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Volume 501: debated on Wednesday 25 November 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the level of employment in Scotland. (300128)

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues about employment in Scotland and will be co-hosting Scotland’s first ever jobs summit on 11 January in Easterhouse in Glasgow.

What proportion of those in employment in Scotland are paid out of the public purse, either through local, devolved or national Government? Are there any implications in that for a vibrant and dynamic Scottish economy?

The hon. Gentleman is of course welcome to attend the jobs summit in Easterhouse in Glasgow. I am sure he would be like a fish in water there.

The Scottish and UK Governments employ a substantial number of the work force in Scotland, who do a remarkable job, particularly at a time of recession, when they provide support to those who are vulnerable. I pay particular tribute to the staff of Jobcentre Plus, who at a very difficult time are providing real support to those who need it during the recession.

When my right hon. Friend speaks to his ministerial colleagues, will he ask them whether they will apply to the European Union globalisation fund, which is now being provided just to respond to the current economic downturn? For example, Ireland has just had £36 million, and it is about to move 500 jobs at Bausch and Lomb from West Lothian to Waterford in Ireland. Surely when we are losing jobs, we can also apply to that fund for money for Scotland to support employment there in the face of the economic recession.

Order. We really must have questions that are questions rather than the pursuit of Adjournment debates.

My hon. Friend raises some big issues. Of course it is essential that we do all we can to support people through this recession, and our tax system remains internationally competitive. Although we can learn individual lessons from other countries, I do not think the UK or Scotland would be well suited to following exactly the economic model of Ireland—or Iceland.

My right hon. Friend might be aware that Prudential has regrettably announced this week 60 job losses at its site in Stirling. However, Capita and Prudential still contribute approximately 2,500 private sector financial jobs to the Stirling area. In his discussions at Scottish, UK and international level, will he highlight the fact that the city of Stirling has a lot to offer the financial services industry, as we seek to re-establish credibility in that marketplace?

My right hon. Friend is right to remind the House that amidst all the understandable talk about an impending recovery, the recession is just starting for many people who have perhaps lost their jobs over recent weeks, or for small businesses that continue to struggle. That is why we are determined to do more. I know she is a doughty fighter for the city of Stirling, and there is a huge amount to be optimistic about there, as there is across the whole of Scotland. Although of course Scotland faces real difficulties at the moment, I remain entirely optimistic that we will get through this recession strongly.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the recent Fraser of Allander Institute report that estimates that over the course of this year there will be 130,000 net job losses in Scotland, and which warns that the Scottish economy may not even come out of recession in the final quarter of this year? In those circumstances, does he believe that his colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was right to describe last month’s job figures as “welcome news”?

It is always welcome news when people get back into work, and that is the point my colleague the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has made. As people in Scotland and across the UK look towards Christmas and are increasingly concerned about how they will pay their bills or afford a good Christmas for their family, it is essential that we continue to do everything we can, aside from party politics, to get those folk back into work. That is what the Labour Government are determined to do.

Complacency is bad enough from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; from the Secretary of State for Scotland it is unforgivable. That same report points to the role of the Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS in bringing Scotland’s economy out of recession and states that as taxpayer-funded banks, they have to be prepared to lend more to small and medium-sized enterprises. What is the Secretary of State’s Department doing to ensure that the taxpayer, having paid the piper, is now going to get to call the tune?

I suspect that that supplementary question sounded better in front of the mirror this morning than it did in the Chamber.

We are doing everything we possibly can to get Scotland and the United Kingdom through this global recession. We want to ensure that the newly unemployed do not become the long-term unemployed, which is why the new investment in Jobcentre Plus, the support for the long-term unemployed and the targeted measures in the parts of Scotland that are suffering most are the right things to do.

May I be the first to congratulate the Secretary of State on being named best Scot at Westminster? I am sure the Prime Minister is delighted.

Month after month, Scottish unemployment rises; month after month, the Scotland Office issues a statement distancing the Government from responsibility, invoking global factors; and month after month, that looks less credible. If the Government’s economic policies have been right for Scotland, can the Secretary of State explain to us why the US, France and Germany have all returned to growth, but over the same period Scottish gross domestic product has continued to fall? Given that unemployment lags behind growth, are we to assume that Scotland will suffer further from Labour’s legacy of rising unemployment for many months to come?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his best wishes on my award. It was a very long shortlist, but I noticed he was not on it. I would nevertheless like to welcome the newest Member to the House, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-East (Mr. Bain).

On the hon. Gentleman’s substantive point, there are a quarter of a million more people in work in Scotland today than when his party left power, but we are determined to do an awful lot more. The worst thing we could do is follow the prognosis of Conservative economics in the midst of this recession.

The Secretary of State’s monologues about history are almost as predictable as those press releases on unemployment from the Scotland Office. We want to talk about the present. There are 270,000 people in Scotland on incapacity benefit under this Government. That cannot be justified—when will he take steps to get these people re-tested? All those found to be either ready to work or ready to prepare for work should be given support by specialist organisations; instead, they are ignored by his Government. When will he put that right?

We introduced the Welfare Reform Act 2007, which ensures that we provide new support to those on incapacity benefit, particularly those who experience fluctuating mental health conditions, and especially women in their 30s and 40s, in respect of whom there is an additional trend that is worrying for us all.

However, it is nauseating to listen to the hon. Gentleman lecture us on incapacity benefit. We are doing everything we can to support those people in getting off that benefit. The fact is that when his Government were in power, they manufactured the unemployment figures by deliberately taking people off unemployment and sticking them on to a life of dependency on incapacity benefit, for which they will never be forgiven.