I am very pleased to have the opportunity to open this debate on the European youth guarantee.
As we have seen from the labour market statistics over the past few months, there is no doubt that tackling youth unemployment remains one of the biggest national challenges that we currently face in this country. Six months from now, the people of Scotland will have their say on the constitutional future of our country, and they will decide whether the decisions on issues such as the youth guarantee are better made by the people who live and work in Scotland. Between now and September, we all have a duty to set out our vision for the future of our country. That is a historic decision, and it is right that we have a robust debate on the issues that concern all of us.
Our young people have a critical role to play in our securing long-term, sustainable economic growth. I hope that this debate offers an opportunity for us to develop a cross-party, cross-Government consensus, at least in Scotland, on developing a positive vision for our young people.
In January 2013 I expressed my support for the principles of the European Commission’s youth guarantee, which would provide young people with the support that they need to progress to employment within four months of becoming unemployed and to be offered a job, an apprenticeship, a traineeship or a place in education. It is a bold but compelling vision of how we could align the delivery of existing services and use domestic and European funds to develop new solutions to support young people. I remain absolutely convinced that early intervention is vital if we are to avoid young people becoming long-term unemployed.
It would surprise me—and I believe that it would be unacceptable to the people of Scotland—if the Scottish Parliament adopted a less ambitious vision for our young people than some other nations are currently committed to delivering. Are our young people less deserving than those in Finland, Denmark or the Netherlands? Are our young people less able or less ambitious than their fellow European citizens, such as those in the Czech Republic? My answer is that they most certainly are not. Are we so set in our ways and so aligned to party loyalty or so lacking in ambition that we cannot develop the partnerships that will drive the delivery of the guarantee that our young people deserve? I most certainly hope not.
It is clear from other countries that have adopted the guarantee that aligning employment, skills, benefits and taxation policy is crucial if we are to improve how we tackle youth unemployment and inactivity, and improve education-to-work transitions. That is why I am keen to engage with the Westminster Government and, indeed, others to persuade them of the value of developing a more positive offer for our young people and of the merits of the European youth guarantee.
The minister presented a very robust welcome of the European youth guarantee in her opening remarks, but that view is not shared right across the Scottish National Party. Her member of the European Parliament, Alyn Smith, was quoted in the European Journal as saying:
“The Youth Guarantee scheme sounds good, but ... It’s window dressing. It allows MEPs to go back to their constituencies and say ... youth guarantee scheme, look what we’ve done.”
Is it not the case that the SNP is a little ambivalent about the scheme, but really got behind it when it realised that it could use it as a constitutional issue?
I refute that entirely. If Ms Marra reads the entire quote that was attributed to Mr Smith, she will see that he was concerned about the lack of budget associated with the European youth guarantee. We now know that it has an associated budget. It is important for the record to note that Mr Smith voted for the European youth guarantee when he had the opportunity to do so in the European Parliament.
The United Kingdom Government states that it supports the aim of the youth guarantee, which is to reduce youth unemployment, but it does not support its adoption in the UK. That is disappointing for us because without the powers over tax, benefits and employment, we cannot fully deliver the terms of the youth guarantee. I accept that the European Council’s recommendation in favour of establishing the youth guarantee is non-binding on member states, but against the backdrop of the Prince’s Trust youth index report that shows that 40 per cent of unemployed young people say that they have faced symptoms of mental illness and that 21 per cent of long-term unemployed young people believe that they have nothing to live for, surely we must continue our efforts to persuade and encourage the Westminster Government to change its position on the youth guarantee.
In February, I wrote to Iain Duncan Smith urging that his Government should adopt the principles of the European youth guarantee. Last month, I wrote to the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Rachel Reeves, seeking Labour’s support for the European youth guarantee, following a very public spat between her and Iain Duncan Smith. In both letters I suggested that the European youth guarantee offers us a solid base on which to build a cross-Government, cross-party and long-term plan to tackle youth unemployment. Although precise figures cannot be calculated until each member state has defined exactly how it will implement the scheme, researchers rate the benefits of the European youth guarantee much higher than the costs. However, the costs of not acting on the scheme are staggering. We should consider the youth guarantee as an investment in our young people.
The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions—Eurofound—estimated the economic loss in the European Union from having millions of young people out of work, education or training to be more than €150 billion in 2011 alone, and that does not take account of the long-term costs of unemployment to the economy, society and the individuals concerned, such as the increased risk of future unemployment and poverty.
The United Kingdom Government cites the fact that more than 80 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds flow off jobseekers allowance within six months as evidence that it would not be cost effective for the UK to implement a four-month guarantee. It believes that the work programme and the youth contract better suit the national circumstances that are faced by young people in the UK. I do not dispute the off-flow figures, but I believe that failing to intervene at four months or earlier represents a missed opportunity for young people who need a helping hand. Surely it cannot be cost effective to wait six, nine or 12 months to support young people who need that help the most.
That point is an important one, because the youth guarantee does not ask that all young people receive the same level of support. Its purpose is to ensure that no young person is left behind and that young people can access the level of support that they need to move to a positive destination such as a job, an apprenticeship, a traineeship or a place in education. Interventions will range from careers advice for those who just need information all the way through to tailored interventions that tackle the serious barriers to employment that some of our most vulnerable young people face.
It is that second group who are being let down by the current arrangements. I do not think that it is acceptable and I know that it is not cost effective to play a numbers game by waiting before we offer help to those who need it most. The increasing numbers of young people who are moving to long-term unemployment is evidence of that flawed logic.
I believe that elements of our offer to young people that are delivered in partnership with local authorities, community planning partnerships, national delivery organisations such as Skills Development Scotland and a large number of third sector groups are already consistent with the EU youth guarantee. Our interventions are based on the principle that early intervention is key to avoiding young people becoming long-term unemployed.
I am frustrated that, without the powers of an independent member state, this Parliament cannot deliver the alignment of employment, skills, taxation and benefits policy that would allow us to deliver the guarantee in full to all our young people. However, within the scope of our current powers, we have already delivered a range of programmes. Opportunities for all is our unprecedented guaranteed offer of a place in learning or training for every 16 to 19-year-old, and our commitment to 16 to 19-year-olds has delivered record numbers of school leavers progressing to positive destinations. Our successful modern apprenticeship programme is meeting our commitment to deliver 25,000 apprenticeships each year.
I will in a moment.
Our youth employment Scotland and community jobs Scotland initiatives, together with our support to encourage employers to take on graduates, are all delivering opportunities for young people, and that is not to mention the employability fund or other initiatives such as the certificate of work readiness.
I am happy to give way to Ms Marra.
Well, that was easy. I thank the member.
The point that I was trying to make is that key to our interventions is that we are targeting young people early, before they drift to long-term unemployment. Longer-term measures such as the curriculum for excellence, reform of the college sector and our support for university graduates have all been taken with a view to better preparing young people for the world of work.
The commission for developing Scotland’s young workforce will offer a framework for creating opportunities for work experience for young people and a real focus on ensuring that young people do not disengage early from education but embark on pathways that link closely with labour market demand.
The Government is committed to using the £74 million of European youth initiative funding that will be available to us to make a real difference in south-west Scotland. That funding is allocated to regions across the EU in which the unemployment rate for young people was above 25 per cent in December 2012 and supports individuals aged between 15 and 29 who are currently inactive or are at risk of not moving to education, employment or training. To unlock that funding, we need the UK Government to finalise a partnership agreement with the Commission, but I am open to engaging widely on how we can use it to tackle long-standing problems in areas such as Glasgow, Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire. I have already received an assurance from the Deputy Prime Minister that the Scottish Government will be responsible for the management of the youth employment initiative money for south-west Scotland and a programme that, when matched with domestic resources, will be worth at least £110 million.
An important aspect of my role is persuading Scotland’s employers to invest in their future by growing young talent. I believe that our young people are intelligent, creative, hardworking and willing to work and, as the economy shows signs of recovery, we must continue to make the business case to employers to future proof their ability to take advantage of the new business opportunities that will emerge. Our make young people your business campaign will continue throughout 2014 with sectorally themed events in key areas such as the digital sector, information and communications technology, oil and gas, textiles and engineering, to name but a few.
Young people are without doubt hit the hardest when the economy is weak, but, as I have previously emphasised to the Parliament, youth unemployment is not just a product of recession. Prior to the recession and at a time of economic growth in this country, youth unemployment rates in Scotland reached around 14 per cent. We have to be more ambitious; after all, our goal cannot just be a return to pre-recession levels. I am sure that we all want better for the young people of Scotland.
Today’s debate and the cross-party support for the European youth guarantee should be taken as an opportunity to signal this Parliament’s determination to deliver a shared positive vision for our young people. The lessons that I have gathered from what other European countries are doing, from what we are doing in Scotland and from my wide discussions with employers, young people and other stakeholders across Scotland confirm my belief that we need to engage early to offer young people the support that they need before they drift to long-term unemployment; to better align our skills and employment systems with a supportive tax and benefits regime that is focused on moving young people into employment instead of penalising them for not being able to find work; and to tackle underemployment to create entry opportunities for young people with fewer or no qualifications.
With that in mind, I move,
That the Parliament recognises the critical role that young people will play in delivering long-term economic growth; recognises the disadvantage that young people face in the labour market and the negative impact of allowing long periods of inactivity; accepts the principle of early intervention to offer young people a positive destination; supports the principal aim of the European Youth Guarantee to reduce youth unemployment; endorses the aim of ensuring that all young people under the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment, continued education, an apprenticeship or a traineeship within a period of four months of becoming unemployed or leaving education, and agrees that, to deliver this, delivery agencies must align skills, employment, taxation and benefit policy to better support young people into education, training or employment.
The European youth guarantee began as a campaign by the Party of European Socialists, of which the Labour Party is a member, back in May 2012, one year after the International Monetary Fund stepped in to bail out the Greek economy with a loan of more than €100 billion and just a month before Spain agreed its own bailout. The campaign was devised as the world watched the eurozone’s collapse and the decline into insolvency of states that, just years before, had been in growth and in plain sight of the stringent cuts to public services and the loss of livelihoods that caused riots on the streets of Athens and marches in Madrid.
Through it all, young people, particularly young women—the students of Lisbon, Rome and, closer to home, Dublin—were forced into a world not of their own making but in which, nevertheless, work was nearly impossible to come by and wages even less likely to meet the rising cost of living. In countries such as Spain, the situation has not abated. Earlier this year, youth unemployment in Spain was reported to have reached a staggering 58 per cent—in other words, six out of 10 young people are unable to find work. In Greece, the figure has peaked at nearly 70 per cent.
