This is the last time under my leadership that the Scottish Labour Party will choose the subject for debate. I chose this subject and to lead the debate in order to make it clear that, for us on this side of the chamber, there is no challenge more important or more urgent.
The unemployment figures that were released this month were a milestone and an alarm call: 100,000 young Scots between the ages of 16 and 24 have no work. That is the highest figure ever recorded and is a national crisis for Scotland because of the profound threat that it poses to the future prosperity, equality and fairness of our society. Every one of those 100,000 is a real person with real hopes and real dreams frustrated by the failure of us all, as the leaders of society, to ensure that they have a fair chance. We should not assume that they are passive actors in their frustration. Those young men and women want to work and complete dozens—sometimes hundreds—of job applications. They walk the high streets of our communities delivering CVs to anyone who will take them, but they are knocked back and knocked down. They get up and try again, but the question is, for how long? No matter how polite, courteous or regretful the knock-back is, it is nonetheless corrosive. It poisons optimism, crushes hope and corrodes self-esteem.
I know that first-hand from the last time that we were in this position. At the start of the 1980s, I was a teacher in a secondary school in Edinburgh. Many of its pupils did not have the easiest of backgrounds, but they were full of life, hope and bravado—exactly as young people should be. In 1981, I left for two years to work in Africa and when I returned it was to the same building but to a different school. Youth unemployment had soared and the Government of the day believed that unemployment was a price worth paying. The kids in the school had come to believe that society had no place for them. They thought that they would never work; even the ablest thought that there was no point in trying. All their hope, bravado and life had drained away. They had turned in on themselves and against a world that they felt had turned away from them. Today is world AIDS day. In Edinburgh in the 1980s, after the unemployment came the heroin and the shooting galleries, and my city, of which I am so proud, became the AIDS capital of Europe. I saw that generation lost—many did not survive the 1980s. We cannot let that happen again.
There is still time to turn the tide. There are things that we can do in Scotland—things that we can do with the powers of the Scottish Parliament. That is why, when the First Minister told us in May that he had no monopoly on wisdom, I asked to meet him to discuss the areas in which I thought that we could collaborate, of which this was one. The manifesto on which Labour stood included a detailed plan to eradicate youth unemployment. I thought that some of those measures could command a joint effort to demonstrate the urgency of the issue and our willingness to take Scotland forward together. I still think that, but I got no sense at that time that the First Minister had a plan for jobs or a real interest in working together on one. Indeed, there seemed to be little sense of urgency then, although it was clear six months ago where things were going.
Youth unemployment is the urgent problem of the moment. That is why we propose that the time has come for an emergency response from the Government. Instead, the Government amendment combines complacency with self-congratulation to justify the usual excuses.
First, ministers will say that they can do nothing because unemployment is driven by decisions of the United Kingdom Government. We can agree that the Tory-Liberal coalition is driving growth out of the economy and thousands of people out of work. That is why Labour is arguing day in, day out, for our five-point plan for growth. Four elements of that plan are indeed matters for the coalition Government, but it is simply not true that there is nothing that the Scottish Government can do.
Secondly, the Government will argue that it is doing all that it can: funding 25,000 apprenticeship places a year and guaranteeing a training place for 16 to 19-year-olds. We support those initiatives—the first was born out of our budget vote some years ago and the second is lifted from our last manifesto—but those 25,000 apprentices need jobs and, as for the guarantee, we have heard about it for six months but we see no sign of it on the ground. As a guarantee it is passing 20,000 by—and that number is growing. Those measures, welcome as they are, are demonstrably not enough. The 100,000 young people who are out of work are testament to that. The time has come to stop telling us what is being done and to start working out what more can be done.
Thirdly, the Government will say that we are outperforming the UK as a whole. In fact, the youth unemployment rate is worse here, so ministers spin to youth employment and try that instead. Does it matter? Is the top and hem of this Government’s ambition for Scotland to be a fraction less terrible than the Tories? This Government—any Government—should match its aspiration for the next generation of young Scots to the unlimited potential of every one of those young men and women. It should match the self-belief of those young men and women in all they can be and do. To use the failures of David Cameron and George Osborne as a benchmark is a sad, sorry and limited objective for any self-respecting Government.
The first thing that we must do is raise our own expectations, accept responsibility and act. We need more than words and more than a plan; we need an emergency response. Even George Osborne was shamed this week into taking some new action on youth unemployment.
The first signal that could be sent is the appointment of a cabinet minister for youth jobs, as the Smith group proposed this week. I have never been, nor ever will be, an advocate of additional ministerial posts for anything and everything, but in this instance any effective response will have to marshal efforts from across the Scottish Executive and command the many elements of Government policy making, so there is a vital role to be fulfilled. It could be a temporary measure, but it could send the strongest of signals to the young people we are talking about that the Government has finally noticed their plight.
I know that the Scottish Government likes to say that jobs are a priority, and I know that, to reflect that, John Swinney had the word “employment” added to his title when the new Government was formed earlier this year. However, given the breadth of Mr Swinney’s portfolio it is hard to escape the conclusion that he cannot focus on employment as we need someone to do.
Does Mr Gray agree that it is the job of all MSPs and cabinet ministers to ensure that we are working on the problem together? All portfolios have a responsibility for driving forward the jobs agenda. That is one reason why it is perhaps not sensible to have one minister in charge of it all—it involves education and all sorts of things. Does he agree with that?
Those of us who have served in cabinets would agree with some of what Liz Smith suggests, although someone with a particular responsibility can pool different elements. The Smith group made that argument earlier this week. If proof were needed that Mr Swinney’s portfolio is so vast that he cannot focus on this particular issue, we need only consider that, since he took on the sobriquet of employment, another 5,000 Scots have joined the dole.
There is agreement between us and the SNP on the importance of public sector capital projects and on stimulating economic growth. Interestingly, this is an example of an issue for which the First Minister went as far as to create a cabinet secretary responsible for infrastructure, to mark its importance. However, we disagree on the extent to which the Government is actually investing—as opposed to talking about investing. We know that in the year past the Scottish Government cut capital investment even more than George Osborne did, and this week—
I am sorry; I need to make some progress. This week, we saw a 14 per cent drop in new starts in house building in Scotland.
Let us be generous though: some additional consequentials are coming to the Government, and let us assume that it will use them to invest effectively. Any investment is helpful in terms of economic growth; what is not helpful is a procurement system that allocates multimillion-pound contracts without creating local employment and training opportunities for the long-term unemployed. Every public sector contract should do that, and that is why the legislative programme this year should have featured a procurement bill to make that not just possible, and not just desirable, but mandatory. We know that it can be done—Falkirk Council, for example, has created hundreds of apprenticeship opportunities. However, too often it is not done or it is not enforced. It should apply to every public sector contract, whether it be Government, local authority, national health service or non-departmental public body. It should apply to revenue contracts as well as capital—and the Government should introduce it now.
I said that George Osborne had been shamed into action this week. He reintroduced a version of the future jobs fund—which he, himself, had abolished 18 months previously. No wonder he reintroduced it—in its previous incarnation, 30,000 Scots benefited from it, and the outcomes were the best of any similar placement scheme.
I acknowledge that the Scottish Government has its own version—community jobs Scotland. That is a start, but there have been only 820 placements. The scale of the challenge is much greater than that. We need those placements to be rapidly increased, and it is not enough to seek them only in the voluntary sector. The scheme has to be extended into the private sector. That is harder to do and it takes more effort, but the pay-off is worth it. We cannot allow the UK scheme simply to substitute for what we should be doing. Of course, we want as many placements as possible, so the Scottish Government should, right now, be talking to Jobcentre Plus, establishing a partnership and expanding what is going to be on offer.
While we are on the subject of U-turns, the Scottish Government should admit right now that cuts of over 20 per cent to our colleges can only make this problem worse. College principals are clear: they cannot sustain places with that degree of cut, and any guarantee to 16 to 19-year-olds will be delivered only at the expense of opportunities for the over-19s. We have been here before with this Government, when it expanded apprenticeship places for 16 to 19-year-olds by abolishing apprenticeship places for the over-21s. The Government thought twice on that occasion; it should think twice on this occasion, too.
We should be worried too that applications for university are down 17 per cent. Mr Russell will say that that figure is a snapshot, but it looks like a trend, and the worry is that young people are beginning again to ask themselves, “What is the point?” What is the Scottish Government doing now to challenge that idea? Who is telling those young people, and their parents and guardians, that an education still means a better future? Ever better education is our only chance of a better future.
The resource on which Scotland’s future hinges is not oil, wind or waves—it is the young men and women of this country, and to lose 100,000 of them is a price that we cannot pay.
I say to any SNP member who has in their speech the phrase “talking Scotland down” that they should strike it out now. I am talking Scotland’s young people up. I believe in every one of them. Trying to spin their number away, pretending that everything that could be done is being done, or telling them that they have to wait for constitutional change is not talking them down; it is treating them with contempt.
Yesterday, the First Minister sat in front of a frieze of great Scottish engineers, inventors and scientists of the past to deliver his St Andrew’s day message. It is the 100,000 could-be engineers, would-be scientists and might-be inventors of tomorrow who need his full attention today. It is time that he made this personal, realised the urgency, and demanded that his Government respond. We must not lose another generation.
That the Parliament believes that over 100,000 young people unemployed in the country is a crisis for Scotland’s future and that an unemployment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds of 21.5%, higher in Scotland than the UK rate of 20.2%, threatens a lost generation in Scotland; therefore calls on the Scottish Government to produce an emergency response to the youth jobs crisis to include appointing a dedicated minister for youth jobs to get young people into jobs as recommended by The Smith Group, to immediately bring forward a procurement bill including provisions to create employment and training for young people, to expand the Community Jobs Fund into the private sector to take on the long-term young unemployed and to put in place a capital investment plan that supports employment and results in major projects proceeding without further delays; further believes that the Scottish Government should not proceed with cuts in college funding of 20%, which will only make tackling youth unemployment harder, and calls on all political parties in Scotland to make tackling youth unemployment a national priority using the significant powers that the Parliament has to secure a better future for Scotland and its young people.
I am responding to Iain Gray partly because I know that it is the last time that he will lead a debate in the Parliament. Therefore, it is right and proper that I respond to him, but I hope that he will forgive me for saying that the real reason why I am doing so is that I believe that the position on youth unemployment is the responsibility of every minister, MSP, private sector company, local authority, voluntary organisation and adult Scot. All have an inescapable responsibility to tackle the problem of youth unemployment.
The Government claims no monopoly on wisdom, and no party in the Parliament has a monopoly on concern. I have huge political divisions with Iain Gray, huge and even more political divisions, I suspect, with the Conservative Party, and divisions with Willie Rennie, but I do not believe for a second that any MSP comes to the Parliament without an obligation relating to and an understanding of the threat to society that youth unemployment poses. Let us start from that assumption.
That said, I congratulate the Labour Party on the most constructive motion that I have seen from it since the election. I will respond to it in similar vein. First, I want to look at the nature of the problem that we face, because it is crucial that we understand it. Secondly, I want to talk about the action that we have taken so far, because it is important that that is understood, given that we are tackling the problem in the way that we should. Thirdly, I want to talk about the further actions that we intend to take, which I hope members will support.
First, I turn to the nature of the problem. I have said that the Labour motion is more constructive, but it is important that we do not play with the statistics. The motion mentions 100,000 unemployed young people; it then mentions not 16 to 24-year-olds, but 18 to 24-year-olds. It does so because the unemployment rates for 16 to 24-year-olds for Scotland and the UK are virtually identical at 23.1 per cent for Scotland and 23 per cent for the UK. Labour mentions 18 to 24-year-olds to make a difference between the rates, but we must understand the genesis of those unemployment figures.
