It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
In West Dunbartonshire and in so many other constituencies in Scotland, unemployment is now a desperately serious challenge. This debate is for the 218,000 people who are out of work in Scotland, but it is also about many more than that, as not just that number are affected. There are 218,000 families, so we can double, treble or possibly quadruple that to get to the real figure of how many men, women and children are blighted by the scar of unemployment and the poverty that it creates. We have not seen the current levels of long-term unemployment among men in Scotland since 1997, and long-term unemployment for women this year is among the highest since data have been available.
People should have the right to work—that is not asking for too much. On Monday it is human rights day, when the UN’s adoption of the universal declaration of human rights is celebrated. It is well worth reflecting on article 23(1) of that declaration, which states:
“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”
Unless something changes, all those people will continue to be let down and their right to work will be ignored. Scottish people are being hammered. They are trapped between two ideologies, by two sets of politicians who are too blinkered to lift their eyes and see what is really going on, and too stubborn to put aside their political ambitions to do what is needed.
On one hand, we have the Tory and Liberal Government pursuing ideological cuts to jobs and services, cutting too far and too fast, and if this morning’s reports are correct, it sounds as though the austerity is going to be here with us for years to come. What is the result? Prices are rising faster than wages, our economy has flatlined for two years and long-term unemployment is soaring. Raising taxes and cutting spending too far and too fast is not working, which means that the Government are borrowing more this year, failing the one test that they set themselves. On the other hand, we have a Scottish Government standing on the sidelines, wilfully refusing to use the levers that they have to help people back into jobs. They have, in fact, cut jobs; in the public sector alone, John Swinney has cut more public sector jobs in Scotland than the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
However, I first want to look at what the UK Government are—or are not—doing.
As the hon. Gentleman has just come into the Chamber, I will make a wee bit of progress.
The UK Government did have a plan to help people back into jobs, but the Work programme is not working. In the great fanfare around its launch, we were promised a revolution in getting people back to work that would transform the way people were supported, reducing the benefits bill and getting people into jobs, while ensuring value for money for the taxpayer. What a joke—instead it has been a comprehensive failure. The 3.8% success rate in Scotland—I am looking at the success rate over 14 months—falls some way behind the Government’s minimum target. The success rate in West Dunbartonshire is 1.7%, which means that less than two of every 100 people on the programme get a job. That is a shocking statistic.
I welcome the opportunity to debate the Work programme, but it is important that we do so on a factual basis. The hon. Lady is referring to outcomes in relation to the report on the Work programme, but that is not the same as people moving into work or off benefits. Therefore, if we are to have a debate about unemployment, that is what we should be discussing and not outcomes in terms of the Work programme report.
We could have a debate about what outcomes mean, but for my constituents and people in Scotland, they mean getting a job and getting into work.
What is just as shocking is the Government’s estimate that if the Work programme did not even exist, five in every 100 people would be getting a job. In an astonishing act of irony, it is the first back-to-work programme where people are more likely to get a job if they are not on it.
I welcome the fact that my hon. Friend has secured the debate this morning. Does she share my concern that the Scottish Government are refusing to provide training programmes for those who are currently on the Work programme, so people on the programme in Scotland are in a worse position than those south of the border? That is totally unacceptable.
My hon. Friend makes a useful point, and we have seen exactly those problems in my constituency as well.
We have been told that things will get better, but we have heard that one before, and we are already £400 million into this failing project. People do not want to hear that things will get better eventually. They want and need proper help and support now. The truth is that the Government scrapped a successful job creation scheme. Labour’s future jobs fund had real success in helping people off benefits and back into the workplace. It created 10,000 jobs in Scotland and was a proven success, but only weeks after the general election, one of the first things that the Government did was scrap it. Why was it scrapped? Just because the Labour party had set it up—how spiteful.
The report by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion on the future jobs fund clearly set out the scheme’s benefits: raising aspirations for work; moving people off long-term benefits; and helping people into jobs. Some 101,000 Scottish young people are out of work and the Government should be investing in programmes that work, not pumping money into programmes that do not.
It was around this time last year that plans for the Youth Contract were first announced. Last month I asked the Employment Minister, Mr Hoban, if the rumours are true that millions of pounds are sitting unallocated and helping no one because the Government cannot get employers on board with the Youth Contract. It is worth bearing in mind that almost 1,000 young people are out of work in West Dunbartonshire. What was the Minister’s response to me? He dismissed my concern and told me that 20 young people in my constituency have had work experience through the Youth Contract. That was 20 out of 1,000, and it was work experience, not a job. The only place that those young people can see employment is in the Minister’s job title, and he should hang his head in shame.
However, it does not matter how many schemes and programmes there are; if there are no jobs for people to go into, it does not make a blind bit of difference. In recent months, as many as 36 people have been chasing every vacancy in West Dunbartonshire. In my constituency, as in many others, the challenge is not getting people ready for work; it is making sure that there are jobs for them to go into. That is why one of the first things that the newly elected Labour council in West Dunbartonshire did earlier this year was to launch an ambitious programme to create 1,000 new jobs and apprenticeships in our area. However, we also need a larger, more robust private sector in West Dunbartonshire. Public service has always been valued in Scotland. We do not subscribe to the Tories’ fixation on “Public, bad; private, good.”, nor do we accept their attempts to divide public and private sector workers by placing a higher value on one group.
The hon. Lady is right that there are plenty of complaints about the Conservative Government in Westminster, but will she put her ambitions in London aside and do what is needed, as she said earlier—and so that the Scottish Government would be less hamstrung by Westminster—and support moves to give more powers to Scotland, and also crucially, support the Scottish National party’s call for funding support for shovel-ready projects?
If the hon. Gentleman bears with me, he will hear that I do not believe that the Scottish Government are using the levers that they already have. If he is patient, I will come on to those issues. West Dunbartonshire was named as the area of the UK least able to weather the Government’s cuts, partly because of our high reliance on public sector jobs. When 40 people are chasing every vacancy in my constituency, as there have been at times during the past two and a half years, we have a responsibility to do everything possible to grow the existing businesses and to attract new ones.
In Aggreko and Polaroid, we have world-leading companies in West Dunbartonshire. We distil and bottle some of the finest whiskies in the world. We have diverse manufacturing companies. Our tourism product is second to none. The Clyde shipyards are a stone’s throw away, and the Clyde naval base is on our doorstop. All of that is sandwiched between the fabulous city of Glasgow and the beautiful Loch Lomond. West Dunbartonshire is a great place to do business, and there are real opportunities to be had, but we need the Government to change course.
There is an alternative to the Government’s cuts agenda. There has to be, because we must jump-start growth, get the economy moving again and create jobs. The real jobs guarantee, which we have proposed and which would be funded by a tax on bankers’ bonuses, would guarantee a job to 110,000 young people. We also want investment in infrastructure projects, a cut in VAT, a one-year national insurance tax break for every small firm that takes on extra workers, a one-year cut in VAT to 5% on home improvements and a properly resourced British investment bank to boost lending to small and medium-sized enterprises.