At its heart, the campaign for a youth guarantee was for those young people whose hopes of a career, whose trust in the political process to deliver opportunities and, most important, whose self-belief were evaporating. Scottish Labour, UK Labour and socialist parties across Europe came together and voted to support the youth guarantee, because we saw the long-term risk to our economies of a generation of European young people—students and school leavers—being out of work.
The EU says that the youth guarantee is “not a jobs guarantee”. Rather, it is a commitment to re-engage young people in work or education, with the shortest possible delay, as the minister said. To fund the guarantee, states are urged to make use of the European social fund, and a further €6 billion has been set aside for member states whose youth unemployment rate is more than 25 per cent.
I want to challenge the minister’s assertion that without the full powers of independence we cannot deliver jobs and opportunities for young people in Scotland.
For the record, I think that I said that we could not deliver the European youth guarantee in full without having the full range of powers over employment services, Jobcentre Plus, the economy, tax and welfare. Is Ms Marra giving the European youth guarantee her unreserved support today?
We absolutely support the European youth guarantee. I thought that I had been quite clear about that, but maybe I can reassure the minister.
Right now, we have the infrastructure, the power and, more important, the responsibility, to do better. We have control over our education system—the single biggest driver of a skilled and balanced workforce. In Skills Development Scotland we have a skills body that has the power to ensure that every young person is afforded an opportunity. In Scottish Enterprise we have a body that is dedicated to growing Scotland’s economy, building businesses and creating job opportunities.
In short, we have control over the most powerful tools in the box for the delivery of outcomes for young people. However, we are not using those tools to their full potential. In education, colleges face an 11 per cent reduction in funding, which amounts to cuts of more than £62 million by 2015. Some 80,000 part-time places have gone since 2007, and courses and teaching budgets have been cut. What hope do we have of offering young people a place in quality education, as the European youth guarantee envisages, if we make such drastic cuts to the education system?
The European youth guarantee prioritises young people up to the age of 25, and the Scottish Government’s priority is to focus on 16 to 19-year-olds. However, we are not even giving all young people in that age bracket the opportunity that they were promised, Skills Development Scotland having lost 17,000 people from the system last April.
It is important that Ms Marra acknowledges that, although we do not know the destination of a very small proportion of young people, despite Skills Development Scotland’s best efforts, that is not the same as young people being lost. Should we not acknowledge the importance of monitoring and tracking, and of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013, which will help us to track, monitor and support young people better?
One person lost is one person too many. If the Government is to guarantee opportunities to all 16 to 19-year-olds, it is simply not good enough that 17,000 people have been lost in the system since April. By December, the system had recovered only 2,000 young people, leaving nearly 15,000 lost from the system, while another 5,500 were left looking for a job. How can we meet the four-month target for every young person under 25 if it is going to take Skills Development Scotland five years just to find all the lost 16 to 19-year-olds?
When we look at the spread of apprenticeship opportunities and consider to whom opportunities are being offered, we find that only 2 per cent of construction and engineering places go to women. Less than 0.5 per cent of placements go to disabled people and less than 2 per cent go to ethnic minorities. In a report that was published just last week, Audit Scotland noted concerns about the lack of clarity about the long-term benefits to young people of Scotland’s apprenticeship programme.
For the record, Ms Marra should accept that the Audit Scotland report acknowledges the huge achievements of the modern apprenticeship programme. For clarity, I point out that the purpose of the modern apprenticeship programme is largely, but not exclusively, to get young people into work and to help them to develop skills in work. Its success is demonstrated by the 80 per cent employment rate of people with an apprenticeship qualification.
I thank the minister for her clarification—I know what the purpose of an apprenticeship is. In its report, Audit Scotland says that it has doubts about the long-term benefits. Instead of just refuting the point, the minister would do better to read the report and address that issue.
Just this morning, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee considered an amendment to the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill in the name of my colleague Mary Fee that would have enabled the Scottish Government to require that 5 per cent of the employees of a contracting company providing services to the Government are apprentices, yet SNP members voted against that amendment.
I thank Jenny Marra for giving way so that I can clarify the position. If she reads the Official Report and sees what the cabinet secretary said on the matter, she will understand that the Labour amendment would have constrained companies from employing more apprentices instead of encouraging them to do so.
If the SNP members were completely committed to this, they would have voted for the amendment this morning.
It is easy to blame others for your own failure, but that is not good enough for young people in Scotland, who are looking to the Government for help now. Alasdair Allan may laugh, but those 15,000 young people are not laughing. The Scottish Government needs to accept responsibility for the powers that it has and the choices that it makes in key areas of youth employment, education, our skills bodies and our apprenticeships system. If we are to make a difference, we should be debating improvements in those areas regardless of whether the Government wants to have that debate. Only then will we be able to achieve the ambitious proposals for Scotland’s young people that are envisaged in the EU youth guarantee.
I move amendment S4M-09376.2, to leave out from “delivery agencies” to end and insert:
“the Scottish Government must align skills with colleges, local authorities and local employers and better distribute the spread of opportunities among young people up to 25 in education and training to account for the fact that only 2% of construction and engineering apprenticeships are taken up by women, less than 0.5% are taken up by disabled people and less than 2% are taken up by ethnic minorities, and more effectively monitor the outcomes of its key youth employment policies in light of the comments of Audit Scotland that “existing performance measures do not focus on long-term outcomes, such as sustainable employment”, and looks forward to the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce (the Wood Commission) reporting over the coming weeks and the recommendations that it will make to improve opportunities for Scotland’s young people”.
The Public Audit Committee had a good meeting with the Auditor General for Scotland this morning on modern apprenticeships—I note that my committee colleague James Dornan is in the chamber. The Scottish Conservatives very much welcome the 25,700 modern apprentices and our commitment to training and education. Even if someone does not finish their apprenticeship, I think that three months, six months, a year or two years is better than nothing at all—although I would want them all to finish. The Auditor General made some very good points, and the Public Audit Committee will look into the matter further.
Jenny Marra made the point that fewer apprenticeships are now in the Scottish Government’s economic growth sectors, and I would like to see more apprenticeships in those sectors. Another important issue—one that I am sure, given her background in training and education, the minister will take on board—is the need for a review of training providers. We all know what our colleges do, but in the training sector there are a range of training providers, both private and charitable, and I would be pleased to see a review of them to make sure that they all offer a high standard of training.
As the Auditor General highlighted, the existing measures do not focus on long-term outcomes such as sustainable employment although that would be something constructive that we could learn from and which could improve apprenticeship training overall.
The evidence shows that 92 per cent of those who undertake modern apprenticeships are in employment six months after the completion of their apprenticeships. There is nothing in the Audit Scotland report that the Scottish Government does not accept. Mary Scanlon will also know that a lot of work is going on through the Wood commission, which will address some of the points that she raises.
Absolutely. I have become a total anorak on the Audit Scotland report, so I remind the minister that 92 per cent of those who responded to Skills Development Scotland’s survey found sustainable employment, which we very much welcome. That issue was clarified at this morning’s Public Audit Committee meeting.
Thanks very much, Mrs Scanlon. Will you accept that the Auditor General or one of her staff said that at least 50 per cent of former apprentices responded to that survey, which is a decent number for any survey? Furthermore, will you accept that surveys work on the basis of taking the percentage of the people who respond and extrapolating from that?
The Auditor General’s staff member said that they would clarify in writing to the committee the exact number of respondents.
We previously had a £60 million budget for 10,600 apprenticeships, so the average spend for each apprenticeship was £5,660. We have achieved an additional 15,700 modern apprenticeships for an additional £15 million. If we divide £15 million by 15,700, we see that the average cost of an apprenticeship has been brought down to less than £1,000.
I appreciate that there are more level 2 apprenticeships; I also appreciate that modern apprenticeships have replaced the skillseekers scheme. I am familiar with that scheme because of my background; I am sure that other members are, too. I look forward to the information from Skills Development Scotland and the Auditor General about how many people were transferred from the skillseekers scheme to modern apprenticeships. However, at the end of the day, what we all want is that more people receive the training.
I am pleased to hear that the minister is working together with the UK on the EU youth employment initiative. Youth employment is a challenge of our times. It threatens economic health and social wellbeing. It has been estimated that it will cost the UK economy more than £28 billion—a sum that does not even begin to address the human cost.
I must move on quickly, given that I have taken some interventions.
Thank you. I appreciate that.
I will turn to the UK Government’s position on the European youth guarantee and the other measures that have been undertaken and look at how Scotland compares.
As the Minister of State for Employment, Mark Hoban, made clear, the UK Government does not believe that an all-encompassing work or training guarantee after four months is cost effective or in keeping with the UK labour market’s traditional strength of flexibility. Although I agree entirely with the European youth guarantee’s aims, it is perhaps best viewed as a response to particular challenges, some of which Jenny Marra raised, faced by several underperforming eurozone countries. Jenny Marra mentioned Greece, but I could equally mention Italy. Italy has a 42 per cent youth unemployment rate, compared with UK and Scottish levels that are both, I am pleased to say, below 20 per cent.
Accordingly, the UK Government is right to adopt a different policy response that is cost effective and focuses on the long-term unemployed. Our youth employment is below the EU average and falling at a faster rate. The centrepiece of the UK’s policy is the £1 billion youth contract scheme that was introduced two years ago, before the European youth guarantee scheme. That will provide almost 500,000 new opportunities for 18 to 24-year-olds through wage subsidies to employers, as well as apprenticeships and work experience placements. I am sure that the Scottish Government appreciates and endorses the value of such measures, and welcomes the fact that, between July and September last year, national youth unemployment fell by 48,000 across the UK.
Both approaches have the same essential aim of increasing the number of young people who are in work and ensuring that youth unemployment recedes back to historical norms. Consequently, the debate is best characterised not as a battle between two diametrically opposed forces but as a technical discussion about a time period.
László Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social affairs and Inclusion, recognised that point in a speech at the University of Greenwich last year. He explained that there was significant disagreement in the Council of the European Union between those who felt that the four-month trigger was necessary and those who felt that six months would be more appropriate. If the Scottish Government falls into the former camp, my party and the coalition Government are in the latter group, but we all share the same aims—we all want the best opportunities and training for young people.
Another statistic is that four out of five young people come off jobseekers allowance within six months of signing on, which suggests that the current targeted approach best aligns with how our labour market is structured.
My final points are about the cuts to the colleges budget. SDS directly contracts less than 10 per cent of apprenticeships to further education, although I appreciate that the figure is higher for subcontracting. In these difficult times, I hope that our colleges, whose reputation is second to none, will get an additional share of that budget.
