23 June 2020

Scottsh Parliament

Richard Leonard :
I welcome many of the recommendations in the advisory group’s report.

The analysis that young people are more likely to be on insecure contracts, in low-paid work and in locked-down sectors is important in understanding the scale of the challenge that they face and therefore the scale of the challenge that we face as a society.

That is why the call for a jobs guarantee scheme—a Scottish guarantee—to counter the huge rise in youth unemployment is one that we have been making for some time and will continue to make.

It is therefore welcome to see it as a central conclusion of the report.

I hope that the Government will not just vote for our amendment but will do what it says and give our young people a guarantee of a quality job or a quality training place.

Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP):
Richard Leonard often talks in the chamber about precarious contracts. Would he welcome power over employment law coming to the Scottish Parliament and Government so that we can ensure that there will be no more precarious contracts in Scotland?

Richard Leonard:

I have said on a number of occasions that I am in favour of the devolution of employment law, not least in the context of Brexit, when we will see a transfer of powers from the European Union to the United Kingdom that, in my view, should come to this Parliament.

It is important that the report also identifies national leadership.

Those of us who have lived through times of mass unemployment know what its unequal burden does to the fabric of society and to the fabric of families.

It is important to note that the advisory group explicitly states that there can be no repeat of the mistakes of the 1980s and that, although the report talks variously of tight public finances, it is also clear in its view that

“another round of austerity is not the right answer.”

I hope that the Cabinet Secretary for Finance has got that message, too, and that she recognises the importance of “direct funding to families”, which the report also highlights as a way of getting the economy moving again.

That is why the decision to delay the Scottish child payment, just when child poverty in Scotland is going up, needs to be reversed—fast.

We live in a time in which there is no shortage of useful, purposeful work to be done and in which a just and green recovery must be our goal.

Older people are still shivering in the cold in our winters and suffering from hypothermia, while engineers and electricians are looking for work.

Let us therefore have that green investment in domestic heating and energy efficiency to generate the jobs that we need.

We still have more than 150,000 households on housing waiting lists across Scotland, so, in the weeks ahead, while construction workers may have idle hands and apprentices could be trained, we need to see action in that area and a major council house building programme.

Let us give local councils the resources that they need.

Our schools are calling out for extra teachers and extra resources to build the capacity that they need, not least to meet the consequences of the Deputy First Minister’s U-turn this afternoon.

Transport investment is rightly identified in the report as a priority, so let us look urgently at bringing the railways back into public ownership, and bus services back into municipal ownership, too.

That we need an investment-led recovery is often asserted, but not always acted upon.

It is correct to bring forward the Scottish National Investment Bank’s bond-issuing rights, to pave the way for investment in housing and infrastructure projects, but the cabinet secretary should be pressing for the Scottish National Investment Bank itself to be up and running, not by the end of the autumn or by early winter, but by the middle of this summer.

We need it now; this is a national emergency.

A revamped Co-operative Development Scotland agency would be an important start in the pursuit of the goal of the extension of community wealth building—the idea that we should be building more democracy, co-operative ownership and employee ownership into the economy.

I finish by touching on an area in relation to which I do not think that the report goes far enough.

It does not properly recognise the need for economic planning or the importance of a national plan for the Scottish economy.

It does not properly recognise the importance of bringing together employers, trade unions, Government and agencies to democratically plan, at industry level, where we want to be—not just next year, but in five years’ time and 10 years’ time.

We need a plan that is comprehensive, that works for the whole of Scotland, that is effective and action oriented, that focuses on delivery and that is accountable to the Parliament.

That will take resolve, commitment and conviction, but that must be our duty, because, after what we have been through, after the sacrifices that have been and are still being made—the lives lost—we cannot allow the people to be demoralised.

We must lift their spirits and give them hope to rediscover their self-confidence.

We must give them a burning flame of hope: hope that we cannot go back to the old inequalities; hope that, instead, we can dare not only to think big, but to act radically; hope for a just and green recovery; and hope so that, together, we can build a better future and a better Scotland.

I move amendment S5M-22119.4, to insert at end:

“, and welcomes the focus on establishing a jobs guarantee scheme, which should be tailored to ensure it provides necessary additional assistance for young workers, women and BAME and disabled workers, who are all likely to be hit hard by this economic crisis.”

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