It is important to understand that 35.2 per cent of that unemployment rate in Scotland—that is, 35,000 people—is made up of young Scots who are in full-time education but are still looking for work. The figure for the United Kingdom is 28.4 per cent. That is not to diminish the problem; rather, we should understand that that group of people who are in full-time education and looking for work are not part of a lost generation. I would love to be part of a society in which every full-time student could have a part-time job—that is what is largely contained in those figures—but I know that people who are in full-time education are not part of a lost generation. They are looking for employment and skills—for the things that will equip them for the workforce. That is why it is perfectly legitimate to look at the employment figures. Iain Gray is wrong to suggest that there is a marginal difference between the employment figures for young people in Scotland and those for the rest of the UK. The difference is 4.5 per cent among both 16 to 24-year-olds and 18 to 24-year-olds—which, believe me, is a significant number as far as the employment figures are concerned.
One of the key reasons for the higher employment rate among our young people in Scotland—and this is where I will talk about the actions that have been taken so far—is that, uniquely in Scotland, modern apprenticeships are attached to jobs. Modern apprentices in Scotland are people who are employed; I do not want to demean what is being done elsewhere but they are not, for example, people on college courses to which employment is not attached. As I said, in Scotland, modern apprenticeships are attached to jobs, which is why the introduction of 25,000 modern apprenticeships is such a substantial collective achievement by the Parliament. It is 60 per cent more than the number that we inherited in 2007.
Okay then—modern apprenticeships have gone up from 15,869 to 25,000 and the total number of training places, which includes all the figures, has gone up from 55,288 to 90,362. No matter whether we look at all training places or just the modern apprenticeships, there has been a 60 per cent increase—[Interruption.] It is a strange thing with the Labour benches. I thought that Iain Gray was claiming the credit for the 25,000 apprentices but his own back benches seem to be dissenting from that. Incidentally, given that the measure was such an important part of the budget, it would have been helpful had Labour members voted for it.
The First Minister has raised some interesting points about the numbers and statistics. However, he is now six minutes into his 10-minute speech and he is still trying to justify and dismantle the figures and what has been done. Was my point not that the time for that has passed and that it is now time to hear what new action can be taken?
Which is perhaps why it would have been better to stay on that positive agenda. I have taken two interventions, but I take Iain Gray’s point: I will talk about the rest of what has been done and what needs to be done.
We are now ensuring that apprenticeships or training scheme places are attached to public contracts, public procurement and so on and will reinforce that measure in legislation that will come before this Parliament. We should also look at the various jobs announcements that have been made in the past few months: Avaloq has taken on 75 graduates as part of its 500-job expansion; Vion Hall’s has taken on 100 apprentices in its 250-job expansion at Broxburn; and Michelin in Dundee is training 50 apprentices, half for it and half for other engineering companies in connection with its factory of the future. That issue has been dealt with and, if we need to reinforce that measure, we will certainly do so.
Finally, the opportunities for all guarantee of a training place for every 16 to 19-year-old in the country is extraordinary. Every 16 to 19-year-old in the country who is not in an apprenticeship, in training, in full-time education or in a job will be offered a training place. We should not simply sweep aside what is a very substantial commitment.
I will now tell the chamber what else is in the Government’s mind and programme. I have enormous respect for the Smith group. One has only to look at the people on the group who have dedicated their time and efforts to bringing forward proposals to tackle these challenges: Lord Smith himself; Sir Tom Hunter; Chris van der Kuyl; Willie Haughey; Jim McColl; Christine Wilson; Peter Galloway; Rory Mair; and Julia Swan. Given that every single one of those people has dedicated themselves to this particular issue, we should take serious account of all their considerations. Incidentally, those who argue about the group’s bringing forward proposals should embrace the proposal that Jobcentre Plus be devolved to this Parliament. After all, the group knows what it is talking about. We feel that having a dedicated minister for youth employment, which was also among the group’s recommendations, would be a good thing and I am determined to listen to the whole range of the Smith group’s proposals.
Last Friday morning, I was in Stranraer, on my way to open the new Stena Line ferry terminal on Loch Ryan, when I heard that £100 million is to be devoted to youth employment in Scotland. I was excited by that, but when I disaggregated the figure, I found that it is actually £6 million a year through consequentials, making a total of £18 million.
I believe that more initiatives than that are required, which is why, at next Tuesday’s Cabinet, a proposal will be introduced to appoint a minister for youth employment. The proposal will be brought to the Parliament as quickly as possible—probably next Wednesday. That minister will come with additional resources not of £18 million, but of £30 million brought together from other departments. Along with the range of responsibilities in the Cabinet, that minister will be charged with co-operating with and co-ordinating local authorities and the voluntary and private sectors in bringing forward the substantial proposals that must be made if we, collectively, are to tackle the problem.
Those who argue that we should respond to the Smith group report—as we are doing—should look at that report in its totality. They should look at the areas of the report that compliment Skills Development Scotland on its achievements so far and stop demeaning that organisation, which is delivering the 25,000 apprentices. Those people should look at the proposals to take Jobcentre Plus into the ambit of the Parliament and the reasons given as to why that would work better. They should unite behind the proposal to have a dedicated minister for youth employment, with a budget that is far in excess of the consequentials that have been announced from Westminster, to tackle the problem jointly with our co-responsible groups in society—local authorities and the voluntary and private sectors—so that not just every member of the Scottish Parliament, but every adult Scot can be proud of the proposals that come forward to bring a future to the young people of Scotland.
I move amendment S4M-01449.3, to leave out from “first believes” to end and insert:
“welcomes the Scottish Government’s efforts to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment, which is a consequence of the UK Government’s failed economic policies; commends the Scottish Government for the wide range of measures in place to provide improved life chances for Scotland’s young people, including providing a record 125,000 modern apprenticeships over the lifetime of this Parliament, support for 14,500 training places each year to help transitions into the labour market, the ‘Opportunities for All’ scheme that will provide a guaranteed suitable place in learning or training for all 16-19 year old school-leavers, and by providing support to both institutions and students which maintains university and college numbers; further welcomes that, as a result of Scottish Government policy, youth employment in Scotland is significantly higher than in the UK; recognises that there must be a constant focus on identifying additional measures and welcomes all positive proposals from any quarter that can improve youth employment, and affirms that this Parliament should have the necessary job creating powers at its disposal to maximise opportunities for Scotland’s young people.”
I am grateful to the Labour Party for bringing this debate to the Parliament. As Iain Gray rightly said, it could hardly be more important, and he eloquently outlined the reasons why. There can be no doubt whatever that rising unemployment is a serious issue, particularly when we hear that no fewer than 100,000 young people are unemployed in Scotland. The stakes are high but, although the Conservatives can well understand why Labour seeks what the motion describes as an “emergency response”, we argue that there is an even stronger case for a swift but nonetheless carefully considered and coherent strategy that goes across all the portfolios in the Parliament, for exactly the reasons that the First Minister set out. If there is a lesson from history, it is that short-term responses usually have only limited impact.
The First Minister is again right—that is twice this morning—to recognise that there are various types of unemployment and therefore various causes. Clearly, many young people are suffering from the effects of the cyclical downturn and the depressed state of demand in the Scottish economy and demand for exports from Scottish companies. However, other young people are suffering from an on-going structural change in the economy and the resulting mismatch of skills. We should be mindful that, although the vacancy rate has shown a modest decline in the past year, nearly half of that vacancy rate reflects the fact that employers in this country do not believe that those workers have the appropriate skills. Willy Roe made that point in his excellent report that was published last year, and it is made consistently by the Confederation of British Industry and many chambers of commerce. That issue means not only that we are experiencing problems with our education and training programmes, but that a large number of businesses in Scotland have to spend too much money working on upskilling that population rather than on job creation.
It follows that addressing unemployment issues among young people is not a matter of a single policy. Of crucial importance are policies that promote sustained economic growth, specifically via investment in longer-term capital projects, which boost the level of consumer demand and have a multiplier effect across the whole economy. We need to spend within our means, rather than allow debt and borrowing to spiral out of control. Another aspect is the requirement to provide young people with the right skills and, perhaps more important, the flexibility of skills that allows them to adapt to the demands of the modern economy.
On that point, Willy Roe makes an interesting remark. He says that three things are essential for a modern, progressive workforce: the right attitude, the right skills and the right knowledge—in that order. He goes on to say that our schools, colleges and universities have too often dealt with them in the reverse order. That is an important point that should give us pause for thought. If there is a strong message emanating from Scottish businesses, it is that too few of our young people understand what constitutes a professional attitude. It is sad to hear those in restaurants, hotels and rural businesses saying that they would prefer to take on young foreign workers rather than young Scots. I do not believe for a minute that the potential is not there; of course it is, but there needs to be much more focus on it from an early age.
I warmly commend the Government’s early years strategy, and the work being done by the other parties to ensure that we get the strategy right, but I also commend several aspects of the work of the highly respected Smith group, which makes clear the need to ensure a focus not only on the early years but on the transition period between primary 7 and secondary 1 and 2. I also commend some aspects of the youth contract that has been introduced by the Westminster Government. As well as helping employers to cover their share of national insurance costs, wage incentives and new Jobcentre Plus schemes, the contract is designed to provide better quality work experience and more focused careers services. I base my opinion on the feedback that I receive from a variety of employers, and I have no doubt at all that the way we can help our young people to get on to the employment ladder and, just as important, to stay on it, is to ensure that they are better prepared for the environment that will confront them in the workplace.
Let me turn to what I, and many other people, see as a major inconsistency in the Scottish Government’s policy priorities. It has stated, not unreasonably, that policies to improve the opportunities for 16 to 19-year-olds should be an essential commitment in this parliamentary session. At the same time, however, it has placed on our colleges the unacceptable burden of disproportionate spending cuts. Those cuts will impact particularly badly in the first year of the 2012 to 2015 spending review and will, extraordinarily, come at a time when the Scottish Government claims that it is doing everything possible to promote and enhance the opportunities of all our young people. How can it be right that such extensive funding has been withdrawn from the college sector when colleges are a crucial part of the economy when it comes to helping our young people?
I am just about to finish my speech.
I move amendment S4M-01449.1, to leave out after “produce” to end and insert:
“a swift and considered response which will provide long term sustainability for youth employment in Scotland by combining the recommendations of the highly regarded Smith Group with job creation incentives in the private sector and a capital investment strategy designed to boost economic growth; and further calls on the Scottish Government to reduce the excessive college cuts planned for the first financial year of the 2012-15 Spending Review which appear to be in direct conflict with the claims of the Scottish Government that the new 16-19 programme is its top priority.”
The Presiding Officer:
Before we move on to the open debate, I remind members that, if they wish to make an intervention, they need to have their card in the console; otherwise, the microphones will not come on.
There are many aspects to youth unemployment, and one that we are focusing on this morning is what the Government can do by spending money and creating jobs through investment. Formerly, as a councillor, and now, as an MSP, I have seen Glasgow City Council and the Scottish Government make big efforts to do those things, but it would be simplistic to say that the Government, the councils or any other public bodies have a magic wand with which to solve the problems immediately. They are too complex simply to have money thrown at them, important though money is.
Many good things are happening in my area, the east end of Glasgow. We have the Commonwealth games, with a huge new building that includes the velodrome and the indoor sports arena. The building has an exceptionally large, complex roof, which was put on by a local company. It required a specialised, trained workforce, however, and the company was unable to take on just any local person, young or otherwise, to do that work.
Another major project in my area is the Clyde Gateway urban regeneration company, which has a target of creating 20,000 jobs over the next 20 years. That will certainly include jobs for many young people.
Those are good things, but it is not always as easy as just putting money into buildings.