No one claimed that the path to economic recovery was going to be easy after the collapse, but the Government knows and I am sure that the Minister knows that at the time of the 2010 general election, our economy was recovering. Growth was up, and unemployment was going down. We were on the right track, and the worst of it should have been over. From 1997 to 2008, unemployment in West Dunbartonshire more than halved. Yes, the financial crisis meant that it started to go back up, but the action that the previous Labour Government were taking pushed it back into a downward trend.
That is where we were at the start of 2010, but when the current Government took over, they took the wrong path. Their austerity measures have sent our economy and the job prospects of thousands of Scots spiralling downwards. We have seen a double-dip recession and borrowing go up. Is it any wonder that people are wondering whether there is even still a plan to stick to or whether the Government are making it all up on the hoof, as they go along?
We can all hope that the Chancellor will change course later today, but I sincerely doubt that any of us should hold our breath on that. I want to know what the Scotland Office will do about it. It beggars belief that no Scotland Office Minister takes part in any of the key Cabinet Committees on the economy or on welfare reform. The Minister has a duty to ensure that he is at the table and to force his way into those discussions, because Scots expect him to be there and to be making our case.
In Scotland, we thought that we would be protected from the worst of the Tories’ cuts, because one of the Labour Government’s greatest achievements was to establish the Scottish Parliament. It should have protected us from the worst excesses of a Conservative Government, but instead, 15 years on, we have a Scottish Government plagued by inaction, standing by and letting the Tories do their worst.
I think that I shall make a bit of progress.
The truth is that for the past three months, unemployment in Scotland has continued to rise, while it has begun to fall, albeit very slowly and with no guarantees, across the rest of the UK. Unemployment rates in Scotland are up compared to the UK average. I want to know what the Scottish Government will do about that. Instead of using the powers that they have, the nationalist Government are sticking their heads in the sand, kidding themselves that it is all someone else’s fault and leaving the people of Scotland to suffer under the Tories once again.
Would the hon. Lady like to tell us whether the former Labour Government introduced any cuts at all?
I think that the hon. Gentleman will find that we are discussing unemployment in Scotland. I am setting out very clearly what the Scottish Government whom he supports are failing to do. We need to get the economy back on track. There is no black-and-white answer, but the Scottish Government are failing desperately the people of Scotland. If more of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues were interested, perhaps they would have turned up this morning.
The hon. Gentleman does not have to listen just to me. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce is also very concerned and has called on the Scottish Government to use the levers at their disposal to stimulate business growth, because they clearly are not doing so at the moment.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. She is making a very positive and passionate case. On the point made by Mr MacNeil about the unemployment statistics in Scotland, my hon. Friend is right to say that unemployment has fallen across the UK but risen by 7,000 in the last quarter in Scotland. One reason for that is the number of people who are leaving school and not going into employment or to university or college as a direct result of the thousands of college places cut by the SNP Government.
My hon. Friend is spot-on. I have met 17-year-olds in my constituency who were due to start a college course and thought that they had their future mapped out, but whose course was cut at a day’s notice because of cuts to Clydebank college. My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
My constituents have been particularly badly let down by the Scottish Government. Despite having one of the most challenging job markets in the whole UK, the Scottish Government have chosen to ignore us. In the initial plans to set up enterprise zones in Scotland, West Dunbartonshire did not even merit inclusion in the initial considerations. After snubbing our area, the Finance Secretary refused to meet me and local representatives to discuss his decision. In March this year, when West Dunbartonshire had the highest youth unemployment in Scotland, we were excluded from any support from the Scottish Government’s youth unemployment strategy fund.
There is no logic, no help, no jobs—only politics. The Scottish Government talk only of the limitations of the current constitutional settlement. Let us imagine the position if there were another devolved nation in the UK, one that could lead the way and would grab and use every power that it had to help its young people and wring every drop of help out of the levers of power that it had. It just so happens that, in Wales, Labour’s Welsh Government are doing exactly that through Jobs Growth Wales. That scheme is providing jobs—not work experience or training—for unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds, paying them the national minimum wage for a minimum of 25 hours a week and getting 4,000 young people a year back to work. I am told that most of those jobs are in the private sector. The scheme requires the positions to be new, not replacements—helping Welsh businesses to grow even in this tough economic climate.
If that is good enough for young people in Wales, it should be good enough for young people in Scotland. However, the Scottish Government have one priority, which they are pursuing relentlessly. I wish that it were job creation, and I hope that they will look very carefully at the Welsh scheme. At the moment, however, they are pushing everything else aside to pursue separation, in the hope that the people of Scotland will take a risk and cross their fingers that the grass will be greener on the other side.
Only last week, someone from Scottish civic society told me that their fear is that the Scottish Government are standing back deliberately, letting things get worse and worse, all to boost the fading chances that people will back their flawed plans for separation come 2014. At the heart of the SNP is a mistruth, the often repeated mantra that separating from the rest of the UK will mean that all of Scotland’s problems will be solved.
I want to roll back the years slightly to 1968, when Mick McGahey, the National Union of Mineworkers Scotland Area president, argued at the Scottish Trades Union Congress for a Scottish Parliament but against separation. He said that his members had more in common with the London dockers, the Durham miners and the Sheffield engineers than they had ever had with the “barons and landlord traitors”, as he called them, of Scotland. That is still true today, because someone unemployed in West Dunbartonshire has more in common with someone unemployed in the west midlands than with the speculators who caused the economic collapse, even the Scottish ones.
The workers movement has always been an international one. Constitutional wrangling will do nothing for the 218,000 Scots who want a job. In fact, it may harm business confidence. Last month, Rupert Soames, chief executive officer of Aggreko, which is one of Scotland’s six FTSE 100 companies, the largest temporary power generator company in the world and based in Dumbarton, said that the disadvantages of separation were
“large, serious and…likely to arise” and would create
“a great deal of business disruption”.
Most worryingly, he said that business leaders were unwilling to speak out because
“over the past couple of years, anyone who has dared open their mouths on the subject with views that are contrary to those of the SNP have brought down on themselves rains of bile and ire, which is really very unpleasant.”
He said that a lot of the language was very intimidatory. What a damning indictment on Scotland’s Government. I am sure that the bile and ire will be raining down on me on Twitter later. In fact, I saw Mr MacNeil on his phone, so perhaps he has already been at it. We need the voice of business in this debate. We need them to be the job and wealth creators. We need a frank discussion, for the 218,000 families dealing with unemployment and for every person in Scotland.
