Employment (Rural Economy)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 11th February 2021.

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Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

2. To ask the Scottish Government what action it will take to increase employment opportunities within the rural economy. (S5O-05010)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

The “Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland: 2019–2021” sets out how we will support the needs of the rural economy by addressing skill shortages and increasing access to education and skills provision. We are also providing green skills opportunities through a specific programme of funding for island projects relating to net zero and green recovery, and through a doubling of specific apprenticeship opportunities in forestry at Scottish Forestry and Forestry and Land Scotland.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

One of the needs that has been identified in rural Scotland, as it has across Scotland, is the need to build housing. Is there a specific rural programme in place for housing? Does the cabinet secretary recognise that if we want to drive the rural economy, we need to be able to give workers houses? There is a shortage in that regard. Does he accept that if we want to create jobs and increase skills in the rural economy, a national house-building programme needs to play a major role in that?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I am sympathetic to the points that the member makes. I am apprised of the fact, and I absolutely agree, that we need to match jobs, people and housing. I am well aware of that from my own part of Scotland. In places such as Aviemore, people have been able to get a job but not a house; they have moved into temporary accommodation, but they have not been able to find a place to take their family to live. That is just one example, but the member makes a good point.

I am not the housing minister, but I know that the Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart, works extremely hard to recognise the particular needs of rural Scotland in respect of the additional costs and the shortage of housing. I very much agree that a flexible approach is essential, especially as more opportunities will be created in rural Scotland by the green economy in order to tackle climate change. There will be a bigger workforce with more people, and better access to broadband through the reaching 100 per cent, or R100, programme—the biggest single investment in the UK—which will provide rural people with access to superfast broadband.

All those things mean that there will be an increasing demand to live in rural Scotland, and that must be matched by flexibility, and more housing, in the countryside. I am conscious that a great deal is being—and has been—done by this Government, but there is of course much more to do.