The college that serves the east end is John Wheatley College. I am hugely supportive of it and of helping to get people who are further away from the job market towards jobs. I am disappointed that all areas of our economy, including the colleges, are having their budgets cut. I do not know whether Labour is suggesting that the universities are getting too much and the colleges too little and that, therefore, the universities’ budgets should be cut in order to give more to the colleges.
In the past week, I have met representatives of the six Glasgow federation colleges and the City of Glasgow College, and I think that the jury is still out with regard to how much money can be saved by regionalisation.
Clyde Gateway and Glasgow community safety services have had places for apprenticeships but have struggled to get young people to fill them.
When I was recruiting staff, I thought that it would be a good idea to take on a young person, in conjunction with Clyde Gateway and Action for Children, which would pay half of the minimum wage of any 16 to 18-year-old whom I took on. For that age group, the minimum wage is £3.68 an hour, half of which is £1.84. I had to make that up to £7.20 an hour to give a living wage, but I felt that it was good to do that. I was expecting Clyde Gateway to give me a list of young people, but it was able to give me only one name. That young person was pleasant enough. They were quite quiet. They were not happy about speaking to people a great deal and they were not very happy about speaking on the telephone. However, we were prepared to work around that and support them in a way that would move things forward.
It became apparent that nobody else in the young person’s household was working, so there was a bit of a question mark over whether they were used to the ethos of going out to work, as many of us remember our parents doing. It is difficult to break that down. The question is whether we have enough sympathetic employers—which I hope that I was trying to be—who will try to bring a young person out of that environment and into a working situation.
A problem developed with attendance: unfortunately, in the first five weeks, the person did not turn up 25 per cent of the time. Sometimes we were told that they would not be there and sometimes we were not. We—my office manager and Clyde Gateway folk—sat down with the young person and talked to them about the issue. They seemed to understand, and we went through the various procedures, but, again, they did not turn up.
I have already given way, so I think that I am going to have to press on.
At that stage, the human resources folk in the Parliament and Clyde Gateway were telling me that I would be justified in terminating the young person’s employment. I thought that I should give them one more chance. A week past Monday, I was expecting to see them again to give them that final chance but, unfortunately, they did not turn up.
That is not the only example of such a situation. A local baker in my constituency wanted to recruit a local person but could not find someone who was prepared to get up early enough in the morning, so they recruited a French person instead. [Interruption.] I am trying to widen out the issue in order to highlight the fact that many factors—and many organisations—are involved in youth unemployment.
For example, is the family supportive enough? If not, is the school able to break the generational cycle of not working? Have schools placed too much emphasis on the academic in the past? I suggest that, sometimes, they perhaps have. Clearly, the colleges are a player, as has been mentioned. During consultation, there was a suggestion that the SNP Government was placing too much emphasis on young people at the expense of older people.
Is the Labour motion suggesting that we need to move more resources away from older people and towards younger people? I think that older people will suffer if we do that.
I am angry. I am angry after yesterday’s strikes. I am angry at John Mason’s suggestion that young people in our country do not want to work, and I invite him to come up to Dundee and speak to some of the young people to whom I speak every week, who are desperate to work—the young men who have left school and are desperate to get into the construction industry but cannot because there are no jobs available for them.
John Mason rose—
I am angry that, since two weeks ago, when the unemployment figures came out, cybernats continually tweet me with their answer to the unemployment figures, which is that young people in this country do not want to work. That seems to be the message continually coming from members on the Scottish National Party benches and from those who tweet and put things on Facebook in their names.
Those of us who marched and were on the picket lines yesterday recommitted ourselves to fight the scourge of youth unemployment in this country, because yesterday was not just about pensions, although their protection is exceedingly important. Yesterday was, in essence, about work: people’s right to work, to expect to work, to aspire to work, to enjoy success at work, to be properly paid for work, to be challenged, to pay taxes and to build a financial and satisfying legacy for old age.
The crisis in youth unemployment in Scotland has grown to breaking point. As the economic downturn has unfolded it has become increasingly clear that Scotland’s youth are being hardest hit in the fight to find work, training or access to further education. I want to talk a bit about the structural problems of the economic downturn that are affecting the choices of the young people in those of our communities that are most decimated by unemployment, such as an increasingly competitive job market that keeps them shut out, and a further education system that will see fewer opportunities for them after the SNP has made its debilitating cuts to colleges.
In a recent study, Professor David Bell of the University of Stirling talks of a “trade-down” generation, with today’s graduates, who are faced with an increasingly difficult job market, taking on jobs in retail or services at minimum wage—jobs that would otherwise usually have been done by those who had not been to university. The burden of the economic squeeze has landed on the shoulders of young people who are on the first rung on the employability ladder. They have left school early without many qualifications or any work experience and have entered a job market where they are now competing for jobs against more highly qualified candidates—and they cannot compete. Little wonder, then, that unemployment among young people in Scotland is rising at a rate that is double that for 25 to 49-year-olds.
Traditionally, for those who have left school early and want to boost their employability, there has always been the option of studying or training at college, but demand for college places has soared and the Educational Institute of Scotland reports that college courses are increasingly difficult to find. Coupled with budget cuts of 40 per cent in real terms, which I have put to the cabinet secretary before, and college mergers—with a predicted loss of up to 2,000 places at Angus College alone—the college option is becoming harder and harder for young people to realise, leaving them with little option but to return to school. The rate of pupils staying on at school past the age of 16 has jumped from a relatively stable rate of between 77 and 79 per cent between 2000 and 2008 to 83 per cent last year—the highest figure on record.
Will Jenny Marra acknowledge that among the many recommendations of the Smith group is one that says that staying on at school is a good thing? Might that have something to do with this Government’s determination to maintain education maintenance allowance, which has been removed elsewhere in these islands?
There are many who find the cuts to education maintenance allowance quite debilitating. It is good that some people are staying on at school, but it is not acceptable that others are not.
I will read to the chamber something that was posted on Facebook yesterday by the brother of Angus MacLeod. Labour members feel very strongly that this sums up the state of youth unemployment in our country. It is about a boy called Liam Aitchison, who died earlier this week. John MacLeod met him in late September as they waited for a ferry. John was returning from the Uist communion and ended up giving Liam a lift to Stornoway. He said that Liam was
“engaging, smart, funny, had quite a back-story, a strong handshake and was eerily old for his years ... he would hail me on the streets of town (usually to tap me for fags).”
Two weeks ago, they met up for lunch. John took reams of notes to get a CV together for him. He had a looming date before the sheriff for “some juvenile mischief” and they felt that finding Liam “a situation” or a job might help. John wrote that Liam
“had ... lost weight in these weeks; looked rather flat and tired. Picked at his food; inexplicably declined pudding. ‘I’ll Facebook you,’ he said; but he didn’t”.
Liam never touched Facebook or his mobile again. John wrote:
“Liam went missing a few days later. His body was found in a derelict shack by the edge of Stornoway yesterday ... a lad disadvantaged in many ways ... in life ... but who had worked hard in the Pollachar Inn and on four fishing boats, had earned six Standard Grades, was a drummer in Uist pipe band ... and who could play a bewildering range of instruments”—
I am just coming to a conclusion.
John said that Liam
“completed the John Muir award in 2009 and was a keen cook”.
He was not
“a ‘ned’, a ‘chav’, a ‘loser’ or a statistic”.
John described him as
“a young man worth meeting”.
Liam was a young man who needed a job and who will never now realise that potential. Liam was 16 years old.
I welcome this morning’s Labour-led debate, the seriousness of which disposes of the notion that, generally, Labour members run around stirring up apathy. Their demeanour today eschews the idea that, in general, they have been diagnosed with a cure for happiness. Youth unemployment is a serious topic, and we welcome the debate.
The fact that the Labour motion calls for an emergency response to the position on jobs for youths crystallises Labour’s eternal problem. As I said yesterday—I am sorry that Labour members missed it, so I will repeat it—it was always thus: reactive politics, emergency responses and crisis management. Every time Labour has been in power in London and has had its hands on the levers of economic power, the consequences have been devaluation, winters of discontent, financial and banking crisis and so on, and, ultimately, the people who have suffered have been the young.
We now reap what has been sowed: crisis management, emergency responses and a lack of long-term strategy. In the case of youth employment, we have a highly selective rewriting of economic history.
This is not a new phenomenon. As even Iain Gray indicated, the decades that led up to the 1990s saw a long and sustained deterioration in the opportunities for and the status of young people at the bottom of our society. [Interruption.] Of course, some young people have good manners.
Young men and women who live in areas of high unemployment and low wages could not and cannot offer much in the way of stability or support to their families or communities.
Are we complacent? Of course we are not. Are we content? Of course we are not. The youth of our nation are the trustees of our posterity. Although the young may have a tendency to live in the present, they want to work for the future. That is what we want for them, and that is what we are working for. Even though we have one hand tied behind our back, in that we do not yet control the economic levers that would allow this nation to exercise its assets and revenues to the benefit of young people in relation to youth unemployment and entrepreneurship, at least we have a strategy and a programme.
Iain Gray mentioned that the unemployment rate among 18 to 24-year-olds is 21.5 per cent in Scotland, whereas it is 20.2 per cent for the UK as a whole. He should also have highlighted, as the First Minister did, that 27,000, or 32.6 per cent, of those 84,000 in Scotland are in full-time education, whereas in the UK as a whole the figure is 20.6 per cent.
I said that we are not complacent. The Tories recommend job-creation incentives in the private sector and the capital investment strategy, which is designed to boost economic growth. That is exactly what I thought the cabinet secretary had outlined in the spending review and budget. The small business bonus scheme now takes 85,000 businesses out of rate payment. If we could get them, and other small businesses, to take on one person each, we could create 40,000 jobs, many of them for the young and apprentices.
We are shifting £750 million from revenue to capital spend over the next three years; that is critical for jobs and youth employment. Given his actions this week, it is instructive to note that the penny has finally dropped for the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The creation of 125,000 apprenticeships over the next five years; the plan to reduce youth unemployment through initiatives such as the opportunities for all programme; the reform of the post-16 education system; and the design to continue to provide financial support for our young people are all part of a strategy. Are we content? No.
The momentum on inward investment, to which the First Minister referred, adds to that strategy. Allan Lyall, vice-president of Amazon Europe, said recently:
“We are looking for great people that look after our customers the way they need to. As long as that continues, we’ll be in Scotland.”
The vast majority of our young people are great people. I had the privilege of attending Ayr College graduation, where there was little bleating about excessive college cuts and more of a yes-we-can and yes-we-will attitude from teachers and students alike.
I say this in the context of how serious the issue is—
No. I am in my last minute.
Let us lay tribalism aside. Youth unemployment is and always will be a priority. Let us embrace and consult on proposals and ideas from wherever they may come. I would like us to have control over Jobcentre Plus. Let us use whatever vehicles, such as the social enterprise system and the third sector, will release entrepreneurship in and jobs for our young people. Let this Parliament and this nation remember that our young are the trustees of our posterity. Our strategy should be directed towards the objective of full employment in that area. That is, will and should be our strategy, our plan and our design. I support the SNP amendment.
I commend the Opposition for highlighting an issue that we all see as very important. When I saw that the title of the debate was “Scotland’s Future”, I thought, “That’s quite easy. I can sum that up in one word.” Members can all guess that that one word is “independence.”
The issue that is being debated is complex. The motion is quite right to point out that all parties must work together to put forward the best solutions available to us at this time.
The Scottish Government has to an extent recognised this important issue and it is taking positive steps to address it. I welcome the First Minister’s announcement of a minister for youth employment. That is absolutely fantastic and I look forward to meeting and working with that minister.