I am told that during a recent conference, the Deputy First Minister, who walked away from Scotland’s health service to lead the nationalists’ referendum strategy, was asked about plans for welfare provision in a separate Scotland. He reportedly said that it would take four or five years to work out the details. Scots do not button up the back; we are not going to vote for a blank sheet of paper. No answers on welfare, no attempt to drive down unemployment and no real dialogue with business—only an obsession with separation. We should not be in a situation where almost a quarter of a million people are out of work without any proper provision to help them back into jobs. It just is not good enough.
I want us to debate employment, not unemployment, and celebrate our world-leading sectors of energy, food and drink—particularly whisky—tourism, life sciences, electronics, defence and aerospace, and manufacturing. Right now, Scots are caught in a toxic storm of the Tory-led Government’s cuts and the Scottish Government’s refusal to help. It is time for them both to step up to the plate, put aside their obsessions and ideologies, and help the people of Scotland back into work.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle on a superb speech, full of passion for not only her constituents but the people of Scotland more widely, particularly those facing unemployment.
I want to take a few moments to highlight issues in my constituency, some of which will be familiar to the Minister because I have raised them previously. Jobs and employment is the biggest issue that I hear about when I speak to people on the doorsteps or when they come to see me. There are concerns about the number of young people who are unable to secure a job after they have completed a college course. We have a good local college—Kilmarnock college—working extremely hard to encourage more people to take up training opportunities, notwithstanding the difficulties of the cuts to college funding in Scotland. In the not-too-distant future, it will benefit from a new campus in Kilmarnock. Many young people are supported through college courses and their hopes built up, only to have those hopes dashed once they finish college and cannot find employment in their chosen field.
People coming to my surgeries are increasingly raising concerns at the other end of the spectrum—people in their late 40s or early 50s, who did not expect to have a job for life but certainly expected to be able to use their skills to move from one job to another. They now find it extremely difficult to find work. Many people who have built up skills over time expected to move to another job, only to find when they are unemployed that the job vacancies are simply not there.
The Government have to look at the figures. In response to a parliamentary question, I was told that in October 2012, 355 full-time and 77 part-time vacancies were advertised in the Jobcentre Plus office in my constituency. The claimant count figures for the same period show that 3,432 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. I also asked about the proportion of people aged 18 to 64 who are not in work or claiming benefits—those I describe as the “hidden unemployed” because they do not show up in the JSA figures. The Office for National Statistics, as part of work undertaken for the annual population survey, estimates that 4,000 people were in that category in Kilmarnock and Loudoun. The Minister is aware that many such estimates are qualified as likely to be imprecise or not reliable enough for what the ONS describes as “practical purposes”. That estimate, however, is one of those “considered acceptable”—to use the ONS’s term.
Those in their late 40s and early 50s are too young to retire. Many have worked hard and built up savings, but will have found themselves using up those savings to keep their heads above water for a year or so and ensure that they are able to get back into the job market. They are now finding difficulties in paying their mortgage, fuel bills and so on. Their savings have gone and the grind of looking for work every day is extremely difficult. We will see many more such people coming to us in the not-too-distant future.
The number of those claiming JSA over 12 months in my constituency has gone up from 635 in October 2011 to 1,125 in October 2012. More people are unemployed for longer. The problem is at both ends: the very young, coming out of college and school looking for their first job, and those at the other end of the spectrum.
Just in the past 48 hours we have heard of another blow to jobs in Kilmarnock. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of it yet, but he knows of my concerns over the MAHLE Group plant in Kilmarnock. To be fair, Ministers responded the last time there were difficulties in the plant. This week, we heard that there are likely to be 82 redundancies, out of a work force of about 400, in the next three months. That is a significant blow to the local economy in Kilmarnock and comes on the back of the inability to replace the lost Diageo jobs.
That may sound like a picture of doom and gloom, but I do not want to sell Kilmarnock and my constituency as all doom and gloom, because it is far from it. There are businesses, many of which I met over the summer, that want to take on more employees, but find that some of the programmes the Government are offering, such as Working Links or the Work programme, do not necessarily deliver what they want as employers. They tell me that schemes such as the national insurance contribution holiday, are too difficult to access and are not designed to meet their needs. I have raised that with Ministers before.
My constituency was not considered an area suitable to become an enterprise zone. It is great that North Ayrshire and Arran, the next-door constituency, can benefit from the scheme, but why could not the whole of Ayrshire have been looked at with a sensible, joined-up approach, given the numbers of people who could commute to work within it? The Governments in both Scotland and the UK could do more. At some stage, we have to rise above one person or one Government blaming another for the problem. The people expect us to work together to do something about it.
I was disappointed with another answer to a parliamentary question I received—the Minister might think that all I do is table parliamentary questions. Such answers are important, because they get to the heart of what the Government are doing and are part of how we hold them to account. I tabled a question at the end of November:
“To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, when he last met Ministers in the Scottish Government to discuss the Scottish manufacturing and construction sectors; and when he plans next to meet Ministers in the Scottish Government for such discussions.”
I was disappointed to get the response:
“There have been no recent discussions at ministerial level about these specific issues with the Scottish Government, and none are planned”.
What does that tell us, and what signal does that send to the people of Scotland who are out of work and desperately want to work, and to those in the manufacturing sector who want to continue their work and take advantage of export as well as domestic markets? However, the answer also stated that
“BIS officials are in regular contact with officials in the Scottish Government on a wide-range of issues affecting the manufacturing and construction sectors.”—[Hansard, 27 November 2012; Vol. 554, c. 298W.]
May I gently ask the Minister to use his good offices to get people together in a room at ministerial level to start such talks, and to begin to look at what more can be done in Scotland to support the positive initiatives that exist?
The Minister may be aware of the Entrepreneurial Spark—ESpark—initiative, which both UK Ministers and some Scottish Ministers have been keen to champion, which encourages people to start their own businesses. Several very innovative projects have arisen as a result, as I have seen in Ayrshire. Businesses that have been started up ought to be enabled to grow and to take on other employees, so what more can the two Governments do to ensure that?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments, and she has made some good points. Does she agree that both Governments should concentrate on procurement, because many local businesses find it difficult to work through complex procurement systems? The Work programme system is one, and the Forth road bridge—for which most of the steel will be manufactured in China—is another example of local businesses being unable to compete because of the design of the procurement process.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. This may come up later in the debate—I am not sure—but the whole issue of the Scottish Government’s intentions on procurement, and those of the UK Government, is important. Will the Minister give us information about how the two Governments are working together to ensure that tendering processes are available to local firms?
On that point, the hon. Lady may be aware that the Secretary of State has announced that there will be a Scottish Employability Forum, which will bring together the Scottish Secretary, the Scottish Government represented by John Swinney, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities represented by Councillor Harry McGuigan from North Lanarkshire council and a range of other stakeholders. That forum will address exactly the issues highlighted by her and Gemma Doyle. It will ensure that the two Governments and local government, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire, actually work together; local government has an extremely important role. I therefore believe that there is significant progress.
