Employment Services (Edinburgh)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 9th March 2011.

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Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

We come to a members’ business debate on motion S3M-7806, in the name of Sarah Boyack, on Edinburgh employment services facing a funding cut. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. We have a little flexibility on time.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes with surprise and concern the unexpected decision by the Minister for Housing and Communities to cut support for highly-regarded specialist programmes, valued this year at £2.238 million, to the Capital City Partnership; understands that this support assists 3,500 unemployed people per year; notes that this cut will hit what it sees as the most disadvantaged communities in the city, including unemployed school-leavers and priority groups such as people recovering from addiction and homeless people; notes also that it will impact on the Joined Up For Jobs strategy, which, it considers, has a strong record of partner agencies working together for maximum effectiveness; believes that Edinburgh is the only city in Scotland to have suffered such a cut and that there is no justification for singling out one city for this unfair treatment; would welcome, particularly at a time of recession, responsive local services for the unemployed being sustained, and believes that this funding should continue.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I thank colleagues for supporting my motion and for ensuring that the issue is raised properly in Parliament.

We are in the middle of a recession, and the situation for people who are looking for work in Edinburgh is extremely challenging. Fallout from the banking sector continues, which is bad news not just for banking staff but for people across the city. The pipeline for construction projects has seized up, as have opportunities for young people to find work. The voluntary sector is under massive pressure, and P45s are being issued as projects lose their grants. People across the city are taking redundancy, while other people are still looking for work because they cannot retire.

The labour market is tough. More people are competing for fewer jobs. To crown it all, Edinburgh has the highest proportion of young people who go straight on to the dole after leaving school. We must not return to Thatcher’s 1980s, when a generation of young people lost hope and opportunities.

That is the backdrop to the cut in employability services and why my motion calls on the Scottish Government to rethink ending its funding of £2.238 million to employability projects through the Capital City Partnership. The issue is political, but it is not just Opposition politicians who have asked the Scottish Government to rethink its position. I was first alerted to the problem in a briefing from Councillor Tom Buchanan, who is the Scottish National Party convener of the City of Edinburgh Council’s economic development committee. When we first raised the question in Parliament in a budget debate, John Swinney, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, acknowledged in response to a point from Margaret Smith that he had received representations from Councillor Tom Buchanan and from Kenny MacAskill. The issue cuts across the parties in Edinburgh.

The amount of money is small, but its loss could do immense harm to our young people and to our unemployed people’s opportunities. We have not yet had a positive announcement. When I raised the issue with Angela Constance, after John Swinney’s comment that the Government was looking for a solution had raised my hopes, her reply was disappointing—people in the sector were greatly disappointed when they heard her remarks. I hope that the Scottish Government, in the guise of Alex Neil, will give us a more positive response today.

Training for young people who most urgently need support should be the last service to be cut at the current point in the economic cycle. What hope do people have if they have a learning disability, are recovering from a mental illness or from substance or alcohol misuse, have left a care home or are just unlucky enough to live in one of the bits of the city where many people are unemployed and where their parents have been unemployed?

The tragedy is that we know that the training projects that are under threat have done a fantastic job for young people—they have given young people a proper chance, let them rebuild their lives and given them the opportunity to succeed in life. Surely we can all support that.

Key agencies have come together to support those young people with a co-ordinated approach, joining up the private sector and working with the different parts of the public sector, whether the health service or the council. There has even been a placement in the Parliament for one of the young people involved in the joined up for jobs strategy. The approach is giving young people the skills and confidence to challenge social barriers, to find success and work, and to make their way into further education and training. It has been praised by various sectors in Scotland, but it is threatened by the decision to remove funding. There is a real concern that places will be lost.

Only last week, I attended the Access to Industry passport and transition awards. I called them the Edinburgh Oscars, but in truth they are more useful than the Oscars, because the young people whom we celebrated on Friday had succeeded against the odds. They had held down placements in companies and hotels, worked hard, committed themselves to moving forward, learned the skills to get into college and university, and prepared themselves for the job interview that could give them a passport to the future.

