Jenny Marra MSP : Scotland's Economy
Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate
8 January 2014
“No child should be left behind.”
That is what the First Minister said when he introduced his youth guarantee—a job or place in education or training for every 16 to 19-year-old in Scotland.
That was an offer to Scotland’s youngsters, who, in times of recession, have watched their opportunities evaporate before they have had a chance to take them.
Pope John Paul II told us that there is dignity in work.
For our young people there is also dignity in the prospect of work.
In times of recession, the knowledge that there are no jobs to go to is distressing, debilitating and destructive.
When Johann Lamont came to the Parliament in April last year to question the First Minister on his youth guarantee, she recounted her days as a teacher under Thatcher, when the aspirations and hopes of the young people whom she taught were extinguished by a Government that did not deliver the jobs that the students worked hard to achieve.
Johann Lamont went on to question the First Minister about the 17,000 16 to 19-year-olds in Scotland who had vanished from the Skills Development Scotland system, which is the vehicle for the delivery of the SNP’s offer of a job, training or education for every 16 to 19-year-old in the country.
She asked about the 17,000 school leavers whose hopes and aspirations for a career had been guaranteed by the First Minister and the SNP.
Ten months have passed since the youth guarantee was announced—10 months in which the Government could take action and make good on its offer to those 17,000 young people.
We are talking about Scotland’s economy, and those youngsters are the hope and future of our economy.
However, although over the past 10 months the Government has passed the Scottish Independence Referendum (Franchise) Act 2013 and the Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013, and has devoted days, weeks and months of civil service time to papers and the preparation of its white paper on an independent Scotland, it has managed to find only 2,000 of the 17,000 youngsters that it has lost from the system.
The Minister for Youth Employment (Angela Constance): I think that it is appropriate that I make a point of clarification. Those are not missing youngsters. Skills Development Scotland has increased its endeavours to contact young people who are in need of opportunities, and those are young people whose whereabouts we do not know, despite our efforts. That is one reason why we promoted the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill—which the Labour Party failed to support—which is about improving data collection and creating a statutory responsibility to ensure that every agency is signed up to sharing information about providing the best opportunities for all our young people. Why did Labour fail to support the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill?
Jenny Marra: The minister knows very well why we did not support the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill—it was a dog’s breakfast of a bill that did not go nearly far enough towards the radical measures that are needed to widen access.
She knows very well why we did not support the bill, as we made the case several times.
If she is saying that that bill would have found those 15,000 people that her agency, Skills Development Scotland, has failed to find, that is an interesting proposition.
Figures that were released following a freedom of information request in mid-December show that there are still 15,000 school leavers that the Government cannot find, although that is her agency’s responsibility.
Those are 15,000 young people who have not been given the opportunity of a job, training or education that they were promised by the First Minister.
At the current rate of progress, it will take six years for the Scottish Government to find those young people, meaning that they may never benefit from that promise of a job or training place.
We debate Scotland’s economy and hear the SNP promise a better future for our young people under independence.
Let us take an honest look at our progress.
What of the future for our young people under the SNP’s economic vision?
The white paper states that the Scottish Government “may” extend its youth guarantee for those aged up to 24.
Of course, it is an uncosted policy with no detail of how the money will be raised.
Our young people, many of whom will vote for the first time in September, have a real choice to make: they can either put their faith in the SNP or choose to vote for the United Kingdom.
Derek Mackay: Given the rate at which the Labour Party has abandoned its policies yesterday and today, it will have none left by the end of the week, never mind by the next election.
My question is about tax competition advantage. Did Mr Findlay not blow the gaff yesterday when he said that our corporation tax policy was fine as long as it was a British tax policy and applied across the British Isles? Does that not show that Scotland’s economy can be stronger only with independence?
Jenny Marra: I do not accept that point at all.
Mr Mackay knows well that we think that corporation tax is better charged by the UK on the strength of the whole UK economy.
That point is perfectly clear and what Mr Findlay said was perfectly clear as well.
Six months after the referendum, young people in Scotland will have the opportunity to vote for a real youth guarantee as outlined by Ed Miliband, which will see every young person up to the age of 24 who has been out of work for a year guaranteed a job for six months courtesy of a tax on bankers’ bonuses.
Angela Constance: Will the member take an intervention?
Jenny Marra: I will in a minute.
That is a real commitment. It is fully costed and fully funded, and it is ready to be delivered in 2015, six months after the referendum. [Interruption.]
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Can we have a bit of respect, please?
Jenny Marra: I hope that, in her intervention, the minister is able to match that guarantee for people aged up to 24 with a tax on bankers’ bonuses in an independent Scotland. I invite her to do so.
Angela Constance: My question to Ms Marra is this: why wait until a young person has been unemployed for a year? That is way too long. Why will she not join the Scottish Government in calling on the UK Government to implement the European youth guarantee now, like every other European country bar the Czech Republic? With the powers of Jobcentre Plus and welfare we could intervene within four months. Other European countries are implementing the European youth guarantee. Why are the Labour Party and the UK Government not supporting it now?
The Deputy Presiding Officer: That is enough of an intervention. Miss Marra, you have 30 seconds.
Jenny Marra: The minister makes the point: she could go a lot further with the powers that she has now.
I am asking her—[Interruption.]
This is silly, is it?
I do not think that this is silly.
It certainly is not silly for the young people to whom we are offering a youth guarantee that is costed, fully funded and ready to be delivered by Ed Miliband. [Interruption.]
The Deputy Presiding Officer: You must draw to a close, please.
Jenny Marra: Yes, it will be delivered by Westminster, but the approach is much more radical than what the minister proposes and more radical than what is proposed in the Scottish Government’s white paper.
The Deputy Presiding Officer: Thank you very much—that is perfect.