We need to act on youth unemployment
I was glad to have the opportunity to speak in yesterday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament on youth unemployment. You can view my speech in full on the DemocracyLive section of the BBC website at 51.40 in the first half of the debate.
There were thoughtful and insightful contributions from across the Chamber, and I would like to extend special thanks and congratulation to my colleague Jayne Baxter for her excellent maiden speech.
Youth unemployment is too important and immediate an issue for us to allow it to become mired in petty political point scoring, and I was relieved that, for the most part – although with a few notable exceptions – there was a degree of consensus on the gravity of the problem, if not its solution.
The stark facts state that long term youth unemployment has escalated with frightening rapidity, especially in areas such as North Lanarkshire. As was pointed out in yesterday’s debate, Lanarkshire has already suffered the ravages of endemic unemployment, following the dismantling of its once vibrant coal industry and the closure of the Ravenscraig steelworks. We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to bring jobs and investment to the area, and to ensure that young people have access to the advice, education and training they need to enter the jobs market.
As I highlighted during the debate, although the Scottish Government has invested considerable funds in youth employment schemes, it has also reduced funding for further education by 24% between 2011 and 2015, This may well lead to the closure of some courses, and deny many young people the opportunity to gain the training and qualifications they need to enter employment or higher education.
In another negative move, the Government skills and training agency Skills Development Scotland has withdrawn front line careers advisory services, replacing them with the website “My World of Work”. Although Angela Constance, the Minister for Youth Employment, assured me that this website constitutes “a service enhancement and is certainly not a replacement for face-to-face contact”, the closure of local Skills Development Scotland offices and the reduction in staff numbers suggests otherwise.
Cutting back on further education funding and careers advisory services is, I believe, antithetical to the Scottish Government’s stated objective of tackling youth unemployment.
I hope that Angela Constance and her Scottish Government Colleagues – especially the Cabinet Secretary for Education, Mike Russell – listened carefully to the contributions to yesterday’s debate, and will take the advice offered in the collaborative spirit implied by its “all Government, all Scotland” approach.