Over the years, I have met young people whose lives have been transformed by local training providers. Women Onto Work’s programmes have given women the confidence to train and to get the child care to help them to move on. The fairer Scotland fund gave people the chance to improve their employability and was aimed at early intervention and health inequality reduction. It delivered through the community planning partnerships, the fairer jobs fund and the Capital City Partnership. The loss of the funding stream will unpick those successes and the support that has been in place. In this financial year, it amounts to nearly 43 per cent of the city’s fairer Scotland fund allocation for improving employability and getting people into work.

People in Edinburgh’s training organisations cannot understand the minister’s decision to end the funding stream. Without those projects, young people will not get the chance to get work or go to college. Training partners in Edinburgh were stunned and surprised when the cut was announced on 23 December. Since then, everyone has worked together. Along with colleagues, I have had the privilege today to hear directly from young people about what the training opportunities have meant to them and what a fantastic difference those opportunities have made to their lives. They have got a petition together—they are working hard.

The projects under threat include youthbuild in Craigmillar, Barnado’s NETworks, Fairbridge, Four Square, Impact Arts and real jobs. The comments from young people get to the heart of it:

“Save the jobs that save the jobs!” and

“Be fair to people ... give people a chance and a foot up to success. Funding here prevents rehabilitation later. Be nice”.

Young people, in their own words and actions, want to ensure that we support the next generation of young people.

The employment situation in Edinburgh has worsened dramatically. The proportion of young people in work is now lower than the Scottish average, having been higher before the recession. This recession is therefore doubly hard for us in Edinburgh. The employment rate for the city is lower than the rate in the country as a whole, and the number of people in Edinburgh claiming jobseekers allowance is about 10,000, or 3 per cent of the workforce. Now is not the time to make this cut. The labour force survey shows that economic inactivity is going up, so this is the wrong way to go.

I return to the point that I made earlier. I was first alerted to the funding problem by the city council. No one I have spoken to can explain how what is happening now is justifiable or sustainable. The real problem is not just the cuts this year. The 43 per cent cut will lead to cuts in European funding and in match funding from other agencies.

I hope that the minister can bring us good news today on an issue that unites the parties in Edinburgh. It also unites communities, from the most disadvantaged to those that have done well in the past. Training providers and private companies are keen to help young people to get the support that they need. These training services are vital. I hope that the minister will do the right thing and restore the funding. If he were to do that, he would have immense support and respect throughout the city. This issue affects people in their day-to-day lives. We cannot let people slip through the net, become homeless, and lose opportunities and hope for the future. Today is important. I know that people will not stop the campaign, but I hope that the minister will be able to give us a good response that will let everyone move forward.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

The debate must conclude by 5 minutes past 2.

Photo of Shirley-Anne Somerville Shirley-Anne Somerville Scottish National Party

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on lodging her motion and allowing MSPs to discuss this important issue for Edinburgh. However, we need to put the debate into some sort of context. The Scottish Government’s commitment to training and jobs is in no doubt. That was again confirmed in the recent budget debate. Notwithstanding a cut of somewhere in the region of £1.3 billion, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth was able to announce a budget that made provision for 25,000 modern apprenticeships, 1,200 new college places, 2,000 extra flexible training opportunities and a commitment of £15 million for further education bursary funding, as well as employment support in the private sector. All of Scotland, including Edinburgh, will benefit from that.

However, during the budget debate, the cabinet secretary heard about a particular situation that has arisen in Edinburgh. He recognised the importance of the role of the Capital City Partnership and acknowledged the representations that he had received on the issue from across the political spectrum, as Sarah Boyack said. I shared those concerns and wrote to the cabinet secretary back in January.

The partnership supports a number of excellent projects, some of which MSPs from all parties will have had the privilege of visiting to see at first hand the help that they provide to disadvantaged groups that require support to find employment. Rightly, the Government has pointed out in response to some parliamentary questions on the issue that it is not about a withdrawal of fairer Scotland funding that has been allocated in accordance with evidence on levels of need, in the usual way—those resources will be retained and maintained in the 2011-12 local government settlement. It has also correctly been pointed out that the City of Edinburgh Council will additionally benefit from further funding, including a successful joint bid with Midlothian Council for European structural funding, which will deliver employability and training services for the unemployed. Those services will range from early engagement through to in-work support and skills development.