As has already been said, provision was made in the spending review for a record 125,000 new modern apprenticeships over the next five years. We are committed to delivering 25,000 a year. It is important that, as the First Minister said, those apprenticeships will be linked to jobs.
At the SNP conference in October, the First Minister announced—I think that Iain Gray raised this point—that any new Government contract or grant will have an apprenticeship or training plan attached to it. We should all welcome that as it is essential for the future success of Scotland and its young people.
Chic Brodie mentioned the opportunities for all initiative. That is the commitment, which the First Minister mentioned, that every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland who is not in a job will be offered a place in education or training or a modern apprenticeship. It is important to recognise that.
The Smith group began its report by welcoming the initiatives that the Government has put in place. It said:
“education and training must only be viewed as a means of gaining the skills that take a young person nearer to fulfilling employment.”
We must acknowledge that important point. The report suggests that we should not just consider statistics, temporary outcomes and piecemeal initiatives but have a fully joined-up approach. When we offer a training or college place or other initiative, we tend to forget that it might not necessarily suit the young person. We need to remember that one size does not fit all and that a young person might not want to go down a particular road. We should listen to what young people tell us about what they want to do.
I feel positive about the future, because the Scottish Government’s curriculum for excellence is designed to enable young people to identify what they want to do and to develop at their own pace the knowledge, understanding and skills that will meet their needs and aspirations. Members on the Opposition benches said that some young people who leave school at 15 or 16 do not have the necessary skills. That is perhaps a failing that the curriculum for excellence will address. Many young people do not want to stay on at school; they want to take a different direction, and that is up to them. The curriculum for excellence is in its infancy, but I think that it will be hugely successful if we listen to the right people—that is, to young people themselves.
For too long, many young people have not been given the opportunity to explore their potential. They have been pigeonholed and written off at a young age. That is sad, and it cannot be allowed to happen.
Members of the Opposition talk about a “lost generation”.
Sandra White clearly received the First Minister’s memo this morning about the debate being constructive, unlike Mr Mason and Mr Brodie. Will she take this opportunity to distance herself from Mr Mason’s remarks about his experience of young people in his constituency who apparently do not want to work?
I think that the member took the wrong message from what Mr Mason said. Mr Mason did not say that young people do not want to work; he was talking about a young person whom he had employed. If the member speaks to Mr Mason after the debate, I am sure that he will explain what he meant. Perhaps if Jenny Marra had taken Mr Mason’s intervention, he would have explained exactly what he meant.
Young people do not want to be pigeonholed. There are aspects of some young people’s lives that make things difficult for them, and we must listen to what they say and ensure that what we offer is what they want. I do not particularly want to use the phrase “lost generation”, which the Opposition uses. However, perhaps if we look back 10 or 15 years we can see that the lost generation is the result of the policies of not just Scottish Administrations in previous sessions of the Scottish Parliament but UK Governments that tried to pigeonhole kids without asking them what they wanted.
We need to consider the challenges that young people face in the modern world. They perhaps see the challenges differently from how we see them. We must listen to them and ensure that we provide proper training and education—training and education that they want—so that they are able to get jobs. Unemployed young people in my constituency tell me that they have the ambition, aspiration and passion that they need to get a job, but they do not have opportunities to explore what they want to do, so they have lost their confidence. We must build up young people’s confidence.
In my constituency in Glasgow there are opportunities in the renewables sector—on the Clyde and elsewhere—and in the financial sector, which is coming along fantastically. Drew Smith and I talked about the financial district when we met on the march in Glasgow yesterday.
I am sorry, Presiding Officer.
There are fantastic opportunities out there for our young people. We just have to ensure that they are trained and ready for the jobs that we have to offer.
I welcome today’s debate and I congratulate Iain Gray on bringing to the chamber an issue to which he has shown a genuine and consistent commitment over the years. Like Sandra White, when I first saw the topic for today’s debate I braced myself for a further canter along the psephological highways and byways of constitutional referenda. No doubt we will return to that topic over the months and years ahead, but for now it is entirely right that Parliament has an opportunity to focus on youth unemployment and the more immediate needs of those who risk becoming part of a lost generation.
Across the UK as a whole, the figures on youth unemployment are alarming but, as the Labour motion points out, they have a particular resonance here in Scotland, notwithstanding the First Minister’s caveats. That is not to say that I believe that the Scottish Government has ignored the issue or given it an unduly low priority. Indeed, I make clear at the outset that I recognise and support a number of the measures that ministers have taken—some of which are referred to in Mr Salmond’s amendment—including his confirmation this morning of the creation of a ministerial role in relation to youth unemployment.
Sadly, that same amendment displays the by now all-too-characteristic assertion by the SNP that any and all problems that Scotland faces are the fault of Westminster and that any and all signs of optimism are solely the result of good stewardship on the part of the SNP. Such an analysis is economically illiterate, however politically expedient it may be for the First Minister and his colleagues.
No one seriously disputes the fact that these are difficult times. Those who continue to advocate a more nebulous notion of less deep and less fast deficit and debt reduction need to reflect on the carnage that is being wrought in other economies, both inside and outside the euro zone, as the result of a failure to get to grips with those issues. Nevertheless, in undertaking these painful but essential measures, Governments north and south of the border cannot lose sight of the need to look beyond the current difficulties and plan for the point when calmer economic waters will be reached.
When the member talks about economic challenges, will he reflect on the fact that the chancellor announced on Tuesday that he will undertake an additional £158 billion-worth of borrowing, essentially to support lower growth? Would it not have been better to divert some of that borrowing to support higher growth?
The cabinet secretary makes an interesting point. I will turn in a second to the autumn statement that was made earlier this week.
I welcome the debate and the thrust of the Labour motion, albeit that I think that Liz Smith’s amendment suggests some important improvements to it. I also welcome a number of the measures that the UK coalition Government announced in the autumn statement. I assume that the First Minister also welcomes them, if for no other reason than that, in important respects, the measures represent a constructive response to a number of the proposals that Mr Swinney advanced on credit easing, increased capital investment, the use of pension funds to support infrastructure projects and discussions around the operation of enterprise zones.
Mr McArthur, can I stop you for a moment? The motion and amendments focus on youth unemployment, so I would be grateful if your remarks could perhaps address that as well.
That is exactly what I was going to come on to, Presiding Officer.
Those measures, in conjunction with others, can help to make a difference by tackling the underlying problems that have given rise to our alarmingly high rates of youth unemployment. I believe that they also justify the calls in the Labour motion and the Tory amendment for an urgent response from Scottish ministers. That is not because I believe that ministers have been idle on the issue, but because the options now open to them have been widened and the evidence before us all—that more needs to be done—is irrefutable, not least in light of the most recent recommendations from the Smith group.
The £433 million of additional capital investment that will be available to the Scottish Government over the course of the spending review is a case in point. What we need to see over the coming weeks is a detailed plan of how that capital investment will be used effectively to help stimulate economic growth across all parts of the country and assist in bringing down levels of unemployment, not just among the 18 to 24-year-old group but across the board.
Details are needed, too, on how Scottish ministers propose to respond to the £1 billion youth contract initiative that was announced this week. The UK Government has made clear its commitment to funding incentives to companies that take on young people as well as to providing extra support through Jobcentre Plus for unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds and an offer of work experience or a sector-based work academy place for every 18 to 24-year-old who wants one.
I recognise that there is a considerable overlap with commitments that Scottish ministers have already made, but we need to know whether the significant consequentials that arise from the establishment of the youth contract will be used to expand those commitments along the lines proposed south of the border, which fit well with a number of the key recommendations on skills development that the Smith group proposed last week.
Indeed, I was struck by the entirely valid points that NUS Scotland made earlier this week on the need to ensure that the Scottish Government’s focus on 16 to 19-year-olds
“does not come at the expense of those returning to study later in life, whether this is those aged 18-24 or older.”
It appears that the UK Government’s youth contract initiative provides an opportunity to address a key point of legitimate concern that I know is shared by colleges.
Finally, I will touch on another concern that is shared by students and colleges and in relation to which clarity and a change of tack from the Scottish Government are urgently needed. It is not just NUS Scotland that sees an inherent inconsistency between Scottish ministers’ statements about the priority that they attach to tackling the high levels of youth unemployment and their decision in the current budget to slash college spending by £74 million over the next three years. As NUS Scotland makes clear, the proposed funding settlement is
“jeopardising the Scottish Government’s commitment to maintain college places”.
Scottish colleges insist that the level of savings that ministers are seeking, given that the pain is being front-loaded at a point when the costs of restructuring are likely to be highest, is impossible to achieve
“without seriously compromising quality and the number of students that can be taught.”
That makes no sense, whatever ministers assert. They have got it wrong, and I simply cannot believe that they will not eventually be forced—
Ministers will eventually be forced to reconsider such a damaging and self-defeating decision. With additional funding at its disposal, the sooner the SNP Government confirms that U-turn, the better.
Youth unemployment is an economic waste and a slow-burn social disaster. On this issue there can be unanimity across the Parliament. As the First Minister rightly said, there is no monopoly of concern. In that spirit, I hope that the Scottish Government will reflect on what is being said in this morning’s generally constructive debate, and respond positively and with a sense of urgency.
This is a very important debate. Iain Gray is quite right when he says that we are talking about real people who have hopes and dreams. I try to relate most of my speeches to the real world outwith the parliamentary bubble that we live in. It is quite constructive to hear the Labour Party admit that there is something out there.
I came to the chamber hoping that we would have an open and honest debate about an important subject. I hoped that we would look to the future and talk about working together to find solutions to the challenges that we have ahead of us. Unfortunately, my dreams were let down when Iain Gray started talking and it was just the same old Labour rhetoric. However, the First Minister and the Scottish Government listened. I welcome the introduction of a minister for youth employment. We need to give our young people all the support that we can, whether it be through jobs or education. The Scottish Government’s vision is quite incredible in these difficult times.
I have been working with my local colleges and employment agencies to help the younger people in our area. It is extremely important to do that. There have been occasions when private sector companies, such as construction firms, have gone out of business and I have worked with their apprentices and local agencies to ensure that we can get them back to complete their apprenticeships. All politicians have to have the will to make a difference in people’s lives. It is not just about our words in the chamber but about our deeds outside it.
At the end of the day, I do not believe that there is such a thing as a lost generation. I was a teenager in the 1980s, when there was constant talk about a lost generation and young people were said to be left with no future and no hope because of the scourge of Thatcherism. However, many of us fought against that and made sure that we did something with our lives so that we could have a future, and a lot of us are still here.
It is up to us to support our younger people and not keep talking them down by talking about a lost generation. If we tell people often enough that they are lost and have no hope, they will start to believe it and, when it gets to that stage, we will never get them back. Our job as community and national leaders and as elected members is to lead, build up and support all the people of Scotland and show them our positive vision of the future.
Let us look at some of the things that the Scottish Government has already done. The employment rate for 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland is 62.9 per cent, which was higher than that in England between July and September 2011. We have invested in a record number of apprenticeship places. The Labour Party asked for that and then, when it got it, it did not want it any more. We have committed to ensuring that every 16 to 19-year-old is offered a learning or training place by delivering 46,500 training opportunities and 25,000 more modern apprenticeships, which is 60 per cent more than there were when we took office.
When we look at some of the things that have been done by the SNP minority Administration and now the SNP majority Administration, we can see the difference between their outlook of hope and vision for the future and the complete negativity from the Labour Party. In its time, Labour cut the number of new apprenticeship places by almost a fifth in 2006-07, and during consideration of the 2011-12 budget, it voted in a way that suggested that it no longer wanted modern apprenticeships. It says one thing and then does something entirely different. We have to not only say what we believe in but follow that up with deeds.