I welcome what the Minister says. However, to pick up the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire, for many people currently out of work, the issue is not employability, because they are employable and are desperate to be employed; the simple problem is that the jobs are not there.
To return to the figures, with some 366 people chasing every vacancy in East Ayrshire, one person gets the job, while the other 365 are employable, want to work and are desperate to get that start. They are desperate either to get their foot in the door by having a first job or to return to work to support their family. That has to be considered, and the question is how firms can be encouraged to take people on and to expand. There is still more that both the Scottish Government and the UK Government could do, and they should look to build on the successful companies that exist and, wherever possible, to maintain and save jobs. In that context, I hope that the Minister will offer his support for ways of helping to retain the jobs currently under threat in my constituency.
I have probably taken up my fair share of time. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. I again make the plea that both Governments should recognise that this issue is about people’s real-life situations; it is not a political football to be battered back and forth.
I, too, hope that we find some agreement. Does the hon. Lady agree that it might help if the Scottish Government had capital borrowing powers to enable them to stimulate the economy and create jobs in Scotland?
The hon. Gentleman always takes an opportunity to have a moan about what the Scottish Government do not have or cannot do, rather than to look at the levers and powers that they have. The important question is: what can the Scottish Government do? They have plenty of powers at their disposal, as do the UK Government. It is for both of them to work together, and that is what I hope comes out of this morning’s debate.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and it is good to see you back out of the jungle. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle on securing it.
This debate is being held on the day that the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivers his autumn statement, which will highlight the true scale of his poor performance in the period of high unemployment, weak growth, rising borrowing and declining wages that is gripping the nation. Even the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England has warned that the UK faces a
“rather unappealing combination of a subdued recovery, with inflation remaining above target for a while”.
The latest quarterly inflation report indicates that the UK could be stuck in a low-growth environment, with economic problems in the eurozone and the rest of the world continuing to have an impact.
The Ernst and Young ITEM Club report published on Monday states that Scotland’s overall output decline of 4% over the past four years puts it on a par with the troubled Spanish economy, and that Scotland’s economy is unlikely fully to recover until 2016. This year will be the third out of five in which the Scottish economy has shrunk. The report also predicts growth of just 0.7% next year, which was “well below normal” and lower than the expected UK figure. It estimates that 60,000 jobs will be shed in the Scottish public sector between the start of the 2008 financial crisis and the end of its forecast in 2015.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries.
Is my hon. Friend aware that the local government in Fife is investing £5 million in creating modern apprenticeships, which is an extension of the jobs fund?
Yes, and I welcome that initiative by Labour-led Fife council. Others that have been mentioned—initiated by Labour-led local authorities in Scotland—are clearly to be welcomed.
The matters I was referring to represent yet more miserable news for Scotland, and underline the need to address business growth and harness the job-creation potential of our small and medium-sized businesses as a top priority. It is a cause of concern that the Scottish unemployment rate is 8.1%, which is higher than that of the UK. Some 218,000 people are now out of work in Scotland. The UK and Scottish Governments must share responsibility for those continually disappointing figures. As a result of their decisions, this is a really bad time for families who are worried about their jobs and their children’s futures, and are struggling with higher food prices and energy bills.
In my constituency, long-term unemployment rose by 380% in the past year, which is the worst figure since the general election. That is truly depressing news for young people and women, and for the 1,700 workers who are losing their jobs at the Hall’s of Broxburn meat processing plant and for the 50 employees at Vion’s headquarters in Livingston. People in Scotland are not only falling victim to the failed policies of this bungling Tory-led and Lib Dem coalition in Westminster, but are suffering from the Scottish National party’s inaction and incompetence in Holyrood. I notice that Mr MacNeil has just left.
The coalition Government are running out of excuses. Their flagship welfare-to-work programme has failed to get people into proper jobs. Under the Work programme, firms and charities are paid to find jobs for the long-term unemployed, but as my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire said, only 3.8%—four in every 100— of Scottish people on the programme succeeded in gaining a job for six months or more, which is well below target.
It gives me no pleasure to say that the Dundee city council area has the worst record for creating jobs under the Work programme. The figure currently stands at 1.4%. We obviously have the separatists in power in Edinburgh and in Dundee. When can we expect them to stop saying that the big bad boy in Westminster did it and ran away?
Indeed. I certainly concur with my hon. Friend’s comment. I will be coming to that same point shortly. Let me emphasise again that the Work programme is a miserable failure because the Government are not taking seriously their responsibility to create jobs, and what they have done has been exposed as worse than doing nothing.
The figures show that 101,000 young people are out of work in Scotland and, at 23.5%, they are higher than in the UK. That means that close to half of all unemployed people in Scotland are between the ages of 16 and 24. If we deprive such a substantial number of young people of the benefits of work, we will once again pay the price for many generations to come. They are David Cameron’s lost generation. With such high levels of youth unemployment, education and training are crucial to enhancing young people’s skills and improving their chances of finding a job. Many young people I speak to in my constituency express the view that Government, and decision makers more generally, have abandoned them.
The default position of Alex Salmond and the SNP Government at Holyrood is to blame the situation on the London parties, and that is now wearing thin. It would be a tragedy for Scotland, and for the UK as a whole, if the devastating impact of the economic slump on hard-working people, families and communities, is made worse by the unholy trinity of David Cameron, George Osborne and Alex Salmond failing dismally to do anything meaningful on jobs for Scots.
In contrast, Labour has a clear, coherent five-point plan for growth and jobs to help struggling families and support small businesses. Increasing employment will only come from business growth, so both Governments must boost capital investment, and the UK Government must incentivise business lending, to enable firms to create more jobs. The Government can start to address the matter in Scotland, and across the UK, by using the £3 billion windfall generated from the sale of the 4G mobile phone spectrum.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to offer at the end of this debate. The Government must take responsibility and come forward with an action plan to tackle unemployment and give Scotland’s people the opportunities that they need to thrive.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle for giving Members an opportunity to discuss an issue of such great importance. Like other colleagues, I will concentrate on issues that relate to my constituency. Edinburgh North and Leith does not have the extreme levels of high unemployment that are suffered by some other constituencies. It normally comes somewhere in the middle of the UK figures. As unemployment goes up in the UK, so, too, does it in my constituency, and it stays roughly in the middle range. However, as with all our constituencies, and indeed the country as a whole, the broad picture does not always accurately reflect the position on the ground. It would not surprise many Members in the Chamber to hear that my constituency has areas that are among the richest in not just Scotland but the UK as a whole, and also areas that come near the top of the deprivation and unemployment rates in Edinburgh and, in some cases, in Scotland as a whole.