Today, we are discussing funding over and above that—the £2.38 million that funded particular projects in Edinburgh. In the face of almost impossible cuts to the Government’s budget, it is understandable that such additional funding should come under serious pressure. However, funding for the projects can continue, if we find the required resources elsewhere. I readily acknowledge that, in reality, that is far easier said than done. Just like the Scottish Government, local authorities are facing significant budgetary pressures. In that regard, it is entirely appropriate to commend the City of Edinburgh Council, especially Councillor Tom Buchanan, on its sensible and measured response to the problem. In the first place, Councillor Buchanan has done all that he can to find transitional funding to close much of the gap for next year. Furthermore, I am sure that the minister and others will have no problem in agreeing that Councillor Buchanan has paid particular attention to the issue in recent months and has been a persistent advocate for additional funding, both in private and in public. He is to be commended on the role that he has played.

Ultimately, I believe that Councillor Buchanan and the council have made the case for some measure of additional funding. The council has produced a variety of figures. To my mind, the most significant of those is the number of school leavers in Edinburgh who are unemployed, which is far higher than the figures for the other three major cities and is far above the Scottish average. I urge the Scottish Government to continue to do all that it can to ensure that the services that are aimed at tackling that issue, in particular, are not harmed.

Given the sensible and measured approach that the council has taken and the significant steps that it has already taken to source alternative funding, I hope that the minister will be able to make a positive announcement today.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

One of my favourite quotes from the economist Keynes is:

“Take care of employment and the budget will take care of itself.”

That is an oversimplification, but it is a lesson that could be well learned by the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government. However, even more important than the effect of unemployment on the budget deficit is its effect on unemployed people. The combination of the effect of unemployment on individuals and its effect on the wider economy should mean that employment and job creation are at the heart of our concerns here in the Scottish Parliament, as they ought to be in the Westminster Parliament.

That is of particular concern to Edinburgh MSPs. Not only is youth unemployment rising in the city, but we have the highest rate of unemployment among school leavers anywhere in Scotland. Against that background, we were all astonished to hear about the enormous cut to employability funding that the Scottish Government provides to the city of Edinburgh, which was announced by the Government just before Christmas, on 23 December. That cut amounted to 43 per cent of the employability funding for the city.

I heard about it soon afterwards. Many people wrote about it, although I think that I was the first to write to the Minister for Housing and Communities, in early January. My reply from Alex Neil was negative. However, there have been many twists and turns since then. Margaret Smith asked John Swinney a question on the matter during the budget debate last month, and the cabinet secretary’s response raised our hopes. I hope that that is followed up by an announcement from the minister today. Sarah Boyack asked a different minister about it, and Angela Constance’s argument was that it was a matter of short-term funding. In case that argument is repeated by the Minister for Housing and Communities today, I point out that the money can be traced back 20 years in Edinburgh. To say that money is being allocated for the next two or three years is absolutely routine for all Government grants—it does not mean that it is short-term funding.

The effect of the cut is on individual projects, and it is also on the wider joined up for jobs strategy, which has been widely admired by people from across Scotland. Many projects are affected in my constituency. The City of Edinburgh Council has taken some action to cushion the effect of the 43 per cent cut that has been announced, but the majority of that cushioning amounts to the use of reserves and underspends. Therefore, it will cushion the blow for only one year, unless further central Government action is taken.

The city council produced a report on the matter for its meeting on 10 February, and projects were put into five categories. Only the first category was absolutely secure as regards funding for the future. Even the magnificent North Edinburgh Childcare in my constituency—the best child care centre in Scotland—was placed in priority 2. In priority 4—which means that it has no hope of being funded in the future unless there is extra funding—was Barnardo’s NETworks, which works with young people in the Pilton-Granton area of my constituency. In priority 5, which has even less hope of future funding, was the training that is provided in the Out of the Blue cafe in Leith, as well as the magnificent training opportunities in Lothian programme, which is run by the Port of Leith Housing Association to provide construction apprenticeships. All the people who go through that programme get into work.

