Debate: A matter of opinion

Scottish Labour has pressed the Government on its youth employment strategy

by May 20, 2013 No Comments

More than 7,000 school leavers are out of work and not in training, despite a Scottish Government commitment to young people, Labour has said.

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to offer all 16 to 19-year-olds a learning or training place if they do not have a job, or are not in education or training. But Labour leader Johann Lamont said Skills Development Scotland claimed last month that around 7,000 school leavers are looking for work or training and are yet to find a place.   She said that “worse than that”, the skills agency does not know what more than 17,000 school leavers are doing. `Under freedom of information, we have established that Skills Development Scotland has identified more than 7,000 school leavers who are known to be looking for a job or training but have yet to find a place,” she said.

“But it is worse than that. They have also admitted that they have lost more than 17,000 school leavers. They don’t know what 17,000 school leavers are doing or where they are.”  She pressed Alex Salmond on the issue during a session of First Minister’s Questions, demanding: “What are the First Minister’s pledges worth when a guarantee now has become an offer and an offer that’s not been delivered?”

Salmond defended his Government’s record, saying there has been a “substantial improvement in young people getting jobs, getting apprenticeships, getting a good start in life”. He said action by the SNP administration is “making a real difference to one of the great corrosive issues, youth unemployment, which affects our society”. He insisted: “Significant moves made by this Government and this Parliament are resulting in benefits to the young people of Scotland.”  As well as the offer of a training or education place, the Scottish Government has pledged to provide 25,000 modern apprenticeships for each year of the parliament.

But Lamont demanded to know if the goal of offering a training or education place to all 16 to 19-year-olds has been achieved. The Labour leader recalled how she was a teacher during the Thatcher years: “I saw first-hand how our young people had their hopes and aspirations extinguished by the decisions she made. No one in this chamber wants a return to those days.

“The First Minister pledged that every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland would have a guaranteed place in education or training. Has he achieved that goal?”  Salmond told her: “The policy for 16 to 19-year-olds has been implemented and that I suspect is one of a number of reasons why youth unemployment in Scotland over the last year in Scotland has declined by a third, from 25 per cent to 17 per cent.

“That’s still far, far too many but I think it is a substantial achievement over the last year. And the 16 to 19-year-old guarantee along with the substantial increase in apprenticeships in Scotland are part of that programme which has led to that success.”  The First Minister went on to state that the youth unemployment rate in Scotland is lower than in the UK as a whole, while the proportion of young people in work north of the border is higher.

“The employment rate of 16 to 24-year-olds in Scotland is now 56.7 per cent. That compares with the UK rate of 49.7 per cent. The unemployment rate is 16.1 per cent, which compares with the UK level of 20.6 per cent. By any standards whatsoever, that is a substantial success across the most difficult economic climate.”  Around nine out 10 school leavers (89.9 per cent) went on to “positive destinations” such as a job, apprenticeship or college or university place, he said.

This is higher than the 86.6 per cent rate recorded in 2006-07 when Labour was in power at Holyrood with the Liberal Democrats, Salmond said. “Not only has there been over the last year a substantial improvement in young people getting jobs, getting apprenticeships, getting a good start in live after the recession, but the destinations of our school leavers are more positive for more youngsters than they were in the good times when the Labour party were in charge.

“Isn’t there something for this entire parliament to welcome in the demonstration that effective action can’t solve every problem but it has resulted in a substantial improvement which is affecting the lives and welfare of tens of thousands of young people in Scotland?”  The Labour leader hit back: “We know that one in every six school leavers is either out of work or training or we don’t even know what their status is.

“The problem for this Government is it starts with a slogan but then it cuts the career officers, it cuts college places and then denies the truth. Now we know what he knew, that there are 17,000 school leavers who have simply disappeared.” She urged the First Minister to “put down the slogans, and start doing his job”.

Salmond responded by telling Lamont that her party will suffer “exactly the same fate as the Conservative party” as a result of campaigning with the Tories to try to keep Scotland in the UK.

“I think it is important to learn lessons, and the key lesson I would learn from the years of Margaret Thatcher is political parties who go into coalition with the Conservatives in campaigns in Scotland are going to result in exactly the same fate as the Conservative party,” he said.

“And Johann Lamont, believing that she can campaign hand-in-glove with Better Together and people in Scotland won’t draw the obvious conclusion about the direction of politics, is living in a fantasy land.

“She and her party will pay the highest price for their joint cabal and campaign with the Conservative party in Scotland.”

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