We can see what the Government has done even with the limited powers that it has. However, there is a better way. There is a future. In every school that I visit, and from every school that visits the Parliament, it is clear that young people are listening to the vision of the First Minister’s independence generation. Unlike the Labour Party, they get the vision and they see the future, because they know that there is only one way forward and they are no longer scared by the—
I always enjoy listening to Mr Adam. When he speaks, he usually gives us a wee anecdote from his very interesting life. Last time, we heard about his mother-in-law’s comments on the Supreme Court. I thought that, today, we might have got his dog’s views on youth unemployment, or something like that. Come on—we need an anecdote, George.
That intervention was extremely disappointing. I expected a wee bit more, even from Mr Findlay. That said, it was not my mother-in-law who commented on the Supreme Court. It was actually my auntie, but never mind. [Laughter.]
Unlike the Labour Party, I do not believe in a lost generation. Those who do have given up and abandoned their responsibilities. We live in difficult financial times that were created by the Labour Party and have been continued by the Tories. When I was a young man, my guide and mentor in politics, Councillor Jim Mitchell, said, “Don’t call them Labour. Don’t call them Tories. They’re all unionists, every single one.” As time goes on, we can see that they are going back to their unionist beliefs and they lack the vision and the will to move Scotland forward and help our people, young and old. My message to the young people of Scotland is that there is an exciting future. They understand that, and like me they will take their chances with the First Minister and our Scottish Government. The debate is about Scotland’s future. I finish by saying that the future is looking positive and the future is independent.
I do not want to repeat statistics of which the Parliament is already aware, but it is worth bearing it in mind that we learned from the autumn statement that unemployment is to rise to 8.7 per cent next year and still further the year after that. I fear that, the chancellor having cut too far and too fast, the changes that he announced in the statement are too little and too late.
Everyone should have a fair chance of getting a good job, and Government at every level should aspire to a full-employment economy and a full-employment society. The Finance Committee has been discussing early intervention and preventative spending. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that proves that having a job is good not only for a young person’s income but for their health, social wellbeing and mental state. We know from studies conducted during the previous period of mass unemployment in the 1990s that people in secure employment are more likely to recover from illness and less likely to be depressed. Depression is more common among young people than among any other group of unemployed persons. We need a jobs strategy that recognises how opportunity and job creation can build not just a healthy economy but a healthy society.
In South Lanarkshire, 18 to 24-year-olds make up 16.9 per cent of the working-age population, yet they account for more than 30 per cent of jobseekers allowance claimants. Compared with the rest of Scotland, the number of young people who are out of work in my area is disproportionately high. If the years that I spent working in training and back-to-work education taught me anything about youth unemployment, it is that the only solutions that have been proven to work are those that match the scale of the problem.
I intend to talk about interventions on the supply side to help to create opportunities for young people. Before I proceed, I make it clear that the recent climb in the level of youth unemployment is not natural or structural but a consequence of a lack of demand in the economy. Public spending cuts that are any greater than they need to be will not boost demand but will do the opposite and will serve only to prolong the problem.
We have heard a lot about the college sector and the role of further education in delivering skills and training, but a large number of private training providers are also doing great work to help young people into employment. I recognise the role of those organisations and of charities such as the East Kilbride & District Engineering Group Training Association, which I have had the pleasure of visiting twice since being elected. Before my election, I was a training consultant and, before that, I worked at the University of Strathclyde, where I was responsible for the training unit and the modern apprenticeship scheme. I was also responsible for recruiting all staff under the age of 20. Youth unemployment and training are issues that are very close to my heart, and they are also ones that I have dealt with on a day-to-day basis in my professional life.
We are talking today about the 18-to-24 age group—and rightly so—but, in my experience, some of the barriers to employment or decent work-related training present themselves at an earlier stage. I have always believed that schools could do more to improve work experience, as a wealth of experience in education, training and careers guidance could be brought into the process. We could do more to match the talents and ambitions of young people with good work experience placements that are relevant to the individual’s career choices. We already have national qualifications in work experience at access 3, intermediates 1 and 2 and higher, and I suggest that we could make better use of those qualifications. We could even go as far as to develop new ways of delivering work experience so that 16 and 17-year-old school leavers are more likely to find employment and less likely to become unemployed between the ages of 18 and 24. Although funding is available to help employers to take on apprentices, it is not necessarily enough of an incentive in these difficult economic times. That is also true of other employer incentives.
Jobs subsidies have become very popular recently, with even the chancellor committing to a new scheme. The Scottish Government has community jobs Scotland, the UK Government has its new youth contracts and progressive local authorities in Scotland, such as Glasgow City Council and South Lanarkshire Council, have announced their own graduate employment schemes. Those are all welcome measures, but none of them matches the original future jobs fund or the Scottish future jobs fund, which the Labour Party proposed at the most recent election. If members remember nothing else from today’s debate, they should remember this: the future jobs fund worked. That is not just my view; it is the view of the Work and Pensions Committee at Westminster, the Work Foundation and the voluntary sector.
I said earlier that our response to youth unemployment must match the scale of the problem. What the UK Government has announced amounts to a jobs subsidy of £2,275 per placement, whereas the future jobs fund provided up to £6,000 per placement. Community jobs Scotland supports 2,000 places in the voluntary sector, whereas the Scottish future jobs fund would have created 10,000 opportunities in all sectors. We must be more ambitious than that. I want to secure a new future jobs fund. If the Parliament will not agree to that, I hope that we can at least agree to extend community jobs Scotland into other sectors with new resources as they become available.
The level of youth unemployment has been too high for too long. Addressing that is my number 1 priority, and I hope that it is a priority that is shared by members across the Parliament.
I welcome the debate and commend the Labour Party for securing it. It is a wise choice of debate to have on a critical issue at this time. Although the financial climate in which we operate has changed, our ambitions for this nation and our young people have not. Undoubtedly, young people are hit hardest in a time of recession, as they are often last in the door and are denied the job opportunities that would really give them a step change in opportunities in their lives. We know that from the number of applications that are received for posts that become available.
Youth employment is a key issue that the Parliament and Government should address, and I welcome the words of support from the First Minister today and the action plan that the Government will carry out. I fully endorse the cabinet secretary’s drive for sustainable economic growth as a way to drive forward opportunities for young people.
I was brought up in Kirklandneuk in Renfrew, an area defined as at risk because of multiple deprivation. I was one of the lucky ones who had a chance in life, so I am only too aware of the lack of opportunities that many of my fellow young people have had. That is why a range of actions have to be taken forward in a holistic approach to give young people opportunities.
Many young people are staying in education because they know that the jobs market may not offer the opportunities that they want. That is an issue to bear in mind.
I am mindful of the SNP’s party-political broadcast—“What has the Scottish Government ever done for us?” Let me tell the chamber a wee bit about what the Government has done and a scheme in the area where I was raised. The school is being refurbished to be reopened in January and the scheme is getting its fair share of the £149 million that is being invested in housing across Renfrewshire. There is a new health centre, new police station and investment in roads.
By the way, in all of that procurement, there were social benefit clauses to ensure that local apprentices were employed as part of the work that was commissioned by the SNP-led council and the SNP-led Government. The public sector does not need a directive to tell it to use procurement to ensure that there is local benefit in the delivery of procurement contracts, but we will welcome a procurement bill being brought forward in the Government’s legislative programme that can further strengthen the system for those that require to be told to do more, such as Labour-led authorities. If the Labour Party does not think that we are going fast enough in procurement, why did it not propose an amendment in the legislative programme to accelerate the procurement bill? It knows fine well that there is clear Government direction on social benefit in public expenditure.
I will quote a line from the Smith group report that is very important and which has perhaps been missed in the debate:
“We ... take the view that the pre-school years represent perhaps the greatest opportunity in determining future destinations for” our young people. What is the Government doing about that? It is investing half a billion pounds in preventative spending to give young people a better start in life. There is a fantastic difference between what this Administration proposes and what we have heard from the Opposition.
Let us look at what Iain Gray has said. He said that he had a detailed jobs plan. Well, it involves 10,000 work placements and some apprenticeships from 2013 onwards. That is hardly a detailed action plan compared with what the Government is doing to provide opportunities for every 16 to 19-year-old—100 per cent delivery. I remember when that policy announcement was made in the chamber, and the Labour Party said, “You need to do better than that.” I do not know how much better we can do than 100 per cent.
Of course, the Government has delivered free education and a huge increase in the number of modern apprenticeships—60 per cent higher than the number we inherited from the Labour Party when the SNP took office.
We need to deliver in growth areas, such as the renewables sector. The First Minister visited the scheme that I was talking about earlier to announce hundreds of new apprenticeships in the area to give young people a chance of employment as well.
I welcome one thing that the Tory-Liberal coalition has done: the UK youth contract scheme, under which 40,000 places may be created in this country to support young people back into work. However, if the Tories and Liberals had not mishandled the economy so badly, we would perhaps not need the 40,000 places to support young people into work.
I listened to Iain Gray talk about the Scottish problem and the Scottish crisis and how youth employment has to be a top priority but, when it came to the recession under the Labour Government, we heard that it was an international crisis, not a Scottish crisis.
We also have the Tory-Liberal alliance in Westminster trying to talk companies out of coming to Scotland, denying young people the opportunity to work in their own country. The Scottish Government is about bringing jobs to Scotland, using the wealth and immense talents of this nation to have a country that is dynamic and forward looking. If the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats think that trying to scare businesses away from Scotland is helping their constitutional argument, they are very wrong indeed.
We need the economic powers and opportunities to be in one place—this Parliament—so that young people can get a proper service from a one-stop shop to support their opportunities, education and apprenticeships. The system is far too fractured. We need all employment and welfare powers to be transferred to the Parliament so that we can tackle youth unemployment in a holistic, targeted and strategic way.
As other speakers have said, this is an extremely important issue.
When I was at school, teachers used to bend over backwards to encourage students to stay on beyond fourth year and go on to fifth and sixth year. However, according to Jenny Marra, it is bad that the numbers who are staying on for fifth and sixth year are now rising. To be honest, I do not think that there is any statistic in the world that she could not turn into a doom-and-gloom scenario.
Jenny Marra rose—
I am only just starting. I might give way a little bit later once I have developed my speech.
When asked, Jenny Marra could not even bring herself to say whether she welcomed the retention of education maintenance allowance. Does she agree that, sometimes, not everything in the garden is rubbish?
That is on the record. Let us move on and consider some of the things that are being done.
Positive steps are being taken, such as the provision of 25,000 modern apprenticeships per year. The Government’s record on attracting inward investment from companies such as TAQA, Amazon and PetroChina—the list goes on—is also positive.
The trade mission to Brazil is being led by Michael Moore, who must be struggling with the notion of telling companies to invest while, at the same time, hoping that they do not, so that he can blame the failure on the threat of independence. No doubt he is telling the captains of Brazilian industry that they are doing well but would have done so much better if they had stayed under Portuguese control.
The opportunities for all scheme is significant and will provide for 16 to 19-year-olds.
Positive work is also being done on the ground. I will highlight some examples from the north-east. The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth has visited Aberdeen Foyer and will be aware of the work that it does to try to alleviate youth homelessness and unemployment in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire. As a north-east member, Richard Baker will also be aware of that work. Aberdeen Foyer offers a number of programmes, of which I will highlight a couple.
The training for work programme provides training support for people aged 18 and above who are unemployed and actively looking for work. It provides a range of specialist vocational training and, crucially, on-the-job experience. The employers who offer those opportunities range from small businesses right up to multinational companies. They also range across the construction, retail, hospitality and administration sectors. The programme offers opportunities and helps to increase young people’s employability, which is also important. It is about not only increasing employment but increasing employability and giving young people the skills that they require to make the transition into the workplace.
