer leavers activity is that we put in place capacity that was not fully utilised—we overprovided in terms of the scale of the problem that we expected. I hope that Mr O'Donnell will be reassured that we have taken measures to tackle the issue and that, from the information that is currently available to me, we appear to have achieved that in the summer.
We will, of course, prepare for the different stages in the calendar when the problem might become more acute. Decisions on further provision in the years beyond 2010-11 will be influenced by the conclusions of the spending review. Nevertheless, I am confident that we have opportunities available in the current financial year to deal with the challenges that we may face.