The employment level in Scotland stands at 2.54 million, with the rate of employment at 76.7 per cent. The current employment level and rate are both at near historic levels.
The Secretary of State is well aware of the huge improvement in employment throughout Scotland, but particularly in my constituency, since 1997. Indeed, 25 per cent. more people are now in work than in 1997. However, unemployment and low pay remain major problems in many parts of Scotland, particularly Ayrshire. What does the Secretary of State believe can further be done to improve employment levels, so that we reach full employment—our manifesto commitment—in Scotland?
As a fellow Ayrshire MP, I am well aware of the challenges that the economy of Ayrshire faces in sustaining and increasing employment. Given the systemic difficulties that Ayrshire has faced over a long period, the level of improvement over the past decade is nothing short of miraculous. However, none of us are entitled to rest on our laurels, and we will not achieve our objective of full employment, whatever that measure might be—against the accepted standards of a few decades ago, we are well past the benchmark that was set for any Government by economists—unless we sustain and maintain a stable economy, as we have been able to do, and unless we address the issues of skills, resources and economic development, with the co-operation and help, of course, of the Scottish Executive, who have the major responsibility in that regard. I have absolutely no doubt that, if we do more of what we have been doing in making work pay and encouraging people into work, we will achieve the objective that my hon. Friend and I share.