Youth unemployment has risen sharply in my constituency. A year or so ago, we found that we had the highest rate in Scotland of 16 to 17-year-olds not in education or employment. My constituency has certainly suffered from recent events in line with the rest of the UK. I suspect that we are also experiencing the phenomenon to which my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire referred of unemployment not really showing up in the figures. That is perhaps more true in my constituency than in any other. I strongly suspect that underemployment is a major factor, with people who want to work full time finding themselves working part time because there is no alternative.
I am aware that many people in my constituency are self-employed. There are those who were on contracts to work in the financial services sector or who were in some ways linked to it. They are still self-employed, but the amount of work they are getting has dropped dramatically, as has their income. Although this is difficult to work out from the figures, I suspect that that is a particularly severe problem in my constituency.
The house building figures are also low, showing a dramatic lack of activity in my constituency. House building is always a sign of activity in the economy as a whole, and the latest figures from the National House-Building Council show that the number of new home starts in my constituency over the last quarter was just eight, and that is in a constituency and a city where the population is still growing. The population of Edinburgh is now almost half a million; it has grown by almost 20% over the past 10 years and it is projected to grow still further. We certainly would not expect such a low number of new home starts if the economy was going well, and it clearly is not.
We have heard from colleagues about the lack of success of the Work programme. For me, people getting into a job at the end of it is a pretty good indicator of whether the scheme is working. Again, the number of people in my constituency who have found work is not as low as elsewhere—my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire referred to a figure of 2%. In my constituency, it is 3% of those over 25. It seems that people who go on the programme are getting work at a lower rate than those who do not, which does not sound like a recipe for success.
My own daughter, Jillian McGovern, is one of my hon. Friend’s constituents, and she was made redundant earlier this year. Thankfully, she has managed to find a new job, with no assistance whatever from the Department for Work and Pensions. Does my hon. Friend agree that the DWP Work programme seems to be drastically unsuccessful?
The figures clearly speak for themselves. I am glad that my hon. Friend’s daughter has found employment. Of course, one of the tragedies is that many staff in the DWP are working hard to try to make the scheme work, but are unable to do so. We all know that when there is a general backdrop of high unemployment and low economic activity, there is only so much that can be done.
Some things are being done by various levels of Government. I am pleased to say that the Edinburgh city council, through the Edinburgh Guarantee scheme, has been active not just in itself as an authority but in the private sector, encouraging the provision of real jobs and opportunities for young people. In the current year, Edinburgh city council is offering 50 new apprenticeships, 18 new training places and 50 further opportunities with council contractors. It has been encouraging private sector employers to take up that approach as well, with some success. Of course Edinburgh has a Labour-led council, which may have something to do with the success, but it certainly shows what can be done by local government, at city or district level, to respond to the current difficulties.
Clearly, a local authority can only do so much, so what we need is a change in the national picture and the national direction. We need a change of course, such as the one that my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire referred to in her opening contribution. We also need action at Scottish level.
One of the ways in which we can provide real jobs and use the current economic downturn to provide a way out and a way forward for the future is, of course, to invest in infrastructure projects. Both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have been slow off the mark in coming up with new infrastructure projects to meet the needs of the time. I have lost count of the number of times that this Government—the UK Government—have announced new infrastructure schemes and projects, and processes and mechanisms to try to bring jobs into the sector. I accept that things are slowly happening. However, it is two and a half years in now, and we have seen hardly any new projects and hardly any new jobs on the ground as a result of the UK Government’s limited measures to promote infrastructure investment.
I also have to say that the Scottish Government have been slow off the mark. Of course, their powers are not as wide as some of their members would like, but there is a lot that they could do with their existing taxation powers and spending programmes to boost jobs and infrastructure in Scotland.
I am pleased that the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary has recently presented the UK Government with a list of “shovel-ready” projects, as he described them. I think that he could have been preparing that list a bit earlier on in the scheme of things, but nevertheless it has now come forward. I know that one of the major schemes on that list is for investment of more than
£100 million to develop the port of Leith in my constituency, which will be important not only for Leith—obviously—but for the whole Scottish economy. That is certainly good, and I hope that in his response to the debate the Minister will tell us that he and his colleagues in the Scotland Office—or rather, his colleague, the Secretary of State—are lobbying actively to ensure that Scotland gets its fair share of the infrastructure investments that come forward, and that those investments are put into effect as soon as possible.
That is the key point—we need action now. We do not need promises of infrastructure investment or activity two, three, four years down the line. We do not want people to be promised training places with no jobs to go into at the end of the training period. We need a change of course, and we need the measures that the Government have promised, particularly on infrastructure, to be put into effect as soon as possible, so that we see some urgency from the Government in a way that, frankly, we have not seen in the past two and a half years.
Thank you very much, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under you this morning.
I begin by congratulating my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle on securing this debate. I think that many of us had suspected that we would have seen the full ranks of the Scottish National party here in Westminster Hall this morning. Instead, they sent the normal token gesture in—Mr MacNeil—and he has fled the scene of the crime already. That is no help whatsoever.
All too often we hear from the SNP about “shovel-ready” projects; indeed, they have been mentioned again in Westminster Hall this morning. I can tell everyone here today that there are hundreds of young people in my constituency who would desperately love to get on the end of a shovel and be gainfully employed, because that is the thing that they really want to do and the inability do it causes deep depression in households and communities, which is something that, as a nation, we can ill afford. When I say “a nation”, I do not just mean Scotland; I mean the entire UK. Young people desperately want to be out there being gainfully employed.
In about three hours’ time, we will have heard the bulk of what the Chancellor has had to say today. I do not hold out many hopes, but I am open to persuasion and I am ready to be surprised as he makes his autumn statement. However, my area is a rural area. I will mention figures this morning and I apologise to the Minister before I start mentioning them, because those figures are for Dumfries and Galloway; they are figures not only for my constituency and my backyard but for part of his backyard as well. The reality is that although the unemployment figures in our area are desperately high, he and I both know that our local economy is based around small and medium-sized enterprises, and there are enough SMEs that if all of them took on one extra person we would just about wipe out unemployment in my local area.
The difficulty is that our two largest employers are the local authority and the local health board, and the impact of the cuts that we have seen in the last few years, both under the coalition Government in Westminster and under the SNP Government in Edinburgh, is really breathtaking. It is not a surprise to those of us here in Westminster Hall today, but it may well be to those outwith here, that we actually saw cuts happening in Scotland in our local area in the public sector at least two years before there was any cut in block grant to the Scottish Government. So it was all happening under the guise of this great nationalist Government, and quite frankly it was destroying the base for jobs and any sort of growth in my local area.
In October 2010, there were 2,691 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in Dumfries and Galloway; in October 2011, there were 3,042; and in October 2012 the figure had grown to 3,205. As for the long-term unemployed, there are now just over 900 people who are long-term unemployed in Dumfries and Galloway, which is the highest level since 1999. Those long-term unemployed people, many of whom are young people aged between 18 and 25, find themselves in a desperate plight.