No funding at all is given to the North Edinburgh News, the North Edinburgh Trust or to Women Onto Work, which is based in Leith. According to the council’s report, a higher proportion of Women Onto Work’s clients move on to positive outcomes than do clients with other projects.

Those are the consequences that face such projects this year, and which will face them even more in subsequent years if no action is taken.

Some of us were given a presentation within the last hour by people who have been lobbying the Parliament on this subject. A short video was produced, part of which showed comments that people have posted online in relation to the announced funding cut. Sarah Boyack has already given one of the quotes, but it is worth repeating:

“Save the jobs that save jobs!”

Two others also struck me:

“Why target the less privileged again?” and

“another blow to the young people of Edinburgh.”

We all recognise that we have difficult budget choices to make, and we must all participate in debates and discussions about where budgets should be cut, but I hope that we can all agree that young unemployed people—and indeed other unemployed people, as it is not just young people who are affected—are not the groups to target.

I say emphatically that the proposed cut is not the choice that we should be making. I hope that the minister will reconsider the matter and will give a better answer in his speech today than he gave in his letter to me in January.

Photo of Margaret Smith Margaret Smith Liberal Democrat

I add my thanks to Sarah Boyack for securing this important debate. I also thank the unions, the partnership workforce, the people from the connected service, real jobs, Four Square, Jumpstart, Impact Arts and the various service users and staff who are with us today. I thank them all for their engagement with all local members, as we jointly make efforts to make progress on this issue. They have submitted an online petition, they have lobbied various ministers and they have made a video, as other members have mentioned.

I questioned John Swinney about this issue during the debate on the budget last month and, as Malcolm Chisholm said, we got some hope from his response. It was better than the letter that I had received previously from Mr Neil, although Mr Neil has an opportunity to turn that around today and to give us some hope of a rethink.

Shirley-Anne Somerville was right to highlight the training opportunities that the Government announced in the budget. We worked with the Government on that and I am happy to work with the minister again on training and skills and on how we can give people a chance. I hope that we can make progress.

I share the anger and confusion that members have expressed about the decision. I do not think that anyone thinks that in the current hard times the proposed cuts are the right ones to make, particularly given that the Scottish Government has held up the Capital City Partnership as a great example of joint working.

Members who represent Edinburgh must say that the city faces problems in the wake of the recession and the downturn in the financial sector. The city’s problems underlie the debate. Edinburgh is the worst local authority area in Scotland for negative destinations for school leavers. It is not right that a city that faces those difficulties should be the only Scottish city to face such cuts in its jobless services.

The proposals might demonstrate that there remains a view, albeit unsubstantiated, that everything in the Edinburgh garden is rosy and we are still okay and doing nicely, but we know that that is not the case, and I will be disappointed if that message has not got through to the Scottish Government. The employment situation in Edinburgh is worrying. The proportion of people in the city who are in work is lower than the Scottish level and the city is in a very different situation from the one that it was in before the recession.

The employment sector will lose a crucial income stream. I am talking about the people who are out there trying to support the people who are hardest to reach and give them the help that they need if they are to get jobs. When people are given such help, they are also given all sorts of support with their personal difficulties around joblessness, homelessness and the many other problems that they face.

In previous years, and in this year, the money formed the core funding for significant parts of the employability infrastructure of our city. For the next financial year, the crisis that will result from the withdrawal of the funds to fight unemployment, inequality and poverty has been temporarily averted, because the council has been able to find one-off sources to plug the gap, to some extent. I believe that all members thank the council for those efforts. However, those sources of funding will not be available next year and will save only some of the fantastic projects that are currently funded.

One of the most deprived areas of the city, where a huge amount of work is carried out by partnership projects, is Muirhouse, in my constituency. There are projects on community renewal and on reaching the hardest-to-reach people in the context of securing employment. There is the passport project, which is for people who are homeless, leaving prison or recovering from addiction, and there is a range of projects for young unemployed people.

I have heard autism being talked about twice today. At this morning’s meeting of the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee, Shona Robison told members about the Government’s autism strategy, a key element of which is employability for people who are on the spectrum, and the difference that support makes. At lunch time, I heard from someone from the real jobs project who works with people on the spectrum to give them the employability skills that they need if they are to get jobs. When such people get jobs, they do not need other services that some people with autism need. Cuts in employability services do not make sense when we consider people with autism in the round and think about the lives that they deserve to lead.