We know that there are 140,000 fewer students at college now than there were in 2007, which will harm our economy in the long run. Further education has lost 2,000 staff in the past three years and the number of staff is still falling—another 400 job losses in the past quarter were announced today. There are opportunities for modern apprenticeships, training and a quality education that every employer in Scotland recognises. We can involve the private sector and the third sector, but please do not forget our colleges.
I move amendment S4M-09376.1, to leave out from “within a period” to end and insert:
“; however recognises the reasons why the UK Government has opted not to sign up to the scheme; appreciates that a more flexible approach better aligns with the UK labour market; commends the work done by both the Scottish and UK governments to tackle youth unemployment, and recognises the shared commitment by both governments and all parties to tackle joblessness and improve the life chances of young people”.
There are two large sections of society that the Westminster Government seems to be good at ignoring. Maybe they just do not yell loudly enough. One is the vulnerable elderly people who have neither the money nor the resources to manage alone and the other is the swathe of young people who feel cynical, hopeless, ignored and rejected—or in some cases even worse, as the minister said.
That cynicism comes partly from those young people’s previous treatment. We have seen a long line of Westminster solutions to youth unemployment and a lack of opportunity. Tony Blair told us that 50 per cent of school leavers should go to university, regardless of their ambitions or their suitability for academic qualifications, and without even taking into account whether they could pay Labour tuition fees. We have also had a range of so-called youth opportunities schemes, none of which has brought real success.
The Scottish Government’s commitment to provision of 25,000 modern apprenticeships in each year of this parliamentary session is a key target, and one which we have already surpassed. The young people of Scotland deserve better than Westminster can offer, has offered or ever will offer them.
Within the restrictions of UK governance, Scotland is doing better on every level, and with independence, we will do much more. We have already established the opportunities for all commitment, which is to offer a place in learning or training to all 16 to 19-year-olds who are not already so engaged.
I will not take an intervention from Ms Marra, because she cannae get her facts right.
Youth employment is not some insurmountable wall. Meeting the needs and ambitions of young people as they leave the education system is about recognising those needs and ambitions and listening to young people. Maybe some members should try that. That is why the European youth guarantee approach is significantly different. Its mission is to get under-25s a good-quality concrete offer of work, continuing education or training within four months of leaving formal education or becoming unemployed. Its approach is solid and practical. The scheme demands an offer of a quality job, apprenticeship, traineeship or continued education that is adapted to each individual’s needs and situation.
Here are the member states of Europe coming together in a common interest that demands strong co-operation between all the key stakeholders: public authorities, employment services, career guidance providers, education and training institutions, youth support services, business, employers, trade unions and many others. So far, about 18 member states have submitted youth guarantee implementation plans, which leaves about 11 still to deliver. The UK submitted its plan only two weeks ago, on 3 March 2014.
László Andor, the European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, said:
“Leaving young people without help damages their lifetime prospects as well as Europe’s economic potential and social cohesion. It is in each Member State’s interest to act swiftly—”
I emphasise “swiftly”—
“and put in place practical measures to help young people get a job or acquire the skills to get a job in the future”.
I do not disagree with what Christina McKelvie is saying about the aims and objectives—it is entirely true. However, there is an area in which we have a difference of opinion. It is difficult to do this without considering economic theory, but one of the reasons why flexibility is being sought is because the actual structures of unemployment in countries throughout Europe are very different, so different timescales can apply.
I agree but, as usual, Westminster has dragged its feet on the matter and we should be asking why it has taken so long. The Government at Westminster tells us over and over again that it has always been in a better situation than some countries in Europe. Some countries in Europe are surpassing us now on all the measures. What has taken Westminster so long? Could it be anything to do with the UK’s antipathy to the EU? Here is an opportunity to take up an offer of European funding, and the coalition Government is dragging its feet.
The Commission itself says that
“The plans submitted and/or still upcoming are expected to identify in each Member State the measures to be taken to implement the Youth Guarantee.”
It is not rocket science. It goes on to say that
“The Youth Guarantee Implementation Plans clarify how the partnerships between responsible public authorities, employment services, education and training institutions, social partners, youth organisations and other stakeholders will be organised. They should also outline which youth employment reforms and measures Member States expect to see co-financed from the European Social Fund and the Youth Employment Initiative.”
Adopting the European youth guarantee at UK level would allow the SNP Scottish Government to align employment, skills, policy and early intervention better. That is absolutely necessary for some of our young people.
We have to aspire to better; small, independent and very successful Finland’s Government’s youth guarantee scheme has 83.5 per cent of young jobseekers successfully being allocated a job, traineeship, apprenticeship or further education within three months of registering as unemployed. That was in 2011. We are now in 2014 and the UK is still playing catch-up.
Today, we have some excellent figures on unemployment, with Scottish figures at 6.9 per cent—much lower than the UK figure. With the limited powers of devolution, the Scottish Government has managed to mitigate the worst excesses of Westminster’s cuts. With independence, we will be able to take action to grow the economy, create more jobs and ensure that more women and young people have the opportunity to take them up. I urge the UK Government to finalise the partnership agreement and to let us get on with giving our young people the opportunities that they need in order to flourish.
At the outset, we must acknowledge that the debate takes place at the start of a six-month period in which Scotland faces two big tests of public opinion. This May, people throughout Europe will decide the complexion of the next European Parliament and, this September, in the referendum, Scotland will decide on its future. The next six months will, inevitably, be dominated by the debate on independence, but let us not lose sight of the importance of the European elections in determining the future direction of the EU and the shape of the recovery after years of economic crisis in Europe.
Throughout Europe—the UK’s biggest export market—there is an average youth unemployment rate of 22 per cent, which is not unlike our youth unemployment rate at home. However, in troubled Southern European economies such as Spain and Greece, the youth unemployment rate frequently breaches 50 per cent. Youth unemployment is a Europe-wide crisis. It is a challenge to every government of every party in every one of the EU’s member states.
The European youth guarantee is now part of the EU response to the crisis. It is a guarantee to offer every young person in eligible member states a job, further education or work-focused training within four months of their leaving education or becoming unemployed. It is disappointing that the UK Government has found itself isolated in Europe as the only member state that is eligible for a share of youth employment initiative funds that has chosen not to use those funds to support implementation of the youth guarantee. Its reason—supposedly—is that it would rather prioritise Nick Clegg’s youth contract scheme and the work programme.
I will cover that question next; I do not think that Mary Scanlon will like it. The youth contract might be well-intentioned, but reports in the press this month indicate that it has paid out just 6 per cent of the wage incentive payments, and local authorities believe that it is underperforming.
The work programme is not working, either. The Government’s own figures have shown that people who use the programme are more likely to return to the jobcentre than to find work. Only one in six has a long-term job and less than 5 per cent of those who are claiming a disability benefit have found work.
In any event, the work programme is part of the Government’s prescription for long-term unemployment—it kicks in after 12 months unemployment. The real significance of the youth guarantee is that it would compel Government to intervene earlier and, if successful, would prevent young unemployed people from becoming long-term unemployed.
Throughout Europe, the younger generation have been bearing the brunt of the crisis. We cannot lose them to uncertainty and unemployment, or to a cycle of low pay and no pay. We want young people to achieve progress from training to employment, from subsidised jobs to unsubsidised jobs and from insecure work to work in which they can support themselves and build for their futures.
I hope that people can see that it was Europe’s socialists and democrats who campaigned for the youth guarantee and who fought to persuade of their case a sceptical Commission and a Parliament that is dominated by the right. In order to defend the youth guarantee and to fight to secure investment in young people throughout Europe, we need to strengthen the voice of socialists and democrats in the European Parliament. In Scotland, we have the chance to do that in May.
We should also recognise that Scotland—and indeed the whole UK—has to be in Europe if we are to benefit from European investment in our economy. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said that it would be “extremely difficult” for an independent Scotland to join the EU. I hope that, in the second big test of public opinion this year, the people of Scotland will realise that Scotland cannot be part of a European jobs policy if it is not part of the European Union.
Scotland has lost out on the youth guarantee because of the UK Government’s dithering. We do not want to lose out again because our EU membership has been put at risk.
When I was of school-leaving age, the country was in recession. Although I was lucky enough to attend college and attain a degree, many of my friends faced the same dilemma that young people face today. Back then, the options were very limited. The youth opportunities programme, which was introduced by Labour and continued by the Conservatives, was the only option in a de-industrialising Lanarkshire, and many of my friends became “yoppers”.
We have come a long way since then. Although many of our former industrial and mining communities are still struggling with the devastation from more than 20 years ago, I believe that Scotland, the UK and, in particular, the European Union have recognised the specific problems and issues that impact on youth unemployment.
Jenny Marra said that we have lost young people in the system. It is a pity that when the Labour-Liberal coalition in the Scottish Parliament introduced the “More Choices, More Chances” action plan in a much healthier economic climate in 2006, and gave money to local authorities to tackle the problem of NEETs, or young people who are not in employment, education or training—I do not like using the word—no strategies were put in place to measure the plan’s effectiveness or to track the outcomes for those young people. I am glad that the current Government has, in the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill, introduced a process that will enable that.
I am extremely pleased that the Scottish Government is focusing on early intervention principles and on boosting employment and economic opportunities for young people. For the second year running, we are surpassing our target of providing 25,000 apprenticeships.
However, it is disappointing that up to this point the UK Government has failed to adopt the European Union’s youth guarantee, which could help to take us so much further. Although the UK Government defends its position by stating that 80 per cent of jobseekers in the UK are off the scheme within six months, the long-term positive destinations for those young people are not being analysed.
It is not happening, despite the success of the Finnish Government’s scheme as detailed in Eurofound’s 2012 evaluation report, “Youth Guarantee: Experiences from Finland and Sweden.” The report specifically mentions early intervention as being a strength of the scheme, and notes that immediate action is particularly important because the intervention can take place before the young people become disengaged. That makes the UK Government’s approach of not taking up the EU youth guarantee all the more difficult to accept.
The Labour amendment suggests that our colleges are perhaps not focused on skills and on linking with industry, but statistics from the Scottish Further and Higher Education Funding Council show that, in the Labour Government’s last term in office, there were 206,594 people enrolled in courses that did not lead to recognised qualifications.
It was not successful enough to track the outcomes of the young people who were more disengaged from the process.
I repeat that 206,594 people were enrolled on courses for qualifications that are not recognised, and 67,000 of those were enrolled on courses that lasted under 10 hours. By last year, that figure had fallen by 68 per cent to 87,834, which shows that the focus has shifted away from non-recognised qualifications and short-term programmes to employability and work-based skills programmes, which is a move forward for our colleges.
