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In another negative move, the Government skills and training agency Skills Development Scotland has withdrawn front line careers advisory services, replacing them with the website “My World of Work”.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.
I participated in last Thursday’s debate in the Scottish Parliament about the closure of Remploy factories in Scotland. My contribution can be viewed on the BBC’s Democracy Live at 53.40.
The coalition Government’s programme of closures has already had a devastating impact on Remploy workplaces across the UK. What’s more, and despite the Government’s assertions to the contrary, not enough is being done to secure employment for the disabled workers who have lost their jobs.
To date, 31 factories have closed with the loss of 1061 workers, only 35 of whom have since found work.
In Scotland, the former Remploy factories at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, and Netherton, in my own region of Central Scotland, have already closed. Last week, we heard that the factory at Springburn, which manufactures wheelchairs for the NHS, will also close, following the breakdown of takeover talks. Altogether, over 100 disabled former Remploy employees will have lost their jobs.
As I said during Thursday’s debate, politicians in Scotland have a responsibility to help protect the remaining Remploy factories, as well as other sheltered workplaces. We must also strive to assist disabled former Remploy workers secure alternative employment. To facilitate this, I urged the Scottish Government to follow the example of the Welsh Assembly, which has already assembled a £2.4 package to encourage suitable businesses to employ former Remploy Workers.
In addition to this, the Scottish Government should use its upcoming Public Sector Procurement Bill to ensure that sheltered workplaces have access to public sector contracts.
Unfortunately, we cannot stop the coalition Government’s attack on Remploy. However, we can mitigate its effects. There was a large degree of consensus across the Chamber on this point, and I look forward to working alongside the Scottish Government on this issue.
I was delighted to give my support to “Clean up Scotland”, a new campaign launched by the independent environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful.
The campaign, which launches in January, will encourage people to organize clean-ups in their local communities and to adopt a zero tolerance approach to littering. In particular, the campaign will highlight the problems caused by dog fouling, fly-tipping, fly-posting, graffiti, and abandoned cars.
It is hoped that over a million people – individuals, groups and businesses – will take part in the campaign, from signing the pledge to coordinating a clean-up.
As an MSP, I get many complaints about the issues highlighted by the campaign, especially casual littering, fly-tipping and dog fouling, and I am well aware how frustrating this can be. In this day and age, with plenty of bins and refuse collection points, there is absolutely no excuse.
We need to get the message out that littering, in any form, is selfish, lazy and completely unacceptable. Not only does it ruin the environment for everyone else, it is a health hazard and damages the local economy by discouraging visitors.
Scotland is a beautiful country. It deserves to be treated as such.
I was shocked and dismayed to hear that electronics manufacturer Philips is planning to lay off 40 workers at its lamps and luminaries factory in Hamilton.
According to Philips, the redundancies are necessitated by the transfer of some product lines to factories in Poland (where the cost of labour is presumably cheaper).
I would expect Philips to have explored all alternatives to redundancy; if they have not, I urge them to do so.
Whatever the reason behind the job cuts, my primary concern is for the employees affected. I have spoken to representatives at Philips, and I understand that they hope the majority of redundancies will be voluntary.
Whilst this is a positive development, responsibility lies with the Scottish Government and Finance Minister John Swinney to ensure that arrangements are in place to give workers seeking alternative employment the appropriate advice and support.
First and foremost, representatives from PACE and Skills Development Scotland must be on hand to give counsel during the redundancy period.
The welfare of workers apart, the redundancies are obviously a blow to the local economy, especially during this period of economic adversity. From a historical perspective, it is sad to observe the continuing diminution of Philips as a major employer in the Hamilton area.
This notwithstanding, the Scottish Government must now do all it can to boost the local and national economies, and to ensure that people across Central Scotland have access to a range of employment opportunities.
I am delighted that a range of organisations and groups have been awarded funding in the latest round of allocations from the Big Lottery Fund.
Amongst those allocated substantial funds under the Investing in Communities programme are the North Lanarkshire based Getting Better Together project, and Larkhall Community Growers in South Lanarkshire.
Getting Better Together, based at the Healthy Living Centre in Shotts, will use its grant of £39,000 to finance an 18-month project to transform an unused area of ground into a garden. This will include a sensory garden and an area for children from local nurseries and schools that will allow them to grow and provide produce for the community food co-op and café in the nearby healthy living centre.
Not only will the project help to promote healthy living, it will also create opportunities for volunteering, training and work experience.