A cut of £2.3 million or 43 per cent will have an impact on 3,500 people. We can quote all sorts of statistics. Not long ago, I spoke in the Parliament about my son’s struggle to find a job. When I got back to my office after the debate, my phone was ringing. It was my son, who was ringing to tell me that after many months of trying he had got a job. I cannot begin to describe my feelings on hearing the news.

The 600 young school leavers who are looking for work in Edinburgh are not just statistics to me or to other members. The people who will lose out because of the cuts in services that we are talking about cannot and should not be regarded as statistics. They are people who want opportunities and chances in their lives. We must work together to try to find a way of providing them with those opportunities and chances.

The partnership does a fantastic job of trying to work out what skills we need for the future job market by working with employers. Its presence is vital, and it is alarming that funding for something that ticks every box for the projects and working of the kind that we all want and that Scotland needs is being cut.

I urge the minister to reconsider his decision—to think again—and continue the work of Edinburgh’s jobless services.

Photo of Robin Harper Robin Harper Green

I thank Sarah Boyack for bringing the topic to the chamber for debate.

I ask the Government to think carefully about what will happen about four years down the line. The young people who are already at college and university will, year on year, begin to benefit—I hope—from the economic upturn. However, the young people whose opportunities will be further reduced by a reduction in access to the groups and aid agencies that can help them to become more employable will increase in number over those four years and many of them will not find jobs over that time as a result of decisions that are taken in these weeks.

It is distinctly unfair that we will increase the divide between, on the one hand, the rich and those with opportunities and, on the other, those who started off with problems in finding jobs for a number of reasons, and who were going to get help but will now not be able to find it and may, therefore, be condemned to many years of unemployment. It is not that they will simply not find a job this year; they will face many years of unemployment. We do not want to go back to the 1970s. This is a new century and we should think more creatively.

Previous speakers have mentioned unemployment figures in Edinburgh. Figures from the labour force survey with which we have been furnished today show that the claimant count massively underrepresents the scale of unemployment in Edinburgh, which is reported to be about 6.7 per cent. Economic inactivity, which counts those who are not actively looking for work, has swollen to 24.6 per cent, compared with 23 per cent throughout Scotland so, overall, the city is in trouble. That makes the employment rate for the city lower than that for the country as a whole. The number of people in Edinburgh who claim jobseekers allowance is about 10,000 or 3 per cent of the workforce. Edinburgh is in a threatening employment situation.

I commend all the groups that have been mentioned, but it is fair to mention them again. The connected programme, Community Renewal, the Prince’s Trust, North Edinburgh Childcare, Fairbridge, Barnardo’s NETworks, Edinburgh Cyrenians, Craigmillar youthbuild, Move On, Impact Arts, the Action Group’s real jobs service and the support@work project are among groups and projects that may suffer if the cut goes ahead.

My plea to the Government is to think extremely carefully about the cut and take action to find what is, after all, not a huge amount of money in the great scheme of things.

Photo of Ian McKee Ian McKee Scottish National Party

I, too, very much welcome the debate and congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing it. She was my political opponent in the first Scottish parliamentary election I fought in 1999. I was impressed then by her talent and her enthusiasm for advancing the cause of our capital city. That transcends party politics, and I happily acknowledge it, as well as the efforts in the past and today of Malcolm Chisholm, Margaret Smith, Robin Harper, Margo MacDonald and Shirley-Anne Somerville. We all work together to do our best for the city of Edinburgh; people sometimes forget that. It is only right that when we discuss jobs, opportunities, skills and training, we do so in a cross-party manner.

The issue that we are discussing is of pivotal importance to the people of Edinburgh, many of whom seek clarification on the level of employment services funding that the Government will make available to the City of Edinburgh Council. At this stage, I think it only fair to mention the £3 million capital city allowance that was given to Edinburgh to meet the costs of being a capital city and which was augmented in the most recent budget by £400,000.

