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Cabinet (Meetings)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 21st January 2016.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

3. To ask the First Minister what issues will be discussed at the next meeting of the Cabinet. (S4F-03176)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Matters of importance to the people of Scotland.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

This week I received a letter from Amazon headquarters in London, in which the company boasted that it pays workers £7.20 per hour, even though that is well below the national living wage. The Scottish Government paid almost £1 million to the company just last year. Does the First Minister think that it is wise to reward companies that pay workers such low wages?

The First Minister:

All companies should pay the tax that they are due to pay. The Scottish Government, with the limited tax responsibilities that we have, takes tax avoidance very seriously. Of course, I wanted us to have more tax responsibilities—something that Willie Rennie argued vociferously against. We will continue to stand up for fairness and for companies paying the tax that they are due to pay.

I take a different view from the one that Willie Rennie articulated in a debate that we took part in in Dundee on Monday evening, when he seemed to suggest that Fife would be better off without the jobs that are offered by Amazon. I suspect that people who work in the company would take a different view, as well.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

I know that the First Minister finds it difficult to listen to anyone else. The question was about wages, not tax. I will leave her to defend low wages—perhaps she is too embarrassed to do so.

No one is saying that Amazon should close. However, I want the Government to support good jobs. Amazon workers have been in touch this week, too, and they confirm what I have said: it is an exceptionally horrible place and the employment agencies cream off money from everyone’s wages. Meanwhile—let me give a wee flag-up that this is about tax—Amazon pays hardly any tax in this country.

The Poverty Alliance, which promotes the living wage, gets a small grant from the Scottish Government. It is a brilliant project. Why does the Scottish Government give Amazon four times as much money to pay low wages as it gives the Poverty Alliance to champion the living wage? Will the First Minister make a commitment not to give any more grants to companies without receiving wage guarantees?

The First Minister:

I apologise to Willie Rennie if I misheard his first question. My comments about tax avoidance stand, though, and they stand very strongly.

On the living wage, I hope that Willie Rennie agrees that this Government is, arguably, doing more than any other Government in the United Kingdom to promote the living wage. The living wage accreditation scheme now has more than 400 companies signed up to it, and more people are being paid the living wage in Scotland than in any other UK nation and any other part of the UK outside the south-east of England. That point was recorded in the poverty adviser’s report yesterday.

We will continue to work directly with companies to encourage them to sign up and to pay the living wage. I will ask Roseanna Cunningham, the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training—we are the only Government in the UK that has a Cabinet minister who is responsible for fair work—to engage directly with Amazon and other companies in order to get more people being paid the living wage. We will take whatever action we require to take to ensure that we are standing up for decent wages for everyone across Scotland.