Larkhall Community Growers, meanwhile, will use its grant of £57,814 to develop its community garden to promote healthier lifestyles, and provide training opportunities to improve people’s ability to secure employment. Approximately 1,400 people, including residents, local primary school pupils, volunteers and garden users, are expected to benefit from the programme.
It is essential that we continue to invest money in grass roots projects; I welcome the Big Lottery Funds ongoing commitment to enhancing Scotland’s local communities, as I have acknowledged in several parliamentary motions.
Last week I spoke in a parliamentary debate on the future of tourism in Scotland.
This gave me a welcome opportunity to highlight the wealth of tourist attractions located across Central Scotland.
As a Central Scotland MSP, I span three local authority areas, and every single one has a lot to offer.
Visitors to (or residents of) North Lanarkshire can experience Scotland’s industrial heritage at the Sumerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, sample the tranquil delights of Drumpellier Country Park, or engage in more active pursuits at Strathclyde Country Park, a major water sports venue and home to theme park M&D’s.
South Lanarkshire has some of Scotland’s finest scenic and historical attractions, such as Chatelherault Park, Low Park Museum (both rated 5 star by VisitScotland), and Hamilton Mausoleum.
And no visit to Falkirk is complete without a trip to the Falkirk Wheel, the World’s first and only rotating boat lift, and one of Lonely Planet’s 10 works of engineering genius.
Tourism provides and creates jobs and boosts the economy. It is therefore vital that we realise our potential as a major tourist location. The Government should look at ways of extending opening hours to suit working families, and should continue to invest in the transport infrastructure, to maximise accessibility.
I recently visited Seaforth House, home to the Falkirk branch of Ypeople. Ypeople, formerly Glasgow YMCA, provides supported accomodation for young people affected by homelessness, helping them to find their feet, offering guidance and advice across a range of issues, and working to improve their confidence and self-esteem.
I was extremely impressed by the passion and commitment of the staff, and by the courage of the young residents, many of whom have experienced difficult circumstances.
Talking to the staff and residents gave me a real insight into the problems that affect young homeless people, and the strains on organisations like Ypeople which endeavour to help and support them.
This week I was pleased to be able to welcome staff and residents to the Scottish Parliament for a screening of “Speak Out”, a film written, directed, acted and produced by residents of Seaforth House. It is a brutal yet moving piece of work, which portrays some of life’s harsh realities without ever losing its sense of empathy.
The turn out for the screening was very good, and I was glad that some of my fellow MSPs managed to come along. I will certainly be encouraging those who could not to watch the film.
I would like to thank the residents and staff for coming to the Parliament, and to congratulate them all on their remarkable achievements. I would also like to congratulate everybody associated with Falkirk Ypeople, which this year celebrate its 10th anniversary, in recognition of which I have tabled a Scottish Parliament Motion.
On Thursday I spoke in a Scottish Government debate on the Youth Employment Strategy.
I was very glad to have the opportunity to speak on what is becoming a crisis issue. The rate of youth unemployment in Scotland has now crept above the UK average, and the problem is especially acute in areas of Central Scotland.
Whilst I believe that the Government’s strategy contains some positive initiatives, such as Community Jobs Scotland, it is generally short on detail. That is why I was keen to emphasize the many positive schemes being funded and administered by local councils.
Falkirk, North and South Lanarkshire Councils have worked hard to address the problem of youth unemployment, and their schemes have all enjoyed considerable success. I believe that the Government should learn from these examples.
I also believe that some provision for young people on the autistic spectrum, and indeed those with other disabilities, should form a part of any future strategy. There is currently very little in the way of employment and educational opportunities for autistic school leavers; this situation has been ongoing for some time, and is simply unacceptable.
A Youth Employment Strategy should be comprehensive – it should include everyone, and leave no one behind. Everyone deserves the chance to work.
In stark contrast to most high street banks, Airdrie Savings Bank pays no shareholder dividends (it does not have shareholders) but is run by a board of unpaid trustees. This means that any profits made are reinvested into the business, rather than being salted away into the pockets of a select few.
It is a responsible bank run according to the traditional virtues of prudence and probity. It does not take reckless risks, and it provides secure deposit and lending facilities to its loyal customers.
As a Central Scotland MSP, I am delighted that this Airdrie institution has expanded outwith its traditional Lanarkshire base by opening a branch in Falkirk. I am sure the new venture will be run according to the same principles, and will provide the same excellent level of service to local residents.
I look forward to further branches of Airdrie Savings Bank being opened throughout Scotland.