As the minister has said in the past, Scottish Government support for locally based employability partnerships has been central to equipping people with the right skills and channelling them through the public, private and third sectors. Edinburgh’s joined up for jobs strategy is indeed a success, as it encourages learning and increases employability.

However, my colleague Shirley-Anne Somerville is right to remind the chamber that the Government has absolutely no intention of withdrawing the fairer Scotland funding. The Edinburgh partnership was awarded more than £22 million from the fairer Scotland fund between 2008 and 2011 to work together to tackle poverty and to help more people to access and sustain employment opportunities.

The funds to which Sarah Boyack refers are additional and separate. The question now is whether those additional funds can be drawn from elsewhere in order to avoid a shortfall that could have an impact on services. However, given the SNP’s track record in the provision of employment services, I have every confidence that the minister will address the issue and I look forward to his closing remarks. We should be more cautious about stating that services in Edinburgh will be cut. Let us hear what the minister has to say.

There can be no question about the SNP Government’s commitment to training and jobs. The recent budget is evidence of that. Despite £1.3 billion of cuts to our Scottish budget, as Shirley-Anne Somerville said, our Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth still managed to deliver a record 25,000 modern apprenticeships; provide 7,000 flexible training opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises; invest £10 million to support unemployed young people into work and training opportunities across the third sector; invest £8 million for an extra 1,200 college places; and provide an additional £15 million in funding for college bursaries. The list goes on.

Edinburgh, among other cities, towns and places in Scotland, will benefit from those policies. Edinburgh has cause for celebration that our Government has looked after the needs of the city in the past four years. I am confident that that record will be maintained.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

I call Margo MacDonald, after which I will ask the minister to wind up the debate.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I will take as short a time as possible, Presiding Officer.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You can take just about as long as you like.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

Are you feeling well, Presiding Officer? Gosh, things have changed—and I thought it was all the same.

Photo of Alex Fergusson Alex Fergusson None

You have up to five minutes, Ms MacDonald.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I want to support most of what has been said by my Edinburgh colleagues, in particular Dr McKee and Malcolm Chisholm, and Robin Harper—och, I may as well chuck in Margaret Smith as well. We do not really disagree in our analysis of Edinburgh, which is that as well as being Scotland’s capital and rather a special place, it is also a place that mops up many of the people who are in real difficulties during the recession. They drift into cities—that is well known—so the call on the city’s services is even more pronounced.

The employment and help to get into work projects to which Malcolm Chisholm referred are the key to this. If even one of the projects in group 5—the group least likely, it is analysed at this stage, to obtain the funding that they have at present—is lost, there will be a considerable loss to the city. As Robin Harper reminded us in relation to the up-to-date figures, we have not yet felt the tsunami in Edinburgh. Because of employment patterns, we have not yet felt the worst of it.

More and more young people in particular are being robbed of a future. I know that the minister shares my sympathy for younger people, particularly those from more traumatised areas who have even less chance of making it through. Even though we have had acknowledgement through the capital city supplement, I still urge the minister to see Edinburgh as a very special case—a particular case that needs just that bit more help because it has more to cope with in the way of creating jobs for young people. The facts are undeniable and I hope that the minister will bear them in mind.

I acknowledge that those of us who urge further spend on the Government are supposed to say where the money will come from. I am not as clever as that—I just hope that the minister has some in reserve.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I congratulate Sarah Boyack on securing the debate and on the tone that she adopted in introducing it, and I pay tribute to the work of Tom Buchanan, the chair of economic development at City of Edinburgh Council, for not just the work that he has done on the programmes that we are discussing but the monumental amount of work that he has done over the past three to four years in helping the economy of the city of Edinburgh to move forward.

Before I move on to other things, I will clarify, for the record, the position on fairer Scotland funding. What was fairer Scotland funding has been mainstreamed into the local government settlement, so there is no separate item in our expenditure called fairer Scotland funding. That money has been consolidated; it has not been lost to Edinburgh, because it has been incorporated into the local government settlement.