There is also the Prince’s Trust team, which works to enable 16 to 25-year-olds to develop confidence, motivation and skills. We should remember that, for many young people, going to an interview or trying to access work is a daunting experience. We must empower them to make that transition.
Another project that I will highlight is the youth opportunities database project for Aberdeenshire, which has been helpfully and amusingly acronymised to the YODA project. It allows young people aged 16 to 19 who may require additional support to gain a place in education, employment or training in order to secure a positive destination on leaving school or, if they are in learning programmes, increase their employability skills.
The project has a number of aims. It aims to close the skills gap, particularly for the bottom 20 per cent of young people in schools who need additional support; to develop the basic skills and confidence of those who have disengaged from education or are at risk of doing so; to increase employability through education, training and volunteering opportunities; and to support and develop projects that target young people during the crucial transition to adulthood. That time is often very difficult for young people and, in some cases, they require support. The project was initially a pilot project that was run over the 2010 winter period but, due to a diverse range of people applying and the feedback that was received, it has been extended and will continue for the foreseeable future.
The First Minister rightly spoke about the responsibility that we all have, including adult Scots, but there are examples of young Scots who are looking out for each other. In Aberdeen, there is the Mastrick young unemployed project, which tries to help into work unemployed young people and single parents, for example. The project’s committee is almost exclusively made up of young people. Young people are looking to help each other to get that vital first step into the workplace.
Good work is therefore being done that could be replicated in other areas. We all have a responsibility to share in the chamber best practice from the communities that we represent. SNP members do not for one second underestimate the challenge that faces us, but we have a duty as parliamentarians to highlight in the Parliament the good things that are happening and to see whether they can be replicated elsewhere. We owe it to young people to do everything in our power to move them forward. We should not simply come to the Parliament and say that things are going badly; rather, we must ensure that what we do in the Parliament drives forward an agenda to make things better.
The last time I spoke about youth unemployment in the chamber, I asked the Scottish Government to give a guarantee on the maximum waiting time for entry into the opportunity for all programme and reiterated the calls that have been made by some of our most respected children’s and young people’s groups. Today, I again join Barnardo’s Scotland in asking for a commitment from the Government to ensure that all Scotland’s young people are placed in the opportunities for all programme as quickly as possible.
That said, it is clear that the ever-increasing number of unemployed young people need more than just a guaranteed maximum waiting time to access the opportunities for all programme. We have already spent time in the chamber in this parliamentary session condemning the crisis of youth unemployment in Scotland. Unfortunately, every time we debate the issue, the number of young people who are affected appears to have risen. Action needs to be taken in a number of areas for our young people, and particularly our most vulnerable young people: in employment and apprenticeship opportunities; in education and training; and in tackling the inequalities that are prevalent in our society. Inequalities that relate to housing problems, drug and alcohol dependencies, and domestic violence can present barriers to young people gaining employment.
All of those issues have been well debated in their own right, so I want to focus first on another issue that is particularly important to the people whom I represent. Broadband take-up in Scotland has not increased since 2009. It is disturbing for the people whom I represent in Glasgow that the figures suggest that we have a lower uptake than the national average. There are particular concerns for people from low-income households, only around 26 per cent of which have broadband access. The low level of broadband access means that young people are in danger of missing out on various opportunities. They have no chance of looking through different job-search sites and making online applications—that assumes that there are jobs to apply for. Broadband access also gives our young people the chance to search for education places and training. Quite simply, if a person does not have internet access, it is not a case of need not apply but a case of not able to apply. In this day and age, when almost our entire society is linked through the internet, it is vital that anyone who is looking to enter the job market is at least able to utilise the vast amount of help and advice that is available online.
Writing a CV or application letter is difficult for anyone but, the first time round, the task seems almost impossible. However, with the aid of the internet, young people can get answers to their questions, get tips, watch online tutorials and find out the best way of putting together a CV and an application letter.
All Scotland’s young people should have employment, training and education opportunities but, if we are to help those most in need, we must address the various problems with our infrastructure. Our young people, particularly those from our most disadvantaged communities, must have the resources to apply and prepare for those opportunities. However, those are the very communities that will suffer from the Government’s slashing of further education college budgets. The consequences of forcing FE colleges to merge will be felt most by those who most need the help, and potential closures of community campuses in disadvantaged areas could make it not just impractical but almost impossible for young people to access the courses that they need in order to enter the labour market.
That will become a particular problem if the rate of bursary support is not maintained at least at this year’s level and I am pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning has provided verification in that respect. The bursary is vital for young people in disadvantaged communities hoping to go into further education and, if that support is reduced or disappears, the youth unemployment figures will undoubtedly increase and there will be an unquestionable knock-on effect on poorer families. Instead of going into education, young people often feel that they must find any sort of work to support their families. Bursaries tackle such problems and help to support college students through their education.
I am glad that we are taking time to discuss this extremely important issue but we must also take action. I call on all members to support Scottish Labour’s motion.
It was right to choose this topic for debate and I thank Iain Gray for bringing it to the chamber. His initial comments about the erosion of confidence, hope and bravado were absolutely correct and I know exactly what he was talking about when he said that, despite being polite and courteous, young people are still receiving rejection after rejection. In 1997, when I graduated from university with my second degree, I applied for well over 200 jobs and either did not get an interview or simply did not hear anything back from the workplace in question.
Anne McTaggart referred to the challenge of putting together a CV and some of the online assistance that young people can access. Of course, the option of online support was not really open to people in 1997; instead, I was sent on a five-day course that could have been done in a day and a half. It was simply a means of getting people out of the way and was an absolute waste of time. Thankfully, things have moved on a bit since then. Eventually, I managed to secure short-term employment, which helped me to regain some of my self-belief, confidence and hope and allowed me to refocus my attention. Within a couple of months, I managed to get a position in IBM and remained there for two and a half years.
I agree with many members that a great deal more needs to be done to tackle youth unemployment. However, it is not a new issue; it was an issue five years ago and it was an issue not only in 1997 under the UK Labour Government but during the 18 years of the Tories’ attempts to decry society. This challenge has been around for many years and I am sure that it will still be a challenge in 15 or 20 years’ time.
Given the many valid points raised in Iain Gray’s motion, I hope that the Labour Party fully engages and tries to work with the Scottish Government on this year’s budget. The experience of last year’s budget was appalling. Even though Labour members were offered what they wanted, they voted against the budget and could not bring themselves to vote for the 25,000 modern apprenticeship places each year over the five-year period of the parliamentary session.
Liz Smith spoke about the comments in the Willy Roe report and from businesspeople about young people not having the correct attitude. Last week, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee had a focus session on the tourism industry in Scotland, during which we once again heard that claim. Gavin Ellis from the Knockomie hotel—I hope that I pronounced that correctly—in Moray and Norman Springford from the Apex Hotels chain stated their belief that there is an issue with young people not having the correct attitude.
Before Jenny Marra goes on the attack, I point out that I believe that young people want to work. With additional guidance and careers advice, some young people might have improved options and opportunities. If I had received additional guidance and assistance in 1997—and before that, when I was in school—I might have taken a different path in life. If businesses say that there is a problem, it is imperative that the Government, the new minister for youth employment—I welcome the announcement of that position—and public agencies discuss those concerns, find out whether there truly is an issue and, if so, deal with it.
It is important to highlight the issue of apprenticeships. The Scottish Government is writing a requirement for apprenticeships into agreements so that funding creates employment. We have heard examples of that from the First Minister and other members, but I will mention another. A few weeks ago, the Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment announced a £20 million order for Ferguson Shipbuilders in Port Glasgow to build the world’s first two hybrid ferries for Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd. The order will safeguard 75 jobs and create up to 100 more, including 20 new apprenticeships. The ships will be the first to be built by Ferguson’s in more than four and a half years. The order has been warmly welcomed in Inverclyde, and particularly because of the apprenticeships. I firmly believe that the order provides Ferguson’s with a wonderful opportunity to make progress and I am sure that it will do so with great relish. I look forward to there being even more apprenticeships if Ferguson’s gets more orders.
I will touch on funding for colleges. The NUS briefing highlights the importance of our colleges, as they provide a second or third chance and a route to more opportunities for people to help themselves. I know that that is the case because, although I worked hard at school, I could not study when it came to exams so, after school, I went to college and was there for three years before going to university. I know exactly the opportunities that colleges provide. I chose to study in Glasgow rather than at James Watt College in Greenock or Reid Kerr College in Paisley, which were closer to where I stayed. That was purely a life choice, as I wanted to meet people outside Inverclyde.
My final point is about the line in Labour’s motion that talks about the Parliament’s “significant powers”. Why should we limit our opportunities and chances to take Scotland forward and to provide better opportunities for younger people?
I welcome the chance to take part in this Labour Party debate on what is an absolutely crucial issue for the people of Scotland. It is poignant to discuss youth unemployment after yesterday’s industrial action. In visiting pickets across Cumbernauld and Kilsyth and being in Motherwell for the rally yesterday, I found youth unemployment to be one issue that was at the forefront of striking workers’ minds, as it is for members of the Parliament. With more than 100,000 young people unemployed, it is clear that Scotland is in the grip of a youth jobs crisis.
This is a very worrying time for families, struggling with higher prices and fuel bills, and small businesses are also feeling the squeeze, with many experiencing reduced turnover. That is why the Scottish Government must put tackling youth unemployment at the top of its agenda. If we want to see a strong economic recovery in Scotland, the Scottish Government must use all of the considerable levers at its disposal to reduce youth unemployment now.
I want to make some progress; I have just started my speech.
The figure of more than 100,000—one in five—unemployed young people represents an historic high, and the Scottish Government now has an opportunity to demonstrate how seriously it takes the issue. Accepting the recommendation of the Smith group to create a ministerial portfolio with sole responsibility for bringing levels of youth unemployment back under control is a positive first step. The group’s recommendations make it clear that that would ensure accountability and priority for an issue of such importance.
The member is referring to the Smith group. Does he also support its recommendation that Jobcentre Plus activities be brought within the control of this Parliament?
The staff who work in Jobcentre Plus do a fantastic job, and I do not think that they would do any better a job if we changed their employer from the UK Government to the Scottish Government. They already do a fantastic job.
A dedicated ministerial portfolio would be superior to an add-on to an existing, wider brief. Leadership from the Scottish Government, backed by funding of £30 million, is the best way for the Government to prove to Scotland that it will not sit idly by while young people struggle to find work. A dedicated minister speaking out within the Government on the issue of youth unemployment sends a strong message to young people about just how seriously the Scottish Government takes the issue. The appointment of a minister who will make reducing youth unemployment their dawn-to-dusk task is therefore a necessity, and I am glad that the Government agrees with the Smith report and the Labour motion on the matter.
It is also important to emphasise education and skills. One of the tragic aspects of this youth unemployment crisis is that highly trained and skilled young people now find themselves unable to get work. Members will have shared my experience of speaking to constituents who have completed degrees, apprenticeships and other training schemes who are unable to get on to the employment ladder. That squeezes the life and the hope out of young people who have been told since starting school that, if they work hard and pursue their education, they will have a guaranteed return on that investment in the form of a good, secure job.
Therefore, it is vital that the Government prioritises capital investment projects that will result in the creation of jobs, as called for in the motion. The Scottish National Party Government’s 20 per cent cut to further education is a matter of particular concern to me. At a time of high unemployment, further education has a central role in helping unemployed people—particularly young people—to retrain or upskill so that they can be ready to get back into work when jobs become available.
