This week we mark an auspicious occasion. It is two years since the First Minister took office. I congratulate her on doing so. I wonder whether I could raise a few individual cases that have been sitting in her in-box for much of that time.
First, on apprenticeships, this week the United Kingdom Government confirmed the sum that the Scottish Government will get to spend thanks to the new apprenticeship levy. It is £220 million. We have said what the Conservatives would do—we would ring fence those funds for training and apprenticeships. However, we and most importantly Scottish employers still do not know what the Scottish Government will do. Why the delay?
There is no delay whatever. The UK Government decided to introduce the apprenticeship levy without consulting the Scottish Government in any way, shape or form. We have been waiting to find out its plans. We have—as Ruth Davidson is aware—been consulting employers and others about how we best use the apprenticeship levy, and of course the detail of that will be made clear when we publish the budget in a few weeks’ time.
There are two points that are worth making to Ruth Davidson. First, she stood up today and crowed about the fact that the Scottish Government will get £221 million—that is indeed true. However, it is only two weeks ago that Ruth Davidson told us that we were actually getting £300 million, so the amount has reduced since Ruth Davidson last spoke about the issue.
The second point is more fundamental. It is important that all members understand this. While it is important that we use that money—and we will use that money to support skills and training and employment in Scotland—it is not additional money. The apprenticeship levy is substituting for money that the UK Government was previously using to support apprenticeships. It is not additional money; it comes through the block grant and it will be replacing money that was previously coming through the block grant.
That said, we will make sure that we use the money to support training and skills in Scotland. That is exactly what people will expect us to do.
If it is all Westminster’s fault, why are Scottish trade bodies accusing the First Minister personally of a leadership vacuum on this issue. Why, just this week, have both the construction industry and the oil and gas industry said that they have no idea from the First Minister what is going on.
Secondly, on education, back in February 2015—that is 21 months ago—I challenged the First Minister about giving more autonomy to schools. She replied:
“I am very happy to discuss the issue with ... the parents.”—[
, 19 February 2015; c 15.]
We were talking specifically about the parents of St Joseph’s primary in Milngavie, who want to run their own school. Nearly two years on, they are still waiting for an answer. I ask again: why the delay?
Before we do the “Let’s move on from the first subject I raised”, let me remind Ruth Davidson—I am not sure whether she is aware of this—that the Scottish Government has carried out and recently concluded a consultation specifically on how we use the apprenticeship levy funds. We will come forward with the detail of that when we publish the budget in a few weeks’ time.
Let it not be allowed to slip away that Ruth Davidson previously claimed that the figure would be £300 million and it is now £221 million, but it is not additional money; it is substitute funds.
Let us move on to education and St Joseph’s primary school. Again, let us not ignore one important fact that I know Ruth Davidson will not want to share with the chamber. The reason that we have been talking about St Joseph’s is that Conservative councillors on that council voted to close St Joseph’s. So, let me get this right—Ruth Davidson’s approach is that Conservative councillors vote to close schools and then she looks to the Scottish Government to clear up their mess. That clearly is Ruth Davidson’s approach to politics.
On the specific question of autonomy for schools, although Ruth Davidson does not appear to have been aware of the consultation on the apprenticeship levy, I should not take it for granted but I presume that she is aware of the consultation that is under way right now, which will conclude on 6 January, into the governance review. We are specifically looking at how we change the balance of responsibility in education to move to a presumption of decisions being taken in schools. A decision on St Joseph’s will be taken in the context of that governance review.
That is the right and proper way to do things, not what Ruth Davidson is appearing to do today in turning a blind eye to what her Conservative councillors are doing and asking the Scottish Government to clear up their mess.
There is your modern SNP—need a complaint about the size of a chocolate bar and they are right on it, but we wait two years for a decision on a school.
Thirdly, on welfare, just after the Smith agreement was signed—again, two years ago—the First Minister stood there and demanded of me, of Labour and of the Liberal Democrats that Westminster transfer welfare powers as soon as possible. The SNP would be outraged if they were not delivered immediately. Those welfare powers are ready to go but now we learn that the SNP is nowhere near ready to take them, and it has pleaded with Westminster to hold on to them for another three years. The SNP is good at demanding but it is not very good at governing. I ask again, for a third time, on welfare, why the delay?
Again, before Ruth Davidson gets away with moving on from St Joseph’s, I remind her that there would not be a decision to be taken on St Joseph’s if Conservative councillors had not voted to close the school. Yet again, this week, the hypocrisy is really breathtaking.
Let us turn to welfare. There is no delay on transferring welfare powers. We have to build a system to ensure that we can safely and securely deliver welfare. That is what we will do and we will do it on the timetable that we have always said. When we have a Scottish social security agency delivering 15 per cent of welfare—only 15 per cent, but that is better than nothing—we will take better decisions on welfare than the Government in London that Ruth Davidson supports.
Interestingly, on welfare, Jeane Freeman laid out the detail to the relevant committee on 29 September. Anybody who is interested in welfare—I hope that that is everybody in the chamber—should read the
. When Jeane Freeman set out the process, Adam Tomkins said that he welcomed what she had said, particularly her remarks about not using the issue as a political football. Perhaps Ruth Davidson should listen to Adam Tomkins once in a while.
The timetable “we have always said”? Read the
? All right, I will read the
. On 27 November 2014, Nicola Sturgeon said:
“I say genuinely to all parties let us, as a Parliament, ask the Westminster Government to transfer the powers as soon as possible”.—[
, 27 November 2014; c 16.]
Official Report will show a massive, screeching U-turn—“Wait three more years.”
Here is the First Minister’s record: on apprenticeships, it is no clear plan to tell employers; on education reform, it is wait and see; on welfare, it is a three-year delay; on Frank’s law, it is clear as mud; on national health service reform, it is coming soon; on an investment deal with China, it is a Scottish shambles; and on the decision on fracking, we will get back to you.
The SNP is dithering, not delivering. Two years ago, when the First Minister accepted the role of First Minister for all of Scotland that was bestowed on her by this Parliament, she stood up and said:
“I intend to lead a Government with purpose, a Government that is bold, imaginative and adventurous.”—[
, 19 November 2014; c 36.]
First Minister, what happened?
Ruth Davidson has just stood up and, on the apprenticeship levy, wrongly accused me—I think that this is a direct quote—of having “no clear plan”. Imagine a Tory having the nerve to get up and accuse anybody right now of having no clear plan. That sums up Theresa May’s Government in its entirety right now.
On welfare, Ruth Davidson is apparently saying that we should take responsibility for delivering disability benefits, carers allowance and other important benefits before we have a system in place to ensure that those benefits can be put in people’s hands or bank accounts. She may want to act irresponsibly in that respect, but I will act responsibly so that we can have in Scotland—not for welfare in its entirety, unfortunately, but for those benefits that are going to be devolved—a fair, humane and dignified welfare system. How different that will be from the system over which the Conservatives are presiding in London right now.