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Employment Levels

Volume 524: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2011

Although the final quarter of 2010 saw falling unemployment and rising employment in Scotland, helping people into work remains a key priority for this Government.

Gross domestic product in the economy has contracted by 0.6%, confidence is being shattered by the increase in VAT, unemployment is rising, with the full effect of public sector job losses to come, and employers all over my constituency are really concerned that the banks are getting away scot-free while they are being hit the hardest. Does the Secretary of State have any plans at all for growth in order to get jobs back into the Scottish economy?

In a compendium of issues, the hon. Gentleman forgets to mention the role that his own Government played in the management of the economy up until last May. Our overriding priority is to get a path to sustainable growth, and that means stabilising the economy, which is what the deficit reduction plan is about, and ensuring that we support businesses by reducing tax, maintaining interest rates lower than they would otherwise have been and helping businesses to access finance. We have a real programme of action, unlike the previous Government.

Rising unemployment is a great concern in my constituency of Dundee West. In fairness to the Secretary of State, he did visit Dundee to see for himself the importance of the computer games industry to the city, but does he continue to support the Government’s stance of not implementing a tax break, which both the Lib Dems and the Tories claimed to support prior to the general election? If so, what plans does he have for job creation in my city of Dundee?

As I have said previously to the hon. Gentleman, our visit together to Abertay university was very worth while, and he makes a strong case for the computer games industry. Taxation is clearly a matter for the Chancellor, and the Budget is coming along soon, but, as I said in answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) a moment ago, the overriding thing, which will help the computer games industry and everybody else, is to get us back on a sustainable path to growth. That is our overwhelming priority.

My right hon. Friend will know that marine renewable energy offers tremendous employment prospects in Scotland. Is he aware of the proposal by Department for Energy and Climate Change Ministers to create renewable energy parks; and will he use all his powers to ensure that the first such park is in Caithness, where all the ingredients already exist?

Caithness could not hope for a finer advocate of its cause, and my hon. Friend has spoken with me on many occasions. The importance of renewables to the far north of Scotland—indeed, the whole of Scotland—is second to none, particularly in the context of the rundown of Dounreay, something that I know is close to his heart and on which he works very carefully.

In December I highlighted to the House that in Campbelltown 13 claimants were chasing every available job. Unfortunately the situation today is far worse: the Scottish Trades Union Congress reports that currently 27 jobseeker’s allowance claimants are chasing every advertised vacancy in north Ayrshire. The Secretary of State says that he is concerned about high unemployment in Scotland, so can he tell the House when he last visited north Ayrshire and spoke directly to those people who are struggling to find work?

I have carried out a range of visits around Scotland and will continue to do so; I am very happy to take up the hon. Lady’s suggestion. However, may I gently remind her that unemployment was rising under her Government when she was in the Scotland Office? She should not look so pleased about the situation as it is now.

Yet again, the Secretary of State fails to tell us what his alternative is. Thousands of our young people have been worst hit. This Government claim that their Work programme will be much better, but officials are saying that there will be 250,000 fewer places next year than the number who entered Government schemes this year. Can he therefore confirm what percentage of 18 to 24-year-olds currently unemployed in Scotland will be allowed to participate in the new Work programme, and whether it will be less than in the current year?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the issue of youth unemployment, which is a key priority for the Government. Again, it is something that rose significantly throughout her time in office, and it needs to be tackled very seriously. We have already introduced elements of the Get Britain Working programme, the work clubs and the Working Together programme, and the Work programme will come along in the summer. We look forward to debating that further with her.