Despite what the Opposition would have us believe about its commitment to women, the Scottish funding council’s report, “SFC Statistical Publication: Baseline Report for Academic Year 2012-13”, which was published this year, shows that only 26,986 women were on full-time SFC-funded courses under Labour’s last Administration in the Scottish Parliament, whereas 30,372 full-time places have been taken up by women in the past year.
No. I am sorry, but I have already taken an intervention.
I am also quite disappointed by the point that Labour’s amendment raises about gender segregation. We had a very good debate about such inequality last week. I am disappointed that the point has been made because gender segregation is an issue across all sectors. Although we have to tackle gender segregation in engineering, we should also be looking at the care sector, in particular, where women take up the overwhelming majority of positions. If we are truly to achieve equality, we must challenge gender segregation in all job areas. As a former information technology professional, I welcome the fact that the Scottish funding council’s baseline report indicates that the gender differential in that subject was only 4 per cent last year. That is an incredible improvement on the situation when I studied many years ago.
The Opposition would sometimes have us believe that in some way our colleges have abandoned the communities—such as my own in Lanarkshire and others in my region—that have been most affected by unemployment and deindustrialisation. Last year, the Scottish funding council produced a table showing the hours of learning per head of population for each local authority. The ten local authorities that performed above the Scottish average include nine of the areas of top deprivation: North Ayrshire, Inverclyde, Glasgow City, East Ayrshire, Fife, West Dunbartonshire, Dundee City, North Lanarkshire and Clackmannanshire. Those local authorities all provide more than the average hours of learning per head of population for local authorities. The Scottish funding council has not produced the figures for this year, but I see a college sector that has changed and adapted to provide more skills-based qualifications, that is concentrating on our young people and which is delivering for the areas that are the cause of most concern in Scotland.
Last month, I met a young man from East Renfrewshire, Ryan Cannon, who has just started a full-time and fulfilling job with a local housing association, following nine months on the dole. That was nine months of unsuccessful job hunting and depressing interviews at the very start of that young man’s working life, during which he was made to feel unwanted instead of invaluable. I was particularly proud to meet Ryan, as he is the first success of a voluntary work experience programme that I have launched in my constituency of Eastwood, along with my MP colleague Jim Murphy and, crucially, with the support of dozens of local businesses.
There is no doubt that Ryan secured a job because he is bright, industrious and talented, but I am conscious that he got the opportunity only because of that six weeks of work experience. If we can help young people such as Ryan with a voluntary work experience programme in one constituency alone, just think what we could do and the difference that we would make across the country with a properly resourced youth guarantee programme.
The worrying thing is that most members are less likely to hear about the success stories and people like Ryan and more likely to hear from young people who are struggling to find a job or, worse still, struggling to cope with the effects of joblessness. The economists David Bell and David Blanchflower have found that unemployment for people while young, especially of long duration, causes permanent scars rather than temporary blemishes. No member could disagree with the central argument in the motion about the critical role that young people play in our economy and the huge disadvantage that they are placed at by periods of unemployment.
I want to make common cause with the SNP on the youth guarantee scheme. As I have said in previous debates, including as recently as last month, the UK Government should implement the policy now and unlock the millions of pounds of funding that is available via the EU to support such schemes. Although the fall in overall joblessness in recent months has been good, unemployment among young people in Scotland still stands at about one in five, and it remains a hugely worrying issue not just here, but in most European economies. Long-term youth unemployment continues to rise. The latest figures show that the number of people aged 18 to 24 who have claimed jobseekers allowance for more than 24 months is increasing. Although economic inactivity among that group declined slightly in the last quarter, it has been steadily rising over several years and remains significantly higher than pre-recession levels
The youth guarantee, as my colleague Jenny Marra highlighted, was a Labour initiative and it has been approved with a starting budget of more than €6 billion. It will give young people a guarantee of work, education or training. Unfortunately the Tory Government does not seem to share our sense that that is a priority.
Although Labour and the SNP can agree on the importance of the programme, it is worth repeating, as Ms Marra did, that the Scottish Government is not exactly powerless when it comes to implementing some of the elements of the guarantee, particularly those around colleges, skills and work experience. Colleges Scotland confirmed in its briefing for this debate that the budget given to further education means that any new activity in the sector can happen only at the expense of current activity. Last week, figures showed that 80,000 fewer women are at college since the SNP came to power. In fact, the number of students studying at college fell by a further 19,000 last year, adding to an already deplorable cut of 140,000 students since 2007. That is 140,000 fewer Scots, many of whom are young people, who are missing out on a college place because of decisions made by this Government.
Colleges should be a key part of any strategy to combat youth unemployment, not only to provide further education opportunities for young people, but foster links between schools, business and industry. One of the central recommendations of the Wood commission’s interim report is that there should be better links between schools and colleges, which would allow more vocational skills to be taught in schools. In turn, colleges should foster links with business and industry through programmes such as engineers of the future, which Sir Ian Wood highlighted. That programme provides an engineering qualification and hands-on work experience and the whole process is sponsored by industry, which ensures that young people receive a salary while participating. We need to engage much more with industry from a school level onwards.
I appreciate Mr Macintosh’s support for the work of the Wood commission and his support for the European youth guarantee. Does he accept that colleges are being funded more every year by this Government than they were by the previous Labour-Liberal Executive?
As a way of looking at the decisions this Government has taken on further education, it is simply myopic to compare and pretend that funding is somehow better. The figures that I just read out say that 140,000 students every year—not in total, but every year—are being denied a place at college. It is an entirely devolved decision.
I am happy for my figures to be challenged, examined and scrutinised by anybody in the Parliament. These figures are absolutely unequivocal: the number of people who go to college in Scotland has fallen from something like 480,000 to 300,000. It is a phenomenal figure.
It is a disgrace that the SNP claims that it is spending more on colleges, when it should be utterly ashamed of the doors that it has slammed in people’s faces in this country. I do not doubt that SNP colleagues desire to do the best for people in Scotland, but for them to deny the implication of their own policies is blind—it is blinkered. To constantly blame others for the decisions that they take with the power that this Parliament has to make a difference is not logical. It will certainly not persuade people to vote for the SNP in September.
We need to do more. Just last week, the Labour Party announced what we could do: a guaranteed jobs scheme for all young people on unemployment benefit for over a year and all adults aged 25 and over who have been on benefit for more than two years. The Government would pay wages and national insurance directly to businesses to cover 25 hours of work per week. In addition, a Labour Government would provide an extra £500 per employee to help businesses with set-up and administration costs. That is the kind of practical programme that we need to give young people a helping hand into work.
Even in Opposition in this Parliament, from 2007 onwards, my Labour colleagues and I have argued to reinstate Labour’s future jobs fund and establish a Scottish wage subsidy programme. I was one of the first to welcome it when John Swinney, the cabinet secretary, finally announced £15 million in his budget statement in September 2012. It took a further year for the employment minister to announce the employment recruitment initiative. I have asked the Scottish Parliament information centre to estimate the figures. They are only indicative at the moment but I believe that just over 4,500 jobs have been created up to March this year. That is 4,500 jobs that are more than welcome, but what could have been created with more of a sense of mission, more of a sense of purpose and more drive behind the initiative?
Young people have been the hardest hit by the recession and we must act now to give them a brighter future. We do not need to bemoan lost opportunities, and certainly not to defer all decisions until after September this year. We need to use the powers of this Parliament and this Government today to make a difference to young lives.
Before I begin my remarks, I must take issue with what Ken Macintosh has just said. He is, of course, manipulating figures. He is in effect giving an example using numbers that are based on short-term and part-time courses, and comparing them with numbers based on full-time courses. The changes that have been made to the college sector mean that we now have targeted, full-time courses for young people. That was the right thing to have done and the Parliament should be doing that to support young people at this particularly difficult time.
I am talking about the fact that you are talking about numbers that are based on part-time, short-term courses. That is what you are talking about and, frankly, you should be ashamed—
The member should be ashamed of trying to pretend that a short-term, part-time course for a person is the same as a full-time educational opportunity. That is the difference. He can pretend that chalk is cheese, but it is not, Ken.
No, I will not take an intervention on that point.
I am delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this debate on the European youth guarantee.
As we have heard, the European Union’s youth guarantee scheme is a scheme to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 get a good quality offer of a job, apprenticeship, traineeship or continued education within four months of leaving formal education or of becoming unemployed.
Apart from the obvious reason, why does that matter? It matters for a variety of reasons. First, unemployment has a negative impact on the emotional health of young people. Research by the Prince’s Trust in 2012 found that young people who were unemployed were more likely to feel stressed and depressed and less likely to feel loved or hopeful when compared to those in work or education. It is particularly sad when young people are denied hope just as they are starting out on their adult lives and we should make every effort to ensure that all young people feel that they have a worthwhile future.
From the point of view of the Treasury, an unemployed young person is claiming benefits and not paying taxes, so there is a loss of revenue and a concomitant cost to the public purse. Moreover, a young person who is not in training, employment, or education is neither developing any skills, nor acquiring any experience. That is one of the most important points for the young person and for the country. There is some evidence that early-career unemployment is linked with repeated incidences of unemployment among low-skilled individuals.
A good deal of research has found that early youth unemployment has an impact on future earnings. Research by Gregg and Tominey found that
“youth unemployment does indeed impose a wage scar upon individuals, in the magnitude of 12% to 15% at age 42.”
Ensuring that all young people are in education, training or employment helps those young people now, protects their future employment and earnings prospects and, of course, it benefits the wider economy.
There are also social implications of youth unemployment. For example, research undertaken in France concluded that increases in youth unemployment induce increases in crimes such as burglaries, thefts and drug offences. There are therefore good social and economic reasons for doing our utmost to reduce youth unemployment, as well as the obvious moral reason that the personal lives of young people would be transformed by meaningful employment or educational opportunities and that no young person would be excluded or left behind.
I want to be fair to the Conservatives. I am therefore pleased that, in light of that research, at the beginning of this month, the UK Government submitted an implementation plan for a European youth guarantee scheme to the EU. I accept that that is what the UK Government has done, but I am very disappointed that it has been half-hearted in its approach by not supporting early intervention and by ignoring one of the most crucial parts of the process: the four months. The four-month period is so important. To ignore it and reject it is unfortunate and disappointing indeed.
Would the member agree that offering short part-time courses to young carers, carers who are unable to work full time or young people who are looking after children would be an early intervention that could help them to update their skills and allow them to consider moving back into the job market at a later date?