I have taken an intervention, and I now want to make some progress.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to provide college places for 16 to 19-year-olds is a development that colleges welcome, but without additional funding in place, it will have a prejudicial effect on the ability of colleges to provide places for other learners. With little prospect of improvement in the economic situation faced by school leavers, pressures on further education can only continue. As I mentioned earlier, young people who have already been unable to find work after completing their training will consider returning to education in the hope of finding better luck in another sector, or of improving their CV to boost their chance of getting a job. The front-loading of the 13 per cent cut, in addition to the 10 per cent cut foisted on colleges last year, will make it incredibly difficult for colleges to meet the increased demand for places, particularly given the reform agenda being pursued by the Scottish Government. It is just not feasible for colleges to make heavy cuts in the number of places for older learners while unemployment remains too high across the board.
I am coming to the end of my speech now.
Furthermore, the severity of year-on-year cuts by the Government means that many colleges will not be in a position to offer a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies. Having to lose staff will only undermine colleges as they seek to give our young people the skills that they need to find work. The Scottish Government needs to provide adequate funding to colleges to ensure that they can provide opportunities to the unemployed; it must not proceed with the 20 per cent cut to college funding.
It is our duty to act to prevent another generation of young Scots from being lost and consigned to the scrapheap. I do not mind saying that—I do not want them to become a lost generation that is consigned to the scrapheap. The motion provides for a number of positive steps that ministers could take now to ensure that we give our young people the chance that they deserve, which is why I support the motion in the name of lain Gray.
I thank the Labour Party for bringing this debate to the Parliament, and commend Iain Gray, who spoke eloquently about the challenges facing our young people. The First Minister has led from the front in this debate, just as the Scottish Government has led from the front on the future of Scotland’s young people.
Jobs and growth are at the heart of the Scottish Government’s priorities and the policies and action pursued by this Government are testament to that.
I welcome the First Minister’s announcement of the establishment of the post of minister for youth employment, with a budget of £30 million. That is exactly the action that is required if we are to widen access to modern apprenticeships, give more of our young people vocational training and provide better access to work-based learning.
The Government has created real opportunities for our young people to gain good qualifications that meet their needs and the needs of employers. It has invested in modern apprenticeships to meet the needs of key sectors such as life sciences and renewable energy, which are critical to delivering future economic growth; created a modern apprenticeship framework for life sciences, with £3 million to support the recruitment of 100 new apprentices in that sector, allowing companies to recruit two apprentices for one; and will create 500 modern apprentices in Scotland’s energy and low-carbon industries over the next year.
The Scottish labour force survey sets out the facts, although it does so with a health warning about the relatively small sample size on which the figures are based. The survey for July to September suggests that 84,000 people aged between 18 and 24 were unemployed in Scotland in that period. However, the First Minister was right to point out that approximately 27,000 of them, or 32.6 per cent, are also in full-time education, compared with 20 per cent in the UK.
I listened to Liz Smith, who acknowledged the scale of the problem in a thoughtful and constructive contribution. However, when she talked about the lessons of history, we were reminded that we have been here before. The Conservatives destroyed our industrial base in the 1980s, ripping the beating heart out of our communities up and down the land. That is not an abstract concept for me. I grew up in Drumchapel and saw the closure of the Goodyear tyre factory and of Singer’s in nearby Clydebank, with good men and women thrown on to the scrapheap.
In 1997? The reality is that the manufacturing base that we had has been destroyed, and I think that Murdo Fraser knows that. He knows that his party created a lost generation of young people without jobs, without training and without hope. Perhaps that is why he wanted to write the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party out of history, so that he could forget the history of the Conservative Governments of the 1980s.
As the coalition parties repeat the mistakes of the past, it falls to the Scottish Government to ensure that our young people do not pay the price for Westminster’s mismanagement of our economy.
We know that young people without work face a lifetime of disadvantage. That is why the Scottish Government is determined to ensure that our young people have the skills and the opportunities to give them the best possible start in life. It is vital that, as our economy grows and jobs become available in sectors such as construction and the creative and cultural industries, our young people can take full advantage of those new opportunities.
John Mason talked about the opportunities for young people that the Commonwealth games present. That reminds us of the £6 million investment by the Scottish Government in 1,000 additional apprentices to support the Commonwealth games legacy.
Figures from Skills Development Scotland show that the SNP delivered 20 per cent more apprenticeships in 2009-10 than Labour did in its final year in government. Under this SNP Government, the number of apprenticeships has gone up significantly.
Jenny Marra rightly spoke of the need to enhance the employability of our young people and Anne McTaggart spoke of the barriers to employment. The training needs of young people cannot be divorced from the need to grow our economy, which is why the Scottish Government is doing everything that it can within its current powers to ensure that there are jobs for young people to take up when they complete their training. Sustainable economic growth, job creation and inward investment have been the priorities for this Government, and a series of companies have invested in Scotland, such as Amazon, Dell and Mitsubishi. However, we know that that is not enough. We need to boost growth by investing in capital infrastructure, as Chic Brodie, Mark Griffin and Derek Mackay outlined this morning. Until we have the full economic powers of a normal country, we need the United Kingdom Government to increase capital investment.
A debate on youth unemployment cannot and should not be divorced from the debate on the constitution, as George Adam has already made clear. Youth unemployment is one of a number of key challenges that our country and our people share with those in every other country in Europe—challenges such as economic uncertainty, rising inequalities in wealth and health, and an ageing population. Just like our European neighbours, we need the fullest range of powers to tackle them head on. We have seen the Scottish Government’s economic recovery plan help Scotland’s labour market to outperform the rest of the UK.
I am in my final minute; I am sorry.
Iain Gray spoke of raising our expectations and accepting full responsibility, so let us have the full powers that we need to deliver growth and eliminate the scourge of youth unemployment. Meanwhile, this Scottish National Party Government will provide 25,000 apprenticeships and 25,000 training places each year, and 200,000 work places in total. That is our pledge to the young people of Scotland: a substantial collective achievement and one that we are delivering in government.
The debate has been very interesting and I congratulate Iain Gray on bringing it to the chamber, as it is on a very important element of our society today in Scotland. People’s hopes and aspirations develop early on in life and if they do not get the right breaks at the right time, we suffer as a community. I was one of the very fortunate people who enjoyed education in Scotland, going to primary school for a short time, going on to secondary education, leaving without many qualifications, going overseas for employment, coming back and going to college and on to university. I am grateful for that opportunity and our young deserve those opportunities that we all cherish so much.
What is more important for society today is where we—and Scotland—go from here, what we want to aspire to and how we want to take the journey. One of the best ways of taking the journey is through education. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that education forms a very important element of development. Time and again, I see how education builds strong character and contributes to our economy in more than one way, and that is why I am very keen to see education progress in the future. Our young deserve something very important—education not only at school, but also at colleges and universities.
Unfortunately, there are shortcomings in our further education system: we have seen subjects being dropped and choice being reduced. Another important and serious question is why have we allowed that to happen and how can we change it? I keep saying to myself, negative politics is unhelpful; we need to find solutions. We have a responsibility to find solutions and if we do not come up with them, we fail our generations again and again.
I want to give a few ideas about how we might contribute, particularly through education. I genuinely believe that the British Council is not doing a fair job for Scotland. I do not think that it is engaging enough with people overseas to encourage people to come to Scotland for further education, which would help our education system. We have embassies all over the world. What are they actually doing for us? Who are they sending to Scotland? It is very important that we get those departments to account for what is happening, because unless we have investment in these industries, we will suffer and our generations will suffer, and that should not be allowed. We need to focus our minds on generating new income, or we will be failing our society today. We need to hunt for that new income and we need to ask the departments that are supposed to be representing our interests what they are actually doing for us.
I thank the Labour Party for giving us the opportunity to debate the vital issue of youth unemployment. I pay tribute to Iain Gray, as I suspect that this is the final debate in which he will lead on behalf of his party. He and I have something in common, which is not that we are not very good at winning elections, but that we were at the same school—Inverness royal academy—although he is, of course, much older than I am, so our paths did not cross. I am sure that he benefited from the IRA’s excellent education.
I know about Iain Gray’s interest in youth unemployment and his personal commitment to dealing with it, and the Labour Party was half right in its analysis, but what was missing from the speeches by Labour members was any admission of Labour’s part in creating the current situation. The economic mismanagement of the Labour Party in government led to the crisis that we are now in. The economic boom that it oversaw was fuelled by cheap credit and excessive borrowing over many years, and it has resulted in the worst debt legacy of any major industrialised nation. It was Gordon Brown who said that there would be no return to boom and bust, yet he delivered us both. I gently remind Labour members that, under Labour in government, youth unemployment rose every year from 2004, even before the recession. Under Labour in government, youth unemployment rose by 40 per cent.
What the Labour Party was not doing was providing long-term jobs. The fact is that youth unemployment was going up year on year; Labour’s legacy was a situation that was getting worse.
I want to move on to some positive points. A number of fair points have been made, and the most important and serious issue that needs to be tackled is that of college funding. If we are serious about employability, we must ensure that there are college places available to provide proper training opportunities. As local members, we all know of the great work that is done in our further education colleges. We see lives being transformed—people come out of college with the skills that they need to enter the workforce. In light of that and of the difficult economic times that we are in, it is extraordinary of the Scottish Government to cut further education funding by £74 million.
No, I need to make some progress.
Colleges across the country are closing courses, laying off staff and turning away students because the Scottish Government has taken the conscious decision to divert money from FE into the higher education sector as a result of its dogmatic opposition to a graduate contribution. At this stage, the single most important measure that could be taken to help would be to find more money for the FE colleges.
I noted with interest the First Minister’s announcement that we are to have a new minister dedicated to youth employment, with a new budget of £30 million. He needs to look closely at how that budget is allocated and, in particular, at whether priority should be given to putting it into further education.
Before I leave the issue, I express the hope that the regionalisation agenda that we hear about from the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning is not a euphemism for enforced mergers of colleges.
Is the member aware that in 2014, spending on further education will be around £91 per head of population in Scotland, whereas in England it will be £62 per head? Perhaps that is why the member wants independence.
The member seems to be in a state of utter denial about his Government cutting the funding at a time when it is required to promote youth employment. He should accept that point. I hope that we get a more positive response from the front bench when Mr Swinney winds up.
A number of important points were made on skills. Liz Smith made an excellent point about employability. The irony is that, even when we had a boom economy in our country, we had youth unemployment, because many employers preferred to employ people from overseas. They preferred to employ eastern European workers not because of a lack of training on the part of our youngsters, but because our youngsters sometimes lacked a proper, work-focused attitude, as we have heard.
Stuart McMillan mentioned the evidence given at the Economy, Enterprise and Tourism Committee last week by Gavin Ellis, a hotelier from Morayshire, who said, rather depressingly, that he had interviewed local workers to come and work in the hospitality industry and their response was that they did not want to work weekends. That sort of attitude has to change.
No. I am sorry, but I have taken two interventions already and I will run out of time very shortly.
I want to say something about school education, which the Smith group recommendations touched on and which is absolutely vital. The group was quite clear that the current one-size-fits-all education policy is damaging and that we need to see the learning experience become more individually focused. We in the Conservative Pfarty have argued for years for a more diverse education system. When we look elsewhere in Europe, for example at Germany, we see a whole spectrum of technical schools—which are being developed south of the border—and the development of vocational skills, and we see that people are having better success than we are with our one-size-fits-all comprehensive system. That is the road that we should be going down.
The Labour Party used to talk about skills academies, but it has gone very quiet on that recently. I hope that it will resurrect the idea, because it was a sensible way of driving the economy forward.
I welcome—as Derek Mackay was fair to do—the announcement this week of the UK Government’s youth contract, which will create 40,000 work places for young people.
I look forward to hearing the details of the new minister for youth employment. If Iain Gray has any legacy, maybe it will be a new ministry to take forward the issue that is of so much interest to him.
