Flexible Workforce Development Fund

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 29 February 2024.

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Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

8. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to the open letter sent to MSPs from over 120 colleges, businesses and trade unions, on 5 February, urgently asking for the reinstatement of the flexible workforce development fund for Scotland’s colleges, which has been removed from the draft budget for 2024-25. (S6O-03141)

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

As a result of decisions made by the United Kingdom Government, this is the most challenging budget to be delivered under devolution. Extremely hard decisions have had to be made to ensure that Scotland’s public finances remain on a sustainable trajectory. In the face of those unprecedented financial challenges, it was not possible to preserve the flexible workforce development fund offering. I am fully aware that colleges and the many businesses that have benefited from it are disappointed by the withdrawal of the funding, and I share that disappointment. I wish that it had been possible to avoid that happening. Our response to the open letter was issued on Monday 26 February.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

I thank the minister for that answer, but it was complete nonsense. The fund was cut by this Scottish National Party Government, leading to students and businesses being let down and the skills gap widening. Does the minister accept that his Government’s decision to cut the flexible workforce development fund while receiving a 2.2 per cent real-terms increase in funding from the UK Government was a poor decision?

Photo of Graeme Dey Graeme Dey Scottish National Party

What I am struck by is Rachael Hamilton raising this issue after passing up an opportunity to seek to restore the fund, if she had wanted to, by lodging an amendment to the budget as recently as this week. Instead of doing that, she joined her Conservative colleagues in simply attacking the draft budget, offering no costed alternatives to its content and trying to vote it down. Of course, had she succeeded in voting it down, colleges and their trade unions would now have a lot more to be concerned about than the loss of the flexible workforce development fund. That is why her raising the issue today rings so hollow.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes portfolio question time on education and skills. There will be a brief pause before we move to the next item of business to allow front-bench speakers to change over.