The Scottish Government will continue to support the west of Scotland through a wide range of programmes and public expenditure. One example is that, on 26 November, I informed the Parliament that investment through the hub programme in the Inverclyde care home, Our Lady and St Patrick’s high school and Barrhead high school could proceed. Those programmes will make an enormous difference in their communities, not just through the jobs that their construction will bring but through the health and education benefits that they will bring to local people.
The Government will publish its future spending plans on 16 December.
According to the Office for National Statistics, since 2009, there has been a reduction of 62,000 public sector jobs in Scotland, many of them in the West Scotland region, and there are now estimates that around 30,000 public sector jobs could be lost in Scotland by 2020. Unison Scotland has rightly said that we cannot keep salami slicing public sector jobs and Audit Scotland has highlighted the serious impact that that is having.
Will Mr Swinney agree to Unison’s reasonable request and work with it to set up a task force to look at the future of public sector employment in Scotland and support the public sector workers who face losing their jobs?
The first point that I make to Mr Bibby is that I strongly believe—and I am proud to say that I am in a Government that takes the same view—that investment in public services and in the work of public servants is wise investment for the wellbeing of our country, so I very much regret that we have lost public sector employment during the past five years. However, I am sure that Mr Bibby will understand and accept that the Government has to live within its means and we have had to wrestle with the challenges of the austerity agenda from the United Kingdom Government.
The valuable point that Mr Bibby makes was certainly made by the trade unions that I met this morning at the biannual meeting of the Scottish Trades Union Congress and trade unions with the First Minister and me. Many of the aspirations that Mr Bibby set out were expressed by the trade unions, which are willing to work to ensure that we create the strongest possible platform for public sector employment and public services within Scotland, and I very much welcome that approach.
I say to Mr Bibby that the Government has taken an approach since 2008, or perhaps 2009, whereby we have had a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies within the public sector. It has been an important feature of the relationship that we have had with the public sector workforce that we have worked with them to find the most effective way of wrestling with the financial challenges that we face.
One of the areas where local authorities are under massive pressure is that of health and social care, referring in particular to the growing pressures on social care budgets. [Interruption.] The Deputy First Minister has protected the national health service. Does he recognise that social care should be funded as part of that protection?
I am certain that there is health and social care in the west of Scotland, if I can help Mr Rowley in that respect. I will manage his telephone calls in the future, too, if that would be helpful.
Mr Rowley makes a substantive point. When citizens require the support of our public services, we have to ensure that they are supported in the most appropriate circumstances and surroundings, and that they are given the most appropriate type of care. As we know, there are individuals who are cared for in a care setting that is not appropriate to their needs. That may well be an acute hospital, which they do not need to be in. We have to be careful to focus on the needs of the individual citizens of Scotland to ensure that they are supported and cared for in exactly the right circumstances.
I am sure that some of these issues will be the subject of this afternoon’s debate, which will be interesting to observe. That approach and that distinction—whether in the west of Scotland or anywhere else in Scotland—are important points for Mr Rowley to highlight.