I think that we should offer lots of things to people. There should be a variety of offers. One of the problems that Margaret McCulloch has is that she supports a constitutional settlement that leaves all the powers over welfare, benefits, taxation and the economy—in effect, all the decisions about the money—with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. That is what she supports. I understand that she was a member of the Conservative Party for a number of years; perhaps that is the reason for her support.
The youth guarantee scheme would require co-operation and co-ordinated action among all the key stakeholders and would, therefore, introduce a joined-up approach to provide early and effective intervention for young people, to ensure that they are helped into some meaningful training or a job.
I hope that all the members of the Scottish Parliament will unite to urge the UK Government to commit to establishing the European youth guarantee scheme as soon as possible and I hope that, even at this late stage, the UK Government will also accept the four-month period.
I am delighted to say, however, that in the economic strategy that it published in September 2011, the Scottish Government recognised the importance of the employment and training of young people as one of the ways in which we could accelerate recovery and drive sustainable economic growth while developing a more resilient and adaptable economy.
Again, of course, this Parliament has no power to impose a tax on bankers’ bonuses. If Jenny Marra supported that power coming to this Parliament, we could perhaps then debate the merits of such a tax. I think that many of us would very much welcome that.
Because it recognises the importance of the employment and training of young people, the Scottish Government introduced the opportunities for all programme. Since 1 April 2012, every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland has had a guaranteed offer of a place in education or training—the very first such guarantee ever made in Scotland.
That has required the kind of co-ordinated approach between agencies that is a key feature of the EU’s youth guarantee scheme and it has resulted in the rate of young people staying in employment, training or education after leaving school currently being the highest on record.
In fact, the proportion of young people from publicly funded schools who are in learning, training or work nine months after leaving school has increased from 85.2 per cent in 2010-11 to 89.5 per cent in 2012-13. That is not enough, and we must go further, but it is a tremendous achievement, particularly in such a challenging economic climate.
In order to achieve that, the Scottish Government has marshalled over £125 million from 2012-13 to 2014-15 to support young people towards and into work. That has included £30 million of funding for the opportunities for all programme between 2012 and 2015 to fund our commitment to young people, £1 million to the Prince’s Trust in 2012-13 to offer loans to young entrepreneurs and £5 million to support up to 2,500 young people into opportunities linked to major cultural and sporting events, as well as other funding.
I would like to point out that, at the moment, the financial benefits of employment initiatives such as modern apprenticeships, educational funding and so on accrue to the Westminster Government. We are delighted to make efforts to help young people, but it is the Westminster Government that gets increased tax revenues and is able to reduce welfare payments. In an independent Scotland, the financial benefits of those measures would come directly to the Scottish Government, which could use the extra income to fund further employment services and thus create a virtuous cycle of increased success.
I know that employment services in an independent Scotland would be built on an early-intervention principle that would seek to ensure that young people are helped into some meaningful work or training before they become long-term unemployed, with all the adverse consequences that that brings for the individual and for society.
Yet again, it is clear that it is only with a yes vote in the referendum that Scotland can gain all the powers that are necessary to ensure that we succeed in creating a country that provides real and sustainable opportunities for all our young people.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in this debate and thank the minister for bringing it to the chamber. Once again, I acknowledge her personal commitment to tackling issues around youth unemployment. I believe that her appointment was a positive step in addressing a problem that we all recognise requires consistent, collaborative and sustained action, even if, in keeping with many of her colleagues, too many of her earlier remarks were taken up by a bit of a constitutional whinge.
Although the Scottish Liberal Democrats will support Jenny Marra’s and Mary Scanlon’s amendments, there is nothing in the Government motion with which I disagree, as it simply asks us to support the aims of the European youth guarantee. Indeed, Ms Constance’s motion sets out very fairly and appropriately the damaging and corrosive effect that prolonged periods of unemployment and inactivity can have on our young people.
The minister is also right to point to the benefits of early intervention. I think that we all accept that the longer someone of any age is left inactive, the more difficult the situation becomes to address. Skills can deteriorate over that time and self-confidence and even self-worth are affected in ways that can be profound, as Stewart Maxwell rightly suggested. Therefore, early and targeted intervention is not just desirable; in many cases, it is essential.
That is the ethos of the European youth guarantee, of course. In that sense, I do not think that any member in the chamber would take issue with it, but there is a debate to be had about whether the guarantee adds value to what is being done at a UK and/or Scottish level. Like Colleges Scotland in its briefing, the minister has pointed to additional funding that might be available. On the face of it, why would one look a gift horse in the mouth? However, it is important to look at the conditions that would be applied to such funding.
Although the underlying objectives of the youth guarantee are entirely laudable, operating within such a structure could prove overly rigid. I am passionately pro-European, but even I am uneasy at the way in which the EU can find itself being overly prescriptive at times. It has a tendency to try to micromanage from the centre, which I am intuitively sceptical about.
It would appear that I am not alone. As Jenny Marra observed earlier, the minister’s colleague Alyn Smith MEP recently argued that
“The Youth Guarantee scheme sounds good, but there’s no budget behind it of any significance. It’s window dressing. It allows MEPs to go back to their constituencies and say ... look what we’ve done.”
It was not simply a question of funding; he went on to bemoan what he called
“that says we need to do everything at the European level.”
“The Youth Guarantee is precisely one of those. I am not in favour of the EU being responsible for social policy, I am not in favour of the EU being responsible for delivering apprenticeships”.
As the minister rightly observed, Mr Smith went on to vote for the youth guarantee, of course, perhaps tempted by the idea of going back to his constituents and showing off the “window dressing” that he had managed to secure.
Mr McArthur needs to acknowledge that the Commission has moved some way forward on flexibility, but I wonder whether he agrees with Glenis Willmott MEP, who said:
“I call on the British government to follow today’s vote and use the UK’s share of the six billion euro Youth Guarantee funds to save a generation of youth”.
I wonder whether Mr McArthur could persuade his colleague Nick Clegg to make progress and implement the European youth guarantee.
Persuading our colleagues may be a question that we both want to reflect on, given the comments from Alyn Smith that I have just quoted.
The serious point that Alyn Smith made was that approaches are almost certainly better tailored at a member state level or, for that matter, by the Scottish Government, its agencies and local authorities. I cannot see how an EU-wide, blanket approach will prove more effective.
Even in member states in which the youth guarantee model is well established, such as Sweden and Finland, evidence suggests that there have been strengths but also weaknesses. I understand that a study of the Swedish and Finnish experience by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions concluded that schemes in those countries were more effective for young people who were already work ready than in addressing those who were further from the workplace and whose issues may be more deeply entrenched. That is not to say that those schemes have not been valuable, but flexibility in adapting approaches to meet the needs of individuals or groups of individuals is important. I am sure that the minister agrees with that—indeed, that characterises much of what she has been doing, which she set out in her earlier remarks.
The work of the Wood commission, for example, illustrates that perfectly and emphasises the need for collaboration at all levels: between the public sector and the private sector; between local and national Government; and, of course, between both Scotland’s Governments.
I welcome the fact that the UK Government is not taking a one-size-fits-all approach. As Mary Scanlon indicated earlier, the youth contract has been in place since back in April 2012 and it provides a range of possible support for young people, including wage incentives of up to £2,275 each for employers recruiting long-term unemployed young people, an additional 250,000 work experience places, extra adviser support through Jobcentre Plus for careers advice and sector-based work experience and skills training. In addition, the work programme provides personal support so that those not in employment, education or training can gain earlier access, which I think in part addresses the issue to which Margaret McCulloch and Stewart Maxwell referred. By September last year, 376,000 18 to 24-year-olds had been enrolled, including 36,000 in Scotland.
Taxation changes have also been made with a view to assisting our young people and providing opportunities and removing obstacles. For example, basic rate employer national insurance contributions for under-21s will be abolished from next year. I also believe that the universal credit can provide further help by removing some of the cliff edges that adversely affect young people moving between benefits and work.
Allied to what the minister is doing and reflected in her remarks, I think that in each area we are seeing a recognition that there is no magic bullet to address the problem of youth unemployment. Today’s unemployment figures provide cause for optimism, demonstrating that the UK Government’s economic strategy is delivering a sustained recovery, despite the dire predictions of many in the minister’s party who seem to see no irony in now claiming credit for that recovery. However, the figures also underscore the need to do more and to try further innovative approaches. I suspect that it is those furthest from the labour market whom we are still struggling to reach effectively, despite the collective efforts to date to do so.
In her amendment, Jenny Marra raised valid concerns about the extent to which apprenticeships and other initiatives are or are not benefiting certain groups of young people. That is not to decry what has been done, but simply to reflect that lessons continually need to be learned about what does and does not work, and perhaps about what works in ways that were not anticipated. That also helps to make the point that I made earlier, with the support of Alyn Smith MEP in word if not in deed, about the possible downsides of the European youth guarantee and an overly rigid, one-size-fits-all approach. By contrast, I am sure that the work done by Sir Ian Wood and his colleagues over recent months will provide a rich seam of ideas to inform the debate. Like others, I very much look forward to seeing his final report in the coming weeks.
When faced with difficult issues such as youth unemployment, we should resist the temptation to reach for overly simple solutions. That is why, to my mind, the minister’s case regarding the European Union guarantee is not wholly persuasive. I think that she oversells its value while underselling the value of what she and her counterparts at UK and local government levels are delivering.
I welcome this latest opportunity to debate these important issues, to which I know we will return many times in the months ahead. That is entirely right and proper if we are to do all that we can do to help our young people play their full part in not just our economy, as the motion suggests, but our society.
It is important that the youth of today are recognised as a valuable asset in order for them to contribute to the country in a positive way in later years. In light of that, it is imperative that the Parliament recognises the role that young people will play in delivering long-term economic growth. I would like to see cross-party support in the Parliament for that vision, but from what I have heard in the debate it seems that that might be unlikely. However, it is a positive vision that would offer opportunities for all our young people to move from education to employment.
The European youth guarantee is one such vision that the European Commission attempted to establish across all member states. It would have seen 16 to 24-year-olds offered support to access an offer of a job, an apprenticeship or a place in education or training within four months of becoming unemployed. Despite that, as has been said, the UK coalition Government refused to endorse the programme.
I believe that employment services in Scotland should be built on the principle of early intervention and should seek to prevent young people from becoming long-term unemployed. I am sure that we all agree that long-term unemployment brings a wide range of problems for the individual and for society as a whole. Due to those problems, it is particularly difficult for people to find employment once they have been unemployed for a significant period.