Again, it is unfortunate that the sole SNP Member who was present earlier—the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar—has now left, because we even had a situation earlier in the year when one of our local regional list MSPs, a lady by the name of Joan McAlpine, decided to have a jobs summit. [ Interruption. ] A sharp intake of breath—no further comments please. She decided to hold a jobs summit and she introduced to the local community the Minister responsible for youth unemployment, a lady called Angela Constance. We have heard nothing since. That “summit” was a talking shop and I regret to say that I had to force my way in to see what was actually going on. It was all window dressing, with nothing to show for it.
I know that colleagues have already mentioned the future jobs fund and how some people have said that it was not working. In fact, the Prime Minister himself said that it was
“expensive, badly targeted and did not work.”—[Hansard, 19 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 832.]
So, at a very early stage of this coalition Government, the decision was made to scrap the future jobs fund. That left many of us somewhat bewildered and confused, because not that many months beforehand officials in the Department for Work and Pensions were saying that it was a good programme and it was working.
I apologise to colleagues if I am about to divulge information that they are already aware of, but only last month the DWP published a document entitled, “Impacts and Costs and Benefits of the Future Jobs Fund”. It said:
“Under the baseline assumptions, the FJF programme is estimated to result in a net benefit to participants.”
That was estimated at approximately £4,000 per participant. In addition, the net benefit to employers was estimated at approximately £6,850 per participant; the net cost to the Exchequer was estimated at approximately £3,100 per participant; and the net benefit to society was estimated at approximately £7,750 per participant. I am no economist—quite frankly, I am not an expert in anything—but I would have thought that those figures showed some sign of a good return for the investment that was being put in.
I visited a number of young people who were working on a future jobs fund programme, along with my hon. Friend Ann McKechin who is sitting beside me now and who was a Minister at the time. We jointly visited a group of young people and they were delighted at the opportunity that they were being given to work. Suddenly, however, the new Government deemed that the future jobs fund was a failure.
I could go on at length, but I will not because I know that there is another colleague, my hon. Friend Mr McKenzie, who wants to speak. However, we have seen the cuts in the numbers of nurses and midwives in our areas, and the cut in police support staff in our areas, and quite frankly that is down to a combination of the coalition Government and the SNP. So, if we are talking about crime, they are partners in crime in what has happened in my area.
It is not that Labour does not have an answer. I am sure that my right hon. Friend Ed Balls, the shadow Chancellor, will make his point this morning, and it is about the 4G mobile spectrum and the £3 billion that can come from that, and it is also about tax on bankers’ bonuses. Those are not just warm words: this money can be used constructively, to do something for our country and for the unemployed. On the back of some of that, we could have 100,000 jobs for young people and bring forward investment.
The country has been here before. When the Labour party came to power in 1997, we gave a commitment to the people of this country that we would use a windfall levy on the privatised utilities to create the new deal; we carried that commitment through, and it worked for the benefit of unemployed people. I just hope the Chancellor will listen a little today to the shadow Chancellor and to some of the views expressed in this debate.
Thank you, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle on securing this important debate.
I would love to be here debating employment levels in Scotland, but, unfortunately, we are here to debate Scotland’s unemployment figures, which are, quite frankly, a national disgrace. It seems that when the Conservatives get into power, they look on unemployment as a price worth paying, and as something that has to exist to balance employment. We know, however, that it does not have to exist.
The Scottish unemployment rate is above the UK average, and Scotland is a black spot of unemployment on the UK map. What a message that sends to the rest of the UK and beyond, especially when we are trying to attract business and inward investment to Scotland.
Why are these things happening? The UK Government and the Scottish Government are failing the people of Scotland. One is preoccupied with austerity and cuts, while the other is preoccupied with the constitution and a desire to march into a dreamland of independence, although what Scots people have at the moment is a nightmare of unemployment.
Youth unemployment is at crisis levels. What message does that send to our young people, who need work and who want to work? They now find that their only opportunity of finding work is probably to leave Scotland, and our numbers are diminishing across communities.
I want to spend a bit of time contrasting those issues with what has been happening in my constituency. Inverclyde is a speck of light on the dark map of unemployment that is Scotland. Believe it or not, Inverclyde has actually managed to reduce its unemployment numbers. There are several reasons for that, which I will go into later, but it is also thanks to Labour—a Labour MP, a Labour MSP and a Labour-led council—which has focused on, and been delivering, jobs for the people of Inverclyde.
Two years ago, the council took the brave decision to go it alone and fund the future jobs fund, which the Government cut when they came to power. That will be increasingly difficult as the council’s budget is squeezed, and this year’s settlement for local government looks bleak indeed. In the past, Inverclyde was the second-best performer across the UK on the future jobs fund, with a success rate that saw 90% of people going into jobs. In terms of young people not in education, employment or training, we have achieved single figures, and we would hope to achieve zero this year, although, as I said, it looks as though local government funding will, unfortunately, mean that that target is out of our reach.
We hear much about Government contracts with jobs and apprenticeships written into them, but that is nothing new in Inverclyde, where we have had such things for many years. We set ourselves an ambitious school estates reprovision programme, and we wrote into the contracts the need to provide for local labour and a number of apprenticeships if those contracts were to be won, and that was very successful. By 2014, our school-building programme will mean that across Inverclyde all schools will be new or refurbished, and that will bring many jobs.
Just last week, I brought together 40 employers, the jobcentre and unemployed people in Inverclyde at a jobs fair. Our target is to ask employers to give the best possible start to someone in Inverclyde in the new year, by giving them a job.
Along with the local MSP, I have been highlighting our area’s ability to play a part in renewable energy and wind turbine construction. We have the skills and the infrastructure, but, unfortunately, we do not have the backing of the Scottish Government, who have been extremely unhelpful, cutting our regeneration projects to zero next year, which will eliminate any progress on our waterfront development. They have also given only a small amount of support to our schools programme—just £5 million, as opposed to the £80 million we were given when Labour was in power in Scotland, which allowed us to create many jobs and regenerate Inverclyde.
In the 2011 by-election, the First Minister and many others visited Inverclyde, telling us that good times were around the corner and that jobs were there for us—if we just voted a particular way, the jobs would emerge. The First Minister promised us so much, but absolutely nothing has materialised—evidently, we did not vote the way he wished. Two hundred Scots are losing their jobs every day. We are facing an unemployment emergency, and the lack of action by either Government is resulting in increasing unemployment levels, which look to be the worst for many years.
Many of my hon. Friends have mentioned how drastically ineffectual the Work programme is and that it has had no impact whatever on unemployment levels. Its lack of success in my constituency is such that it has placed only 1% of people in employment. Goodness me, I could have done that myself over a weekend and saved the Government a fortune. That was a saving that could have been made.