Liam McArthur made a very fair contribution to the debate today, in that he acknowledged that the Government is implementing a range of different interventions to tackle youth employment. He also invited the Government to confirm its welcome for the youth contract initiative, which the United Kingdom Government announced at the end of last week and confirmed in the autumn statement on Tuesday. I am happy to confirm that the Government welcomes that intervention by the UK Government as an additional element in the efforts to support the boosting of youth employment in Scotland.
I have highlighted comments by Mr McArthur because at least he had the decency to acknowledge that the Government is progressing a range of interventions; such acknowledgement was far from evident in contributions from the Labour Party, from where the suggestion was that we are doing nothing to address what we acknowledge—as the First Minister indicated very appropriately at the outset of his speech—is a priority for us all in this chamber, which therefore attracts a significant amount of resource.
I part company with my friend and colleague Jim Eadie when he says that we are spending £30 million on the youth employment initiative. An additional £30 million of new money is being committed to support encouragement of youth employment, as was announced by the First Minister this morning. That fits into the Government’s agenda to guarantee that young people are given a positive opportunity in economic conditions that are as tough as they are now. The Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning and I have been asked by the First Minister to take forward discussions with private sector employers, local authorities, the third sector and colleges to determine how best that funding can be utilised to ensure a reduction in youth unemployment, and to ensure that we strengthen the opportunities that are available and guarantee that young people have every prospect of prospering in our country.
We have talked extensively about the recommendations of the Smith group. Derek Mackay made a very important point to Parliament in acknowledging that the Smith group did not just talk about the immediate circumstances that we face and the challenges in relation to young people in the 16-to-19 age group, but also said that if we really want to transform individuals’ life chances, early years intervention is the proper place on which to focus. I am delighted that the Government has been able to put in place a strong proposition within the spending review to support the development of early years intervention in order to guarantee that we interrupt the cycles of challenge and difficulty that affect many of the young people in our society at the point at which we can exert the greatest influence—their early years.
The cabinet secretary is right to concentrate on the early years. I mentioned the early years in my speech and I think that all parties in the Parliament agree with the cabinet secretary on the issue.
Does the cabinet secretary accept that the Smith group recommended that the transition between primary 7 and the first year of secondary school be improved? That is when young people could be getting better careers advice and a better understanding of what jobs they may eventually end up in.
That is correct. I am familiar with the arguments on the issue that Liz Smith has been making for a considerable time. Our view, which relates to the point that Sandra White made, is that we must ensure that curriculum for excellence can be deployed in a fashion that takes account of young people’s aspirations, and addresses the circumstances and challenges that every young person in our education system faces. I think that we all agree that the education system must be focused on the needs of individuals—that might sound like a bizarre remark to make—because every individual is different. Curriculum for excellence presents an opportunity to address such issues.
There were substantial contradictions in members’ speeches. Anne McTaggart said that young people are taking up any work rather than continuing in education, and Jenny Marra seemed to take exception to young people staying on at or going back to school and making school the focus of their opportunities. We must all acknowledge that young people must be able to choose how they fulfil their aspirations. The Government is trying to maximise the choices that are available to young people in a challenging labour market.
Does the cabinet secretary acknowledge that my point was not that young people should not stay on at school if they want to do so, but that the amount of choice that young people currently have, given the lack of jobs and cuts in college budgets and limited college places, means that many more young people are forced to stay on?
That rather reinforces the point that Jenny Marra made in her speech, which was that she seems to object to young people staying on at school. That is ridiculous. If a young person is able to continue in education, that is a positive way to occupy their time. It is ridiculous that Labour members are saying that it is wrong for young people to stay on at school. That is one of the most stupid propositions that I have heard in a long time.
I fear that the cabinet secretary is revealing how little he understands the complexity of the choices that young people face. For example, as those of us who have worked with young people know well, what happens at a time like this is that young people’s aspirations are suppressed. That is why some young people, for whom the right choice would be to go to university, take other options, which of course knocks someone out at the bottom. That is the point that Labour members tried to make. It is a perfectly fair and valid point and it was meant to be a positive contribution. The cabinet secretary should try to understand it.
With the greatest respect to Iain Gray during his last debate leading for the Labour Party, I say that that was not much of a rescue of the ridiculous point that Jenny Marra made. I simply point out that from 2008, through 2009 to 2010, the percentage of young people in positive destinations in Scotland rose.
Mr Malik made a fascinating point about how embassies need to do more to encourage young people to come and study in Scotland, where we have tremendous institutions of which they can become a part.
My final comment is about the colleges. The Government’s college reform programme has, at its heart, ensuring that young people have opportunities to learn and to be trained; it is about ensuring that we guarantee that within the sector young people will be able to get the opportunities to learn that we think are appropriate for them. The Government will continue to take forward the positive programme of reform that we have set out.
It has, largely, been a very good debate. It is an important debate for Parliament to have—as all members have acknowledged—because there should be no more pressing concern for the Parliament and the Scottish Government than tackling the crisis that we face in respect of youth unemployment. “Crisis” is not a word that we use lightly, but the sad fact is that that is exactly what we face when we see the numbers of young unemployed people in Scotland reaching 100,000. The debate has also produced material results, which we welcome. I will outline our response to the First Minister’s announcements later, because the problems of youth unemployment demand a substantial response.
There is clearly a variety of views across the chamber about how we should deal with the problems. There were attempts to characterise the difficulties for our young people in Scotland seeking work as being somehow not as critical as they are in other parts of the UK. I will go into a number of reasons why I am not persuaded by those arguments. I believe that there is in Scotland a harsh reality that no member should challenge: youth unemployment is unacceptably and needlessly high and is robbing far too many of our young people of the life opportunities that they want and should have, and threatening the long-term economic prosperity of our country.
While we will debate what and how much Governments should do, members on this side of the chamber are clear that neither the UK Government nor the Scottish Government has been doing enough to tackle the problem; indeed, some of their actions are making it worse. That is why we made alternative positive proposals in our motion. However, we welcome the fact that in this debate, which we have led, we have heard the First Minister announce that there is to be a dedicated minister for youth employment. We are pleased that the Scottish Government has responded to the call in the motion and I hope that it can now support our motion rather than delete it through its amendment. Our motion reflects the recommendation of the Smith group, which has rightly been applauded for its work and its report. We agree that every minister, as Liz Smith said, should have a role in promoting employment, but we feel that that also requires a ministerial focus. It is clear that the Smith group believes that, too.
We also welcome the £30 million for tackling youth unemployment, which will be attached to the ministerial post. We previously pledged £40 million for the futures job fund alone, but we welcome the £30 million and will be pleased to suggest how it might be productively deployed. I agree entirely with Mark McDonald that there is good work to build on and that Aberdeen Foyer is an excellent example of that.
Let us be clear about the scale of the challenge that the new minister will face. The unemployment figure for 18 to 24-year-olds in Scotland is 21.5 per cent, which is higher than the UK figure of 20.2 per cent. That figure is from a Scottish Government document, and we should all recognise the gravity of the situation. Iain Gray talked passionately about the appalling impact of youth unemployment in Scotland in the 80s on the lives of young people. His commitment to tackling youth unemployment is one of the reasons why we are having this debate. We should applaud Iain Gray for his fantastic contribution this morning.
Members have been keen to get behind the statistics and to speak about the human impact of youth unemployment—for example, those who leave school or training but who do not find a job and who want to get a foot on the ladder of work but have had that opportunity denied them. That is why our motion deliberately refers to a lost generation. The threat for young people who do not find work is that it will affect the rest of their careers; we need them to succeed if we are to succeed as a nation. We know that we cannot compete as a low-skill, low-wage economy and that we can succeed only as a people of skills and ingenuity. For that, we must ensure that there are the right employment opportunities at the start.
I was somewhat puzzled by John Mason’s speech. Let us be clear that our young people in Scotland want to work and want opportunities to succeed; all we have to do is to give them the tools and they will take those opportunities.
There can be no doubt that the UK Government’s economic strategy is making the situation in Scotland worse. The autumn statement was, in effect, an admission of defeat from George Osborne. His strategy has failed, but rather than learn the lessons of that, he has a strategy that appears to be designed to make the situation worse by making cuts too fast and too deep—and by making even more cuts in the years after the next UK general election. Our young people will pay the price and the price will be unemployment. It will result in the perverse situation in which job opportunities are restricted and the UK Government will borrow more in order to pay benefits to the young people whom its strategy has left behind.
I am pleased that a number of members referred to Labour’s five-point plan for the economy, which would result in effective measures to tackle unemployment more broadly, and youth unemployment in particular. I hope that the Scottish Government will support our call for a tax on bankers’ bonuses that will result in consequentials for it to spend on youth unemployment strategies.
We are calling for investment in infrastructure. That call in our five-point plan was to the Scottish Government, and I will return to that theme later. We are calling for the future jobs fund to be rolled out to the private sector. Even if the UK Government does not back our plan for a tax on bankers’ bonuses to fund such a scheme more significantly, it will have consequentials that the Scottish Government should invest in the future jobs fund. It could also be an important part of the £30 million that the First Minister announced earlier today.
We want a procurement bill so that public sector contracts can be geared towards businesses that have good employment practices and that encourage employment of young people. Such a bill should have been in the Government’s legislative programme, but we will welcome it if it is introduced now and we look forward to having the opportunity to scrutinising the details in Parliament.
We want a capital investment plan that works. In the summer, when we heard that the cabinet secretary wants to pursue a different route from that of the UK Government, and to prioritise investment in infrastructure, we welcomed that. The problem for us is that the intention has not been matched by reality. I will put it this way to Mr Chic Brodie: we think that we need “A little less conversation” and “a little more action” on delivery of the proposals. Major infrastructure projects have either been delayed, or there is no timetable for their completion. The budget for affordable housing has been cut by 50 per cent. That is simply repeating the mistakes that are being made at UK level.
The reduction in capital investment is entirely a consequence of the Barnett formula. In response to that, Mr Swinney diverted £750 million from revenue into capital and set up a £2.5 billion non-profit-distributing programme to govern that expanding platform. Given that those capital plans are the same as those that were made by the Labour Party when it was in Government, will Richard Baker now admit that the responsibility for the reduction lies jointly with the two Westminster parties?
I am going to make some progress.
I visited North Glasgow College on the day that youth unemployment figures reached 100,000 in Scotland. The building apprentices there made two concerns clear to me: the lack of job opportunities in construction, and the threat to other young people who are entering industry because of the proposed cuts to college budgets. The Scottish Government can change course on both those issues and make the decision to give our young people a better chance to find employment.
If the Conservative group—which does not share our aversion to cutting important budgets—also sees the college cuts as being too deep, surely the Scottish Government must know that it is time to think again. It is simply not acceptable to hear SNP members talking about the importance of colleges to employment opportunities for young people when the SNP Government is slashing college budgets. Our young people will pay the price. Mr Russell should accept that he should change course now.
We believe that the Parliament was set up exactly for times like this, so that we can take a different approach in order to better serve the needs of our people. This Parliament and Government should serve the needs of our people by taking the additional action that has been proposed today so that we will not have 100,000 young Scots out of work. The SNP might have a different vision of what the Parliament is for, but that is what we believe its purpose is. If we agree that we should take a different approach to that of the UK Government, we should not simply talk about it; we should do it. That is why we set out the plans today. We look forward to debating the details of the announcement that the First Minister made earlier.
If we do not respond to the crisis of youth unemployment, our young people will pay the price, and the cost will also be told in rising inequality in a nation that should aspire to be fairer and more prosperous than it is today. Let us safeguard that ambition, which is the real ambition for Scotland, and act to give young people in our country the opportunities that they deserve.