Scotland is making good progress on youth unemployment, but we must not rest on our laurels. We must make the best use of all the resources that are at our disposal, and the European youth guarantee will help us to go further. With the economic crash, the number of youth unemployed across Europe has soared, and of particular concern in many European countries are the numbers of young people who are not in education, employment or training. That, in turn, raises concerns about the possibility of a lost generation, with many young people struggling to develop the necessary skills and experience. I believe that the Government is doing all that it can with its limited powers to aid Scotland’s youth.
The European youth guarantee aims to ensure that young people aged between 16 and 24 are given a good-quality job offer within four months of leaving formal education. That would ensure that young people, who are a vibrant hub of Scotland’s economy, are able to gain the necessary skills to contribute to the nation’s economy over the long term.
It is not expected that every case will require the same amount of support, so the European youth guarantee has been tailored to ensure that young people have access to the support that they need. The support that is offered varies from general careers advice and labour market and training information through to support for individuals who face greater disadvantages and require more complex interventions and job or training guarantees.
Again, Ms Marra comes in and brings in figures that I do not necessarily agree with.
As I said, I hoped that, in today’s debate, cross-party support could be gained for the initiative, as there is evidence from other countries such as Austria, Finland, Denmark and France that investing in young people pays off. However, the initiative will work only if it is used as both a relief measure to tackle the current levels of youth unemployment and a preventative measure that minimises the risk of future generations becoming unemployed or inactive.
When I left school, I was lucky enough to enter the workforce the very next week, but today there are more hurdles for young people to overcome. Places of work have evolved, and it is now imperative that we do all that we can to ensure that young people are given every opportunity to overcome those hurdles and succeed in the workforce. The youth of today are Scotland’s future and, whatever political party we are part of, we should all strive to ensure that our youth have the necessary tools at their fingertips to make them fit for the work ahead.
As a local politician, I listen to and learn from the youth in my area. With the right policies, and by listening to young people, we all can develop their potential. It is a hard, unforgiving world out there, but I am sure that the youth of Scotland—if they are given the opportunities, and with the vote in September and with independence—can face up to the challenge of today and make us all proud in the future.
For many young people, the transition from education to employment can seem long and difficult. Every member in the chamber will know of young people who simply cannot get a leg up on to the employment ladder despite numerous applications for all manner of jobs. Indeed, Ken Macintosh, who is not in the chamber at the moment, very vividly described his own constituency experience in that regard.
For those who cannot get work, further education or training, the transition from economic inactivity to unemployment can be lonely, demoralising and disheartening. Across Scotland, 34 per cent of all young people are economically inactive. That figure can be explained partly by the 23 per cent or thereabouts of 16 to 24-year-olds who remain in education; however, when they finish their studies, they will all face the same problems of what to do and where to go next that are already faced by the approximately 21 per cent of young people in Scotland who are unemployed.
The important question, therefore, is how we address that situation, prevent long-term unemployment and maximise the life chances of the individuals concerned. As others have said, the Scottish Government made a good start with the opportunities for all scheme, upon which the European youth guarantee can build. Scotland needs young people in work and training, because we can ill afford to have scores of young people unable to find employment.
According to the latest employment figures from the Office for National Statistics, youth unemployment and inactivity rates in Scotland are improving, especially compared with the rest of the UK, but there is no doubt that they could improve further and that the rate of youth unemployment, though far from the horrible rates in Spain and Greece, remains too high.
At 28.6 per cent—or approximately 13,000 people—the economic inactivity level in my North East Fife constituency is the highest of any constituency in the Mid Scotland and Fife region. Of course, students account for the majority of young economically inactive people, and that is also the case in North East Fife, with the high number of students at the Elmwood campus of Scotland’s Rural College and at the University of St Andrews.
Accordingly, a large number of people who are currently economically inactive in North East Fife, and in Scotland more widely, will soon be joining the school leavers and other young people who are already in the jobs market. Even if we accept that graduate levels of employment in Scotland are comparatively high, the fact is that many graduates could also be assisted by the youth guarantee scheme.
The scheme will also be able to assist young people as soon as they finish their education at school or elsewhere and will ensure that Scotland’s young people are supported in trying to find a job, if they need it, and have a safety net if they are unable to find suitable work, training or further education for themselves within the four-month period after leaving education or becoming unemployed.
Although the scheme is designed to help young people to be responsible for their own future, we as a society must take the first steps by ensuring that they are not excluded from society because of a lack of opportunities. As other members have suggested, the Finnish have shown what can be achieved with a programme designed to meet the needs of young people who are entering the jobs market. Youth unemployment in Finland is falling and an average of 83.5 per cent of young people have, courtesy of the youth guarantee scheme, received successful offers within three months of registering as unemployed.
Although I acknowledge the success that Sweden and Finland have had in tackling youth unemployment, I refer Mr Campbell to my earlier point that the evidence suggests that the youth guarantee has not worked as effectively for those furthest from the labour market as it has for those nearer to it and that lessons also need to be learned from that experience.
I take the member’s point on board. Undoubtedly, we should learn from other countries’ experiences and not have a closed mind to such things.
Nevertheless, the Finnish experience certainly shows that early involvement is essential in securing a long-term future for our young people. Nobody should leave education facing the prospect of long-term unemployment, and we in Scotland should be looking to replicate that positive vision and aim. Is it the commitment to giving young people an offer of work or training that has made Finland so successful? I am not sure, but Scotland certainly needs a programme to ensure that young people are offered opportunities for either work or personal development after education.
That will require close engagement with young people in schools, colleges, universities, youth clubs and societies. We can learn from the fact that, as Colleges Scotland has made clear in its briefing, 71 per cent of all hours of learning in colleges are now being undertaken by those aged 16 to 24. Clearly, colleges have a major role to play in that respect as well as a key role in liaising with local businesses.
In addition, along with an easier lending policy by banks, the Scottish Government’s continued support for business, including the small businesses that are the lifeblood of any community, with measures such as the small business bonus will help to create the financial background that will encourage businesses to recruit. All those matters need to be taken on board.
Some of our Tory colleagues might recently have applauded Ken Clarke for comparing Scotland with Malta, but I am sure that they are not laughing at the fact that Malta has the fifth lowest youth unemployment rate in the EU. I am also certain that references in the debate to our Scandinavian neighbours Finland and Denmark will have come as no surprise to many members. Given that those countries’ youth unemployment rates are at a comparatively low 15.4 per cent and 12.2 per cent respectively, why should we not look to them for inspiration? Why is it that small independent countries can perform so much better on youth unemployment? I am not sure that comprehensive answers have been given today.
Why does the UK Government think that the youth guarantee is not the way forward? I would like to hear more about that from Liz Smith when she winds up. It seems to me that small countries that have responsibility for and control over employment issues can make major progress. Participation in the European youth guarantee will provide significant opportunities to achieve and even improve on the unemployment rates of Finland and Denmark. Perhaps it is no accident that measures to tackle youth employment came to the fore when the presidency of the Council of the European Union was held by a small country, the Republic of Ireland.
I take on board some of the points that Inclusion Scotland made in its briefing about the position of disabled people. I also accept that the number of females who undertake construction modern apprenticeships is low. However, we should accept that there has been a significant increase in the number of women entering into modern apprenticeships generally.
Let us not lose sight of the fact that the motion refers to the key role that young people will play in delivering long-term economic growth. That is absolutely right.
I clarify that Labour has always supported the European youth guarantee, having voted for it in the European Parliament. As we heard, the aim is to provide a good-quality offer of a job, apprenticeship, traineeship or continued education for all young people under 25—with the offer adapted to the individual’s needs—within four months of a person leaving formal education or becoming unemployed, whether or not they are registered with employment services.
That is a great idea and one that I am sure that members whole-heartedly support, all the more because figures released today show that 19.1 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds are unemployed. In one of the areas that I represent—north Ayrshire—9.6 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 were claiming jobseekers allowance at the end of last year. That is the second highest rate in Scotland, and it does not reflect the total, because more young people will be unemployed but not claiming.
I am not convinced of the Scottish National Party’s commitment to the scheme. The motion states
“That the Parliament ... supports the principle aim of the European Youth Guarantee to reduce youth unemployment; endorses the aim of ensuring that all young people under the age of 25 receive a good quality offer of employment” and so on but, as Jenny Marra and Liam McArthur said, SNP MEP Alyn Smith called the guarantee “a knee jerk reaction” and “window dressing”. The SNP cannot lambast Westminster for not implementing the European youth guarantee and then refer to it as “window dressing”. Which is it?
If the Scottish Government is committed to the scheme, it needs to work harder to deliver it. The current strategy is directed at 16 to 19-year-olds. What is the Scottish Government doing to offer the same opportunities to young people between 19 and 25, as is envisaged in the scheme?
I stress that, despite our key focus on 16 to 19-year olds in the context of education, and despite our not having all the powers that Westminster has, we have introduced the youth employment Scotland fund for young unemployed people up to the age of 24 and our support for graduates is for young people up to the age of 30. We are doing as much as we can do within our powers.
It is all well and good for the Government to lodge a motion that says that it supports the European youth guarantee, but I am afraid that young people in Scotland need action, not just rhetoric. The Government tells us that it is doing all that it can, that the situation is not its fault and that Scotland simply does not have all the economic levers that are required to offer opportunities to people aged between 16 and 25. I would argue that the Government does have the power and could be doing more with our colleges and our modern apprenticeships, and yet college places are being cut and our modern apprenticeship programme is not as effective as it could be.
The Government has presided over massive cuts to colleges, which has meant that the number of part-time college places has dropped by 140,400 since 2007. How can the Government provide opportunities for all when there are not enough places? If we really want to build a stronger economy, we should be opening the doors to colleges in Scotland, not slamming them shut.
The same strategy is adopted in our modern apprenticeship programme, which is directed at 16 to 19-year-olds. Although the Audit Scotland report “Modern apprenticeships”, which was published just last week, tells us that the number of MAs in Scotland has increased, it also points to underlying flaws in the process. For example, the report tells us that
“existing performance measures do not focus on long-term outcomes, such as sustainable employment... More specific long-term aims and objectives, along with information on their benefits and appropriate outcome measures” are needed to assess value for money.