Labour Members believe we can create jobs using a tax on bankers’ bonuses and a windfall from 4G. We can put people to work and give young people hope again; if the Government really want to create jobs, they can. Our constituents need and want work, and young people need hope for the future. We should not let another generation be sacrificed to unemployment.
I welcome you to the Chair, Ms Dorries. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I congratulate my hon. Friend Gemma Doyle on securing the debate and on tackling head-on the vital issue of unemployment in Scotland.
We have heard throughout the debate that the people of Scotland are being failed by two Governments, in Westminster and in Holyrood. The coalition can barely keep itself together, never mind effectively govern the country, and the SNP is entirely consumed by the independence referendum, which means that it is not tackling the real problems Scots face in their everyday lives. With 218,000 Scots unemployed, few issues are more important for both Governments to tackle, or indeed more important for the people of Scotland, but our priority does not, sadly, appear to be the priority of either Government.
The coalition’s ill-fated Work programme, which we have heard about this morning, has got only four out of every 100 Scots back to work. That figure is really startling and lays bare the Government’s complete failure to get to grips with the unemployment crisis. It is also alarming that the Scottish unemployment rate is 8.1%, which is higher than the 7.8% UK average. As a result of the bleak economic outlook, underemployment has also been on the increase. This Government simply cannot get Britain working, and as a result they cannot get its economy growing again.
Youth unemployment is a particular concern. It is another statistic that is higher in Scotland than in the UK as a whole, at 23.5% compared with 21.7%, with nearly half of all unemployed Scots being aged 16 to 24—a tragic proportion, of which the Minister should be ashamed. If action is not taken soon to tackle that, those young people will become, as one of my hon. Friends has said, Cameron’s lost generation, and Scotland will be less able to take full advantage of opportunities that come our way in the future, which would be a total and utter disgrace.
Long-term unemployment also contributes to an ever-increasing welfare spend. Some 38,395 people in Scotland have been claiming jobseeker’s allowance for longer than six months, which is in contrast to fewer than 8,000 in 2008. Even more worryingly, the number of Scots claiming JSA for at least 12 months has grown by 198% since 2008.
Something has gone seriously wrong with the Government’s unemployment strategy, and they plainly have no ideas about how to bring jobs and growth to Scotland. The failure of the Work programme has contributed to an increase in welfare spend of about £20 billion more than expected. The priorities are all wrong, as can be seen in the Chancellor casting 100,000 16 to 24-year-old Scots on to the dole, while giving a tax cut to millionaires.
To try to tackle that £20 billion overspend in the welfare budget, significant changes will come into force shortly, and they will have a devastating impact on Scotland. It has been calculated that, due to the welfare changes, £114.8 million will be removed from the Scottish economy in Glasgow alone, and £6 million will be removed from the economy of Clackmannanshire, which is Scotland’s smallest county and is in my constituency. I have no doubt that that cash grab will affect local economies, and it will, according to the Fraser of Allander Institute, lead to a further 2,000 or so job losses and—guess what?—an even greater demand for welfare.
To kick-start the economy and create jobs, the Government should, as has been said, take on board Labour’s proposal to put revenues from the 4G spectrum auction to good use. Scottish Labour at Holyrood would use any Barnett consequentials from the growth spending on key investment priorities, such as house building, which I feel extremely strongly about. With nearly 40 years’ experience in the construction industry, I am dismayed to see the stagnation from which the industry is suffering, but that is no surprise when the Government are cutting capital investment by 21% by 2014.
The Government seem to be failing to grasp that with every £1 invested in construction the economy benefits by £3—those numbers have been confirmed by independent economic research. The promise of a threefold return should be incentive enough for the Government to invest in the industry. There are few better ways to kick-start economic growth than with a national house-building scheme and support for construction. There are few better ways to deliver skills in great numbers than through investment in the construction industry, and there are few better ways to impact positively on our high streets than through investment in housing and construction.
I want to pick up on some of the points that have been made this morning. That there are no Scotland Office Ministers on key Cabinet Committees that focus on growth, such as the Growth Implementation Committee, is indeed a great worry for Scotland and, I imagine, a great embarrassment to the current residents of the Scotland Office. I share the opinion expressed by my hon. Friends that the scrapping of the future jobs fund, which has been recognised by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion for its achievements, was a mistake, and there is a stark contrast between that recognition and the failure of the current programmes.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire talked about how the Scottish National party has cut more than 30,000 public sector jobs, but I want to take this opportunity to make the Chamber aware of remarks made by Keith Brown, the transport Minister in the Scottish Parliament, who, when pressed recently in a debate with me on what would happen to UK civil service jobs in an independent Scotland, said:
“I was waiting for the day when someone from Labour came forward with a positive reason for independence and perhaps we’ve just heard it—a reduction in the number of civil servants in Scotland”.
I am afraid that if that lot have their way there will be many more public service job losses in Scotland.
We have heard what Labour is doing where Labour is in power. We have heard about what Labour is doing in West Dunbartonshire, in Fife, in Edinburgh, in Inverclyde and in Wales, and all those efforts are to be applauded. I also want to draw attention to the Glasgow guarantee made by Scottish Labour in power in Glasgow city council, which has resulted in a 4.4% fall in the number of young people claiming JSA in the past two years. The real point here is to compare that achievement with that of the Minister and his Government colleagues, which is a 6.9% rise over the same period.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire referred to what I can only liken to attempted bullying by the Scottish Government in respect of separation, and I think we all agree that such activity is reprehensible. Indeed, over the past few days Mr Salmond has been defending the right to free speech in the press while at the same time appearing hellbent on stifling it in the Scottish business world.
Many issues are hitting Scotland hard at this time, with 218,000 people out of work, a Work programme that does not work, a rising welfare bill, welfare cuts that will increase the demands on welfare, a lack of growth in the economy, 16 to 24-year-olds being condemned to a future on the dole, a growth in underemployment, rising energy costs, a fixation in the Scottish Government with separation, and a lack of investment from Holyrood in further education for our young people.
My hon. Friend mentioned the fixation with independence. Is he aware of figures out this week that show that corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland is 12.5%, with unemployment at 15%, and in Northern Ireland the figures are 24% and 8% respectively? Does that not show that the SNP’s policy of cutting corporation tax is incoherent and does not guarantee jobs?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. There is a lot that the SNP says in Holyrood that does not bear true when put under the microscope.
The Governments in Holyrood and Westminster are not focusing on policies to address unemployment. They are too distracted with their own agendas of cuts and separation. That is why one in 10 Scots are working fewer hours than they would wish to, which is contributing to a rise in in-work poverty. It is why unemployment has increased by 3.3% since 2008, and it is why 80,000 people in Scotland have been unemployed for more than 12 months. It is also why, in the past year, long-term unemployment has risen by 3% in the UK but by 11% in Scotland, and it is why economic inactivity among disabled people stands at more than 49% in Scotland. That nearly half of all unemployed Scottish workers are aged 16 to 24 is a damning statistic, but neither the coalition nor Alex Salmond seems to be focusing on that as a major issue.