Before I deal with the detail of the Capital City Partnership and the specific points that have been made about it, I make it clear that I fully agree with what has been said about the needs of young people in particular—not just in Edinburgh, but throughout Scotland. Over the past two or three years, the pattern has undoubtedly been a rise in the level of unemployment among young people that is disproportionately high in comparison with that among the population as a whole. We all recognise why youth unemployment, in particular, must be dealt with: it is not just about employment; it is about the long-term futures of young people and their ability to grow up and grow families in more prosperous circumstances than they find themselves in today.

There is no doubt that, despite very strong signs of increased growth in some aspects of the Scottish economy recently, in general, the national economic picture is one of a level of growth in Scotland and, indeed, the rest of the UK that is significantly lower than it was before the recession. The possibility of a double dip still exists. We are starting to cope with budgetary cuts—which, last year, amounted to £500 million and, next year, will result in the Scottish Government’s budget being reduced by £1.8 billion in real terms—that will have dire consequences not just for the Scottish Government’s budget, but for the people on whom they will impact.

It is against that background that John Swinney and other ministers have been grappling with the best way to allocate resources such that we meet all our commitments. Sustainable economic growth is our number 1 priority. In particular, we feel a strong moral commitment to help young people into employment.

John Swinney’s budget contained a number of measures that will have a significant positive impact on young people in Edinburgh. As Ian McKee and others have mentioned, an additional 9,000 modern apprenticeships are to be created in Scotland next year. The number of modern apprenticeships will increase from 16,000 to 25,000, which is a record high. The vast bulk of those will be taken up by young people in the age group that we are talking about.

Photo of Margo MacDonald Margo MacDonald Independent

I greatly appreciate the effort that has been made on apprenticeships, but many of the schemes that the motion refers to are ones that are needed to prepare people for apprenticeships—they do pre-apprenticeship work.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I am coming to that. The apprenticeships are extremely important because, no matter how much preparation young people do, if the apprenticeships and jobs are not there at the end of it, that is a major issue for them.

Edinburgh should benefit to the tune of between 700 and 800 additional modern apprenticeships as a result of the measures that John Swinney took in his budget. That is in addition to the 7,000 flexible training opportunities—an increase of 2,000—and the £10 million that the Government is to provide to support unemployed young people into work and training opportunities through the community jobs Scotland programme. Nor should we forget Edinburgh’s share of the additional 1,200 college places or its share of the additional money for funding college bursaries.

To be fair and accurate, we should look at the total picture and all the policies that are designed to address long-term unemployment among young people and prepare young people for work and employability across the board.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I do not have time.

I recognise the importance of the Edinburgh Capital City Partnership. Edinburgh will benefit substantially from the additional measures that John Swinney has taken in his budget. That should not be ignored because we have given top priority to those programmes. However, I also recognise the importance of local support.

I have two points on the £2.3 million that has been made available to the Capital City Partnership. First, Edinburgh has been the only city to get that additional funding. Secondly, the additional funding was always planned to come to an end at the end of March 2011. In that sense, technically there is no cut because that was always going to be the case.

Photo of Alex Neil Alex Neil Scottish National Party

I do not have time.

The Government recognises the importance of the Capital City Partnership and I and John Swinney have been working closely with the City of Edinburgh Council, particularly with Tom Buchanan, to identify areas in which additional funding can be obtained from other Government and non-Government sources to allow the partnership to continue with its good work. However, there is an issue around the transition from the current situation to the new situation in which the partnership will concentrate on leveraging in funding from elsewhere and making maximum use of the additional national programme money that I have outlined.

I am sure that Parliament recognises that we have difficult budgetary decisions to make. The fact is that money is very tight. I hear Robin Harper when he says that £2.3 million is not a lot in the great scheme of things, but when that £2.3 million is added to all the other amounts in the budget, it does not take long to come to a very substantial figure. However, we recognise the need to ensure that the partnership gets through the transitional period to the point of being able to identify other sources of funding to allow it to continue its good work.

Therefore, I am delighted to announce this afternoon that we have agreed to the council’s request for transitional funding of more than £700,000 for next year to help it to plan the future of employment services in the city in a sustainable way. On that basis, I hope that we will all be able to move forward positively, working together for the young people and the wider population of Edinburgh, to help this great city to grow again in the way that it can and should.