That is a key point. It is great to give young people an opportunity such as a modern apprenticeship, but what is next for them? What follows? I would argue that, if we are to improve the lives of our young people and Scotland’s economic outlook, we should support Audit Scotland’s call for more outcome-based measures to assess the long-term benefits and for those benefits to be published. We need to be clear about what modern apprenticeships achieve for young people.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report into MAs also argues that the uptake of modern apprenticeships in Scotland is typified by significant gender segregation, with ethnic minorities and disabled people also appearing to have low levels of access to all forms of apprenticeships. For example, less than 0.5 per cent of all modern apprenticeship placements are taken by someone with a declared disability and less than 2 per cent are taken by ethnic minorities, while 98 per cent of construction placements are still taken by men. Equality should be at the heart of our legislation, and MAs should be no different. What is the Scottish Government doing to tackle the problem?
I find it concerning that figures that were released following a freedom of information request in December last year showed that there are 15,000 school leavers that the Government cannot find. Those 15,000 young people have not been given the same opportunity of a job, training or education because they have been lost from the system. That is simply unacceptable. Will the Government explain today why that was allowed to happen?
The Government could be doing more with the powers that it has to provide a better future for our young people. We should be looking at the long-term outcomes of modern apprenticeships, tackling the equality issues and making sure that our colleges are properly funded. If the Government is serious about the European youth guarantee, it should target opportunities for all at 16 to 25-year-olds now instead of telling us that it can do that only after independence.
The youth guarantee that has been proposed by the European Commission is based on the experience of Austria and Finland and highlights the fact that investing in young people at an early stage has the beneficial effect of reducing long-term youth unemployment. With a youth unemployment rate of 7.5 per cent, Austria has one of the lowest rates among European countries.
In the Nordic countries, where the first youth guarantees were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s, Denmark’s youth unemployment rate is 12.2 per cent and Finland’s rate is 15.4 per cent, so both countries have substantially lower levels of youth unemployment than either Scotland or the UK.
The Scottish Government is supporting economic growth and creating jobs by investing in schools, hospitals, roads and other projects, such as new college campuses and medical centres. Companies are supported by the business rates relief package, the Scottish Investment Bank and the Scottish loan fund aimed at supporting companies to export. Consequently, Scotland has the highest employment rate and the lowest inactivity rate of the four UK nations. Scotland also has the joint lowest unemployment rate with Wales, which in part is because we have record levels of female employment.
From January 2013 to January 2014, the number of Scots on jobseekers allowance fell by 27,000, which is the largest 12-month drop since March 1998. However, our youth unemployment is far too high. In order to tackle that, the Scottish Government has in place a range of measures including opportunities for all, increasing the number of modern apprenticeships and the make young people your business campaign, which highlights the benefits of employing young people. In addition, the youth employment Scotland fund provides incentives to employers to employ a young person who has been unemployed for up to six months. That measure is expected to create up to 10,000 jobs.
Opportunities for all’s single focus is to increase young people’s participation in learning, training and employment by offering every 16 to 19-year-old who is not employed a suitable place where they can learn new skills. For the second year running, the modern apprenticeship scheme has surpassed the 25,000 target, and the Audit Scotland report found that, in the past four years, the number of females in modern apprenticeships has gone up from 3,000 to 11,000. Furthermore, Skills Development Scotland found that 81 per cent of 16 to 19-year-olds and 91 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds are in work six months after leaving their apprenticeship.
The make young people your business campaign highlights to employers why they should employ young people. Scotland’s young people not only have energy but have a wealth of talent that will help them to grow their business. The outcome is that the proportion of school leavers in a positive initial destination has reached the highest level on record and, at 90 per cent, the rate of those staying in employment, training or education up to nine months after leaving school is higher than it has ever been.
The City of Edinburgh Council introduced the Edinburgh guarantee to ensure that more school leavers moved into work, education or training. Since August 2011, as a result of the partnership between the council and the private sector, more than 1,000 job, apprenticeship and internship opportunities for school leavers have been created. The study into Edinburgh school leavers achieving and sustaining a positive destination shows that that rate continues to rise and is at the highest ever rate of 91.4 per cent.
It is not just with school leavers that progress is being made. Across the EU, only nine of its 28 countries have a lower youth unemployment rate than Scotland, and most of them are small countries. If we are to drive down youth unemployment to the levels reached in Austria or Finland, we need to learn from their example.
The EU’s youth guarantee is based on the Finnish model. The aim is to ensure that all young people under the age of 25 are offered a job, an apprenticeship or continued education within four months of leaving school or becoming unemployed. That is to avoid the possibility of a lost generation stretching across Europe struggling to develop necessary skills and experience in order to find employment.
Early intervention and assessment are key in providing support to young people, to ease their school to work transition, or to the young unemployed, ensuring that those under-25 remain active in the labour market or continue in further education.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s support for the principal aim of the European youth guarantee to drive down youth unemployment rates in our towns and cities. If employment services could work on the principles of early intervention in partnership with employers and tailoring support to the individual’s needs, that would prevent many young people from becoming long-term unemployed.
It is disappointing that the UK coalition Government has failed to endorse the European youth guarantee. A yes vote will be required in September to implement the policy in full.
There will of course be other gains from a yes vote. The financial benefits of successful employment initiatives by the Scottish Government will mean savings in welfare payments and increased tax receipts, which will flow into the Scottish exchequer and not Westminster, as at present. That will mean that the increased revenue can be reinvested in the people of Scotland to fund more employment initiatives and develop more targeted labour market policies that suit Scotland. Who knows? We might even achieve the Nordic countries’ higher standard of living, as well as their lower youth unemployment rates.
Despite a few spats across the chamber, the debate has been interesting. It has proved that it is universally accepted on all sides of the political divide that the domestic and international unemployment problems of recent years have had a profound effect on the whole country and that one of the greatest impacts has been felt by our young people.
The youth unemployment rate in Scotland and in the UK as a whole has not reached the exceptionally high levels that some parts of Europe have experienced, which one or two members have mentioned, but it remains far too high. Notwithstanding the encouraging signs for the economy today, the unemployment level among young people who are aged 16 to 25 is still high in comparison with the unemployment level for the rest of the working-age population. That has a profound impact on many young people, in the way that Ken Macintosh described. I do not agree entirely with the economic basis of his assessment, but I accept the social difficulties of what he described.
If we are to ensure that Scotland’s economy is stronger in the future, the onus is on all of us to help not only to boost the jobs market but to equip our young people better with the skills and training that they and their employers need. Liam McArthur made the good point that the issue is to do with not just the jobs market but reforming the tax base and policies, particularly on things such as national insurance. We need to ensure not only that the right skills are available but that employers feel very encouraged when they advertise posts and apprenticeships for young people. It is a sharp reminder to all of us that we have one of the highest proportions of disengaged groups among members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and that that figure has increased significantly in the past decade.
I accept that entirely. The Conservative Party in the Parliament has argued strongly about models in the Scandinavian countries, although we worry slightly about the high tax rates in those countries. I take the point, and we have had many debates about the assertion that such skills are essential and that we should start at the youngest possible age.
The key issue is to decide what action we must take. I do not think that there is a contradiction between the approaches of the UK and Scottish Governments. I beg to differ with those—perhaps on both sides—who take a slightly different view. We all have the same essential aims of increasing the number of young people who are in work and ensuring that youth unemployment is reduced and that long-term—not just short-term—safeguards are put in place. The debate is not about opposing forces; it is much more about technical points of policy making and the timescales that will bring lasting benefit to our young people.
I was asked about some of the issues by Christina McKelvie and one other member—I think that it was Rod Campbell. When it comes to the economics, one of the key defining issues is flexibility. It does not matter whether one views the issue from a centre-left perspective or a centre-right one, time after time the economists say that one of the key advantages of the UK labour market is its flexibility. We have to accept that. Even if we have different political views about how we would change the policy focus, there is relatively unanimous agreement on that flexibility.
It is because of that flexibility that different countries have taken different approaches to the issue. There is therefore an argument—perhaps a very technical one but nonetheless an important one—about whether the timescale should be four months or six. I do not entirely agree with the argument about a UK Government or a Scottish Government doing something differently. I do not accept that. Good economics, and good politics, involves taking up the issues that are specific to demand and supply in the labour market.
I compliment the Scottish Government on the Wood commission—it is one of the best things happening in this session of Parliament. Ian Wood has been careful to say in all his deliberations that there is not only a demand side to the issue, which is about how employers, colleges and universities view young people and the work that they will do, but a supply side. They are two completely different issues, although obviously they come together in the labour market. What is important about this afternoon’s debate is that we must accept that there are policies that will be directed more at the demand side and other policies that will be directed more at the supply side. We have to ensure that those come together.
As my colleague Mary Scanlon rightly argued, the European youth guarantee is best understood as a measure designed to address the specific problems in different eurozone economies. While we most certainly have our own challenges in that respect, the labour market very much thrives on the kind of flexibility that the guarantee may not offer. That is why there is a debate about the right timescale.
We fully support the drive to tackle youth unemployment and we recognise that there is a role for Government support—of course there is—but with youth joblessness at 20 per cent and falling, the situation in the UK is not directly comparable to that in Spain, Italy or Portugal, in the way that some might suggest.
I know that the temptation is great on all sides of the referendum debate to make the issue a political flashpoint between Westminster and Holyrood, but that would not be particularly helpful. It is essential that the two Governments complement each other, which means taking on board some of the other issues that we have discussed this afternoon.
Stewart Maxwell made an interesting point in relation to the college sector. I think that at one stage he discussed measuring apples against pears. He was absolutely correct in that, but there is still an issue about the college sector. It is absolutely clear that it is a Government priority to ensure that the college sector is part of the policy on 16 to 19-year-olds. However, that is not reflected in some of the spending decisions that have been made in previous budgets, in which the colleges have had severe cutbacks.
It has been an interesting debate for all sorts of reasons, but I would urge members as far as possible to see it as an economic debate rather than just a political knockabout, because that is better for our young people and will be expected by all the people who will hopefully be ready to employ them. I am happy to support the amendment in the name of Mary Scanlon.
I start by addressing a specific point that the minister raised in her opening remarks about the UK Government’s lack of engagement with the EU on finalising our implementation plan, which would gain us access to youth employment funding for the south-west of Scotland.
I share the concerns voiced by members from across the chamber and other colleagues who are losing out because of the British Government’s lack of action. Indeed, my colleague at Westminster, Stephen Timms, has on several occasions urged the British Government minister to speed up the submission of an implementation plan to secure the funding, to which the UK Government seemed to agree in an answer to a question on 5 December, although not—I understand—in a way that endorses, or meets the criteria of, the European youth guarantee.
The situation is frustrating not only for Scotland but for all the areas in the UK that are at risk of losing out. Together with colleagues in London, Durham and the West Midlands, we see it as a reason to win the argument, secure funding for regions throughout the UK and campaign for a more progressive Government that will make youth employment and the implementation of the youth guarantee a priority.