In light of those extremely worrying trends, the Governments in Westminster and Holyrood need to take positive action, and I want to make a brief remark about shovel-ready projects. We are all in favour of moving such projects into job creation, but if we do that in Scotland in the way that the Forth road bridge project was handled, with all the contracts being given to overseas companies, keeping people in work in Spain, Poland, Switzerland and Germany rather than in Scotland, there is something fundamentally wrong with the procurement process, as we have heard this morning.
I urge the Chancellor to get a grip of his welfare policies and to understand their impact on our economy, and to get a work programme that does what it says on the tin. The priorities of both Governments need to change from the narrow agenda of cuts and separation, and to focus on the real tragedies occurring in our cities, towns and villages. It is the Scottish people who can deliver growth into the Scottish economy if the Governments of Holyrood and Westminster provide them with the right tools and opportunities. To do anything less demonstrates that the priorities of the Governments are not those of the Scottish people.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. You are certainly the Member of Parliament my constituents most often ask me about, and I am sure they will be delighted to learn that you have chaired the debate today.
I congratulate Gemma Doyle on securing this important debate. Based on what has been said I feel that there might be little that we agree on, but I do agree on the importance of having a debate such as this here at Westminster, to focus on issues that are the responsibility of the UK Government, and also on the importance of Members from Scotland holding the Government to account for their policies and actions in Scotland.
I find it disappointing that the Scottish National party has not sought to contribute to this debate, other than through a few random interventions. I do not want to be in the position that Cathy Jamieson spoke about, of blaming the other Government—the Government in Scotland—for everything that is going wrong, which would be to adopt the reality of Alex Salmond’s “plan McB”: to claim credit for everything that is good and to blame the Westminster Government for everything that is bad.
Opposition Members, other than the hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun, to be fair, chose to use their contributions to blame both Governments for everything that is happening. As usual—I had no expectation otherwise—they took no responsibility whatever for the catastrophic state in which they left the UK economy when they left office in 2010. Indeed, we may hear once and for all an apology from the shadow Chancellor today for the state of the economy at that time, which would be good.
I recognise that the Minister and his colleagues are very good at talking about the mess that they were left, but will he share with the Chamber what the black hole was? What was that debt? If we remove from that debt what was provided to support the banks and the UK economy, how big really was that black hole?
There was a black hole because, for a significant period of time, the previous Government were spending more than they brought in. That is the reality, and the hon. Gentleman cannot pretend otherwise. Today we have heard various versions of the plan Labour now has to turn the economy around, but the core of that plan remains more spending, more borrowing and more debt—exactly the same prescription that brought the country to its current state.
Is it not the case that the current Government are borrowing far in excess of what they are spending? Indeed, based on their original projections, they are borrowing substantially more than they anticipated.
Some important points have been raised, and hon. Members have taken the opportunity to highlight what is being done in their local authority areas. We have to recognise what an important role local government plays in taking forward the jobs agenda.
I am pleased to confirm the work of the Scottish Employability Forum. Although the title includes the word “employability,” the forum actually focuses on all employment issues, because as Ann McKechin made clear in an intervention, things are not working as well as they could be for the Scottish Government in their partnerships with both local government and the UK Government. In fact, people in the Work programme in Scotland are being refused training, which is a great concern to us all.
I thank the Minister for confirming that the Scottish Employability Forum will consider all aspects of employment. Will he give us further information on any specific actions that that forum will take? When will the forum report, and when will it make recommendations on its outcomes?
The forum will meet for the first time early in the new year, and its prime focus will be to co-ordinate the different interests and to ensure that there is a seamless programme of support for people looking for work, thereby ensuring that they are neither passed around nor a victim of conflicting agendas. The forum has an important role to play, because it is quite clear that we have to bring together more close working.
I am concerned about a couple of issues that were raised.
No, I want to deal with the issue of Jillian McGovern and address the concerns raised by Jim McGovern about the Department for Work and Pensions. I would be pleased to hear more about what did not happen in that regard, because I have a high regard for the DWP’s work in Scotland. Every single day in Scotland, the DWP deals with an average of 1,500 new job vacancies; conducts some 7,000 jobcentre adviser interviews; receives more than 82,000 searches for Jobcentre Plus job vacancies; and helps an average of more than 1,000 people move into work. The DWP is playing an important role, and if any Member has examples of that not working for their constituents, we want to know about them.
I have asked for a report on why Dundee city council appears at the very bottom of the report on the Work programme, and it is important to understand that, but I want to try to dispel two myths. The shadow Minister sought to perpetuate the myth that, somehow, the youth unemployment issues are a direct result of this Government’s policies. Youth unemployment is a serious issue about which we should all be concerned. As David Miliband has said, youth unemployment started to become a problem in this country in 2004; it is not a product of the current Government. We all have to do more to work with employers to encourage them to take on young people.
No, I want to conclude this point, because it is very important. Youth unemployment is a scourge, and we all have a part to play in dealing with it. There is a serious attitudinal problem among employers about taking on young people. They think that if they take on a young person—this is particularly the case with small and medium-sized businesses—that will create hassle and difficulty for them. We have to feed back to them that taking on a young person is a positive thing. We have to encourage employers to take a more positive attitude to bringing young people into work.
I am conscious that the Minister does not have much time, but I am desperately worried that we are not getting to grips with the issues that have been raised this morning. He has been challenged directly about no Scotland Office Minister being involved in any of the key Cabinet Committees on the economy and welfare reform. Will he respond to that point? Will he give a commitment that he will make representations that a Scotland Office Minister should be involved in those Cabinet Committees?
The hon. Lady’s colleague, the shadow Secretary of State, has already written to the Secretary of State on those issues, and the shadow Secretary of State was given a full reply, which I am sure she will share with the hon. Lady.
I want to use my remaining time to respond to the issues raised about the Work programme. There has been a misrepresentation of it, which I hope is not deliberate—I am sure it is not just for the purposes of the template press releases that have been put out by the Labour party across Scotland. It is simply too early to judge whether the Work programme is succeeding against its objectives, because it is a two-year programme that has been running for just about a year.
“Outcomes” is a defined term in the report on the Work programme, and it means that a work provider has been paid for someone being in work for six months. It does not mean that those are the only people who have gone into work through the Work programme. In fact, the bulk of the people who are in the process are still on the programme, because they have not been able to complete the six-month period. There has been an attempt to distort the figures to decry the Work programme, and I would be disappointed if any Member present took any pleasure in the idea that the Work programme could somehow be described as a failure. It cannot, because it is not a failure. The figures are not available to make the sort of judgment that Opposition Members leapt to today.