Jenny Marra MSP :  European Youth Guarantee  

Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate


 

19 March 2014

The European youth guarantee began as a campaign by the Party of European Socialists, of which the Labour Party is a member, back in May 2012, one year after the International Monetary Fund stepped in to bail out the Greek economy with a loan of more than €100 billion and just a month before Spain agreed its own bailout.

The campaign was devised as the world watched the eurozone’s collapse and the decline into insolvency of states that, just years before, had been in growth and in plain sight of the stringent cuts to public services and the loss of livelihoods that caused riots on the streets of Athens and marches in Madrid.

Through it all, young people, particularly young women—the students of Lisbon, Rome and, closer to home, Dublin—were forced into a world not of their own making but in which, nevertheless, work was nearly impossible to come by and wages even less likely to meet the rising cost of living. In countries such as Spain, the situation has not abated.

Earlier this year, youth unemployment in Spain was reported to have reached a staggering 58 per cent—in other words, six out of 10 young people are unable to find work.

 

In Greece, the figure has peaked at nearly 70 per cent.

 

At its heart, the campaign for a youth guarantee was for those young people whose hopes of a career, whose trust in the political process to deliver opportunities and, most important, whose self-belief were evaporating.

Scottish Labour, UK Labour and socialist parties across Europe came together and voted to support the youth guarantee, because we saw the long-term risk to our economies of a generation of European young people—students and school leavers—being out of work.

The EU says that the youth guarantee is “not a jobs guarantee”.

Rather, it is a commitment to re-engage young people in work or education, with the shortest possible delay, as the minister said.

To fund the guarantee, states are urged to make use of the European social fund, and a further €6 billion has been set aside for member states whose youth unemployment rate is more than 25 per cent.

I want to challenge the minister’s assertion that without the full powers of independence we cannot deliver jobs and opportunities for young people in Scotland.

Angela Constance: For the record, I think that I said that we could not deliver the European youth guarantee in full without having the full range of powers over employment services, Jobcentre Plus, the economy, tax and welfare. Is Ms Marra giving the European youth guarantee her unreserved support today?

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): Time can be reimbursed for interventions, Ms Marra.

Jenny Marra: We absolutely support the European youth guarantee.

I thought that I had been quite clear about that, but maybe I can reassure the minister.

Right now, we have the infrastructure, the power and, more important, the responsibility, to do better.

We have control over our education system—the single biggest driver of a skilled and balanced workforce.

In Skills Development Scotland we have a skills body that has the power to ensure that every young person is afforded an opportunity. In Scottish Enterprise we have a body that is dedicated to growing Scotland’s economy, building businesses and creating job opportunities.

In short, we have control over the most powerful tools in the box for the delivery of outcomes for young people.

However, we are not using those tools to their full potential. In education, colleges face an 11 per cent reduction in funding, which amounts to cuts of more than £62 million by 2015.

Some 80,000 part-time places have gone since 2007, and courses and teaching budgets have been cut.

What hope do we have of offering young people a place in quality education, as the European youth guarantee envisages, if we make such drastic cuts to the education system?

The European youth guarantee prioritises young people up to the age of 25, and the Scottish Government’s priority is to focus on 16 to 19-year-olds.

However, we are not even giving all young people in that age bracket the opportunity that they were promised, Skills Development Scotland having lost 17,000 people from the system last April.

Angela Constance: It is important that Ms Marra acknowledges that, although we do not know the destination of a very small proportion of young people, despite Skills Development Scotland’s best efforts, that is not the same as young people being lost. Should we not acknowledge the importance of monitoring and tracking, and of the Post-16 Education (Scotland) Act 2013, which will help us to track, monitor and support young people better?

Jenny Marra: One person lost is one person too many.

If the Government is to guarantee opportunities to all 16 to 19-year-olds, it is simply not good enough that 17,000 people have been lost in the system since April.

By December, the system had recovered only 2,000 young people, leaving nearly 15,000 lost from the system, while another 5,500 were left looking for a job.

How can we meet the four-month target for every young person under 25 if it is going to take Skills Development Scotland five years just to find all the lost 16 to 19-year-olds?

When we look at the spread of apprenticeship opportunities and consider to whom opportunities are being offered, we find that only 2 per cent of construction and engineering places go to women.

Less than 0.5 per cent of placements go to disabled people and less than 2 per cent go to ethnic minorities.

In a report that was published just last week, Audit Scotland noted concerns about the lack of clarity about the long-term benefits to young people of Scotland’s apprenticeship programme.

Angela Constance: For the record, Ms Marra should accept that the Audit Scotland report acknowledges the huge achievements of the modern apprenticeship programme. For clarity, I point out that the purpose of the modern apprenticeship programme is largely, but not exclusively, to get young people into work and to help them to develop skills in work. Its success is demonstrated by the 80 per cent employment rate of people with an apprenticeship qualification.

Jenny Marra: I thank the minister for her clarification—I know what the purpose of an apprenticeship is.

In its report, Audit Scotland says that it has doubts about the long-term benefits.

Instead of just refuting the point, the minister would do better to read the report and address that issue.

Just this morning, the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee considered an amendment to the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill in the name of my colleague Mary Fee that would have enabled the Scottish Government to require that 5 per cent of the employees of a contracting company providing services to the Government are apprentices, yet SNP members voted against that amendment.

Maureen Watt (Aberdeen South and North Kincardine) (SNP): Will the member take an intervention?

Jenny Marra: I have already taken three or four interventions, thank you. [Interruption.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer: Order, please.

Jenny Marra : I invite Maureen Watt to say that the SNP did not take that position.

Maureen Watt: I thank Jenny Marra for giving way so that I can clarify the position. If she reads the Official Report and sees what the cabinet secretary said on the matter, she will understand that the Labour amendment would have constrained companies from employing more apprentices instead of encouraging them to do so.

Jenny Marra: If the SNP members were completely committed to this, they would have voted for the amendment this morning.

It is easy to blame others for your own failure, but that is not good enough for young people in Scotland, who are looking to the Government for help now.

Alasdair Allan may laugh, but those 15,000 young people are not laughing.

The Scottish Government needs to accept responsibility for the powers that it has and the choices that it makes in key areas of youth employment, education, our skills bodies and our apprenticeships system. If we are to make a difference, we should be debating improvements in those areas regardless of whether the Government wants to have that debate.

Only then will we be able to achieve the ambitious proposals for Scotland’s young people that are envisaged in the EU youth guarantee.

I move amendment S4M-09376.2, to leave out from “delivery agencies” to end and insert:

“the Scottish Government must align skills with colleges, local authorities and local employers and better distribute the spread of opportunities among young people up to 25 in education and training to account for the fact that only 2% of construction and engineering apprenticeships are taken up by women, less than 0.5% are taken up by disabled people and less than 2% are taken up by ethnic minorities, and more effectively monitor the outcomes of its key youth employment policies in light of the comments of Audit Scotland that “existing performance measures do not focus on long-term outcomes, such as sustainable employment”, and looks forward to the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce (the Wood Commission) reporting over the coming weeks and the recommendations that it will make to improve opportunities for Scotland’s young people”.

 

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