Not at the moment, thank you.
Labour voted for the European youth guarantee because of the impact that youth unemployment in any part of Europe has on our economy. We continue to support the guarantee. Indeed, the idea came not from the European Commission as cited in the debate but from the Party of European Socialists, of which the Labour Party is a member.
Ed Miliband has outlined an ambitious policy to implement a jobs guarantee for long-term unemployed young people paid for by a tax on bankers’ bonuses. However, so far, I have not heard the SNP support the taxing of bankers’ bonuses as a way of ensuring that those who have benefited most from the labour market give back to young people who have yet to embark on their careers.
Stewart Maxwell asked how the SNP could answer my question on that because it does not have the power yet. However, the SNP spent thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money in the white paper setting out what it would do if it had the powers of independence, so why not answer the question and commit now to taxing the bankers’ bonuses and making youth employment—a jobs guarantee for young people—a priority if there is a yes vote in September? I would be very happy if the minister matched the commitment in her closing speech, but the truth is that the SNP has been reluctant to match it or the pledge on the 50p tax rate. Perhaps that is instructive of its priorities, but I would be very pleased to be proved wrong by the minister making the same commitment.
In education and training—the two other fundamental policy delivery mechanisms for youth employment—we have the powers and obligation to ensure that Scotland’s young people get the opportunities that they deserve now. We cannot talk about quality education as an end of a youth guarantee when college places have been cut as far as they have been.
There has been much debate among members from right across the chamber—Mary Scanlon, Liz Smith, Stewart Maxwell, Ken Macintosh and Clare Adamson—about college places. We can trade the figures as much as we like, but the Education and Culture Committee—I sat on it when it got the evidence—the college sector and the Scottish Government know that the truth is that the college sector continues to get a raw deal under the SNP Government. As Liz Smith says, the Government’s funding commitments do not match its rhetoric on training, college places, women in college and getting people back into the labour market.
Stewart Maxwell contested full-time hours with Ken Macintosh. It is the case that the SNP cut the number of hours that constitute a full-time college course from 720 hours a year to 640, so it is disingenuous to cite full-time places and it is much better to talk about the numbers of people at college.
The SNP’s commitment in that area was to an overall number of FTE hours, and that has been not only matched but superseded. We said that we would meet our commitment to 116,000 or 119,000 hours—I cannot quite remember the figure—and we have done so. It is disingenuous to subdivide the figure in some way to try to prove a point, because we made a commitment on the total number of hours and we have met it.
Stewart Maxwell is trying to remember the figures, but we know that the First Minister talks about full-time equivalents at college. We also know the truth: not as many people are getting college places today; places and part-time places have been cut; and not as many women are attending college. That is the reality in Scotland.
No thank you.
We cannot talk about a four-month window for getting young people into work or training when—as I said in my opening remarks—15,000 people in Scotland are lost from the very system that is supposed to give them that opportunity. We cannot blame others when we are not prepared to take bold steps by legislating in our own Parliament to embed apprenticeships in the vast array of Government contracts that we commission every year.
The SNP must be genuine about its commitment on that, and vote to match its rhetoric. We must work harder and smarter to better integrate our skills services with our education services and with local employers on the supply and demand sides—as Liz Smith rightly pointed out—in order to ensure that we get it right for young people in Scotland. We cannot debate the merits of one commitment over another without taking stock of our whole employment landscape and the way in which we currently provide opportunities to young people.
The Wood commission—as cited by Liz Smith—has been a useful tool in refocusing our attention on some of those issues by making some quite innovative interim recommendations, and I look forward to the publication of its full report in the coming weeks.
The minister cites the lack of powers to explain the absence of a plan for 19 to 24-year-olds, which are perhaps the missing group in today’s debate—we know that the Government’s priorities fall on 16 to 19-year-olds, but the European youth guarantee covers people up to the age of 25. However, the minister fails to say what initiatives she would take with those absent powers, and what purpose they would serve. Would there be a radical new strategy for 19 to 24-year-olds? How would the powers that she so desires feed into that strategy and make a difference for 19 to 24-year-olds? If the minister can tell us in her closing remarks how, specifically, those new powers would serve a plan for 19 to 24-year-olds, that would shed a little light on the missing aspect of the debate.
We have the means to make a real difference to the lives of young people, and we must not sacrifice the responsibility and the power that we have by lamenting that which we do not have. We must find a way to innovate and work smarter and harder for young people and to overcome the obstacles that we think we face by having Governments work together rather than working against one another. In that task, Labour will always play its part.
The debate has been wide ranging, and we have covered some old and new territory. The old territory has been that we have touched once again on many of the debates in and around the college sector. I am proud that the Scottish Government has ensured that, in a tough economic time for young people in particular, there are more young people on full-time courses that lead to recognised qualifications, and the course completion and retention rates among those from our most disadvantaged communities have increased.
The new territory has been that, like Liz Smith, I think there has been far more of a focus on what works in intervening to help young people. We know that not all young people have had the same experiences or face the same challenges in the transition from education to school. However, I cannot accept the Tory amendment. I have looked at it clearly, but, ultimately, despite the consensual tone of the contributions from Liz Smith and Mary Scanlon today, the Scottish Government—unlike the UK Government—supports the implementation of the European youth guarantee now. I believe strongly in the merits of early intervention, which I believe prevents long-term unemployment. When we weigh up the costs of not acting, the case for the European youth guarantee is overwhelming.
I want to be absolutely clear that our disagreement is not about the principle; it is about the details of the policy and specifically the four-month period. That is where we differ—we are not against the principle.
I understand the member’s position. I will go through some policy areas and, I hope, give practical examples of where the European youth guarantee would make a difference to some of the policies that people are trying to deliver.
Before I do so, I point out again that, in the current claimant count, a third of young people who are claiming jobseekers allowance have been unemployed for six months or more. We must bear that in mind, as it is an imperative to act. Clare Adamson and Christina McKelvie mentioned the evidence from Finland where, as Eurofound has shown, the youth guarantee has secured positive destinations for nearly 84 per cent of jobseekers within three months. Achieving that within three months is far preferable to doing it within six months.
We can argue in both directions, but there is compelling evidence that those who have gone through a six-month period have a greater degree of employability and for a longer period of time.
The member fails to acknowledge that a third of those who are on the claimant count have been unemployed for six months or more and, alarmingly, even though the claimant count is going down, the number of young people who have been on it for more than 24 months continues to rise. I know from all my experience in my post that, with those who are furthest away from the labour market, we cannot afford to leave our interventions for one day, never mind months.
No, but I will come to the member.
Like Margaret McCulloch, I think that the youth contract is well intentioned, but we could deliver it earlier. Why wait six months? The indications are that the budget is underspent, so let us deliver the youth contract along with the apprenticeship scheme and the youth employment Scotland scheme, for which young people are eligible from day 1 of unemployment. That is a positive suggestion about how we could make progress.
Margaret McCulloch also mentioned the work programme. The best thing that I can say about it is that it is better than doing nothing, but it is quite simply not good enough. Given the outcomes of the work programme, we all have to be deeply concerned. Only one in 10 people on employment and support allowance and only one in four young people are getting into employment as a result of the work programme, so we need to be concerned about that. Yesterday, Labour proposed that the work programme should be the province of the Scottish Parliament, but our ambitions on welfare and employment need to be far greater than that and should not just be about managing a contract over which Westminster ultimately has control.
I will continue to press the UK Government and to push for the implementation of the European youth guarantee. In the first discussion that I had with a UK Government minister on the matter, I was struck by the fact that his principal objection to the guarantee seemed to be based not on its merits or otherwise but on the fact that the suggestion was coming from Europe.
I stress to Liam McArthur that the European youth guarantee is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is always the challenge of delivering the most effective intervention to those who are furthest away from the labour market. For those who are harder to reach, it must be much better to intervene early than to leave it six months, nine months, a year or two years.
The minister referred to a discussion with the UK minister, who appeared to have misgivings about the idea emanating from Europe, but those misgivings seem to be shared by her colleague Alyn Smith. Does the minister share those misgivings too? The motion asks that Parliament “supports the principal aim” but does not ask it to support the implementation of the European youth guarantee.
With respect, I just think that I have a more in-depth understanding of what the European youth guarantee is about. It is very flexible. I know that all my colleagues on SNP benches here and elsewhere are very proud and proactive Europeans.
On that point, we have a lot to learn from some other European countries and we have a lot to contribute from our early experiences of leading the way with opportunities for all. We are getting a better handle on the success of that policy and how to improve it.
I also say to Liam McArthur that, although the national insurance holiday for employers that was announced last year but will not be introduced until next year is indeed very welcome, it needs to be introduced now.
Although there is much in the Labour Party amendment that I could have agreed with—in its spirit and some of the issues that it raises—my big difficulty with it in essence is that it would delete the very last sentence of the Scottish Government motion, which would in effect delete the commitment for the Parliament to deliver the European youth guarantee.
I am very surprised that members have not spoken about the necessity for the integration of skills and employability services. We need Skills Development Scotland and Jobcentre Plus not just to work together—they already work closely together—but to provide an integrated service in which our young people are not passed from pillar to post.
It seems that the Labour Party always proposes that we in this Government and this Parliament should have all the responsibility but only some of the powers. Yes, Jenny Marra is right: we do indeed have control of education policy and legislation in this Parliament, but what about some control of the economy, thanks very much? We have control of agencies such as Skills Development Scotland, but how about Jobcentre Plus and the failing work programme?
We on the SNP benches are always very clear that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest responsibility.
Apart from Ken Macintosh and Jenny Marra, in her latter comments, Labour members did not make much mention of Labour’s jobs guarantee. My issue with Labour’s jobs guarantee is not that it is giving a guarantee to young people—I am all for guarantees for young people; I want a written constitution that will guarantee young people a right to free education, a job and training—but that Labour wants young people to wait one whole year. It wants to abandon young people on an unemployment queue for a year before it will give that guarantee. The issue about the European youth guarantee is that we act now.
No, not just now, thank you. I have taken plenty of interventions.
My other concern about Labour’s guarantee is some of the language around it. Ed Balls has talked about it being a “tough”, “compulsory” guarantee. I believe in reciprocity. I believe that young people have rights and responsibilities, and we have a responsibility to act now for our young people and not abandon them on the dole queue for one year before we have the temerity to act and intervene in their lives.
I am sick of listening to Westminster parties bicker among themselves about who will do least. My granny has a great phrase: “You’re only young once”—[Interruption.]