Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)
I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to devolve responsibility for operation of the Work programme in Scotland to the Scottish Parliament; and for connected purposes.
These job creation powers under the Work programme should also include associated provisions for the Work Choice programme, as suggested by respected charities such as the Scottish Association for Mental Health and the umbrella group Disability Agenda Scotland.
The Scottish referendum on 18 September delivered a resounding result. That result was for change. The Scottish people spoke and said loudly that they wanted to stay within the UK but with a powerhouse Scottish Parliament. During the referendum, undertakings were given to the Scottish people for more devolution of powers on top of those in the current Scotland Act, which passed through this House in 2012. The Smith commission, led by Lord Smith of Kelvin, was subsequently established to seek cross-party support on those new powers. The subsequent Smith agreement was approved with cross-party consensus, and the Command Paper to enact those powers was produced ahead of the scheduled date of 25 January. Lord Kelvin said in the foreword to the Smith agreement:
“The recommendations are explicitly designed to create a coherent set of powers that strengthen the Scottish Parliament’s ability to pursue its own vision, goals and objectives, whatever they might be at any particular time.”
He rightly concluded that the recommendations set out in the agreement would result in the biggest transfer of power to the Scottish Parliament since its establishment in 1999. It is clear that the expanded powers in the Smith agreement will result in a corresponding increase in the Scottish Parliament’s accountability and responsibility for the effects of its decisions on its own affairs.
A major plank of the new devolution of powers relates to job creation, and that is what this Bill is about. The Smith agreement gives the Scottish Parliament all powers over support for unemployed people through the employment programmes that are presently delivered mainly, although not exclusively, through the Work programme and Work Choice. The Scottish Parliament will have the power to decide how it operates these core employment support and job creation services.
We know that the Labour party has pledged to deliver our home rule Bill for Scotland in the first Queen’s Speech after the general election in May. That home rule Bill will enact the Smith agreement in full but Ministers could do some of this now. Last month, the provisions to allow votes for 16 and 17-year-olds were transferred by Ministers and this House, so there is no reason not to support this Bill and transfer all job creation powers before the general election.
Why is the Bill needed? Because the Work programme is failing Scotland. In fact, in some parts of Scotland the Work programme is statistically less successful than actually doing nothing at all. That shows that it is not responding to local needs or local people. The failure of the Work programme is borne out by the Department for Work and Pensions’ own figures, which state that only one in five people on the Work programme in Scotland gets a job and that in Dundee, which has the worst performing rate in the UK, the figure is one in seven. In my own city of Edinburgh it is just over one in five, and in my own constituency of Edinburgh South it is one in four. Thousands of young Scots have been unemployed for more than a year, and around 12,000 over-25s have been unemployed for more than two years. That is an incredible waste of Scottish talent. I grew up in the 1980s, when the then Tory Government wrote off an entire generation of young people. We cannot allow them to do that again.
I held a jobs fair in my constituency just last Friday. Hundreds of people attended to hear what was on offer from employment agencies, employers and educational institutions. There were many positive outcomes from the event, but what was noticeable was the wide range of ages and the wide variety of needs. That is why my Bill is calling for the Work programme not only to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament but for it subsequently to be devolved to local authorities. The current Scottish Government have been the most centralist Government in Europe by some margin. There is a strong desire on these Labour Benches to see the principle of devolution extended further, with the transfer of powers from Holyrood to local communities. The only way in which local communities in Scotland will benefit from devolved powers is if the Scottish Government use them and work closer with civic Scotland and local authorities to ensure that everyone can benefit from the double devolution of powers.
We know that the Scottish National party does not like to talk about, let alone use, the powers it has at its disposal to transform the lives of ordinary Scots, because it does not suit the party’s agenda to do so. We also know that it does not want to give these powers to local communities, but this is an instance in which local authorities could deliver a much more positive future for many. I always attempt to reach consensus in this place, and I acknowledge that the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) has signed my Bill. I am grateful to her for that. However, since 2010, I cannot name a single ten-minute rule Bill or private Member’s Bill introduced in this place by an SNP Member that would have devolved any powers to Scotland. They have failed to use the processes in this Parliament to deliver or propose any devolution of powers to Scotland. The only conclusion that can be drawn from that is that once again their rhetoric of grievance outstrips their actions. Where Labour leads on devolution, the SNP is sure to follow.
There is no better place for the Work programme than with the local authorities that do this stuff very well already. They know their local jobs market, they know the make-up of their work forces, they know the skills shortages and providers, and they know how best to deal with local circumstances. The Scottish Trades Union Congress has also backed this call for double devolution, stating:
“We already know that local authorities are delivering excellent employability services and, more importantly, sustainable employment for young people.”
That has led to the leaders of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow—the three largest cities, which make up over a quarter of the Scottish population—signing a joint statement last month demanding that powers over job creation be transferred to them now. As the STUC has said, they already do that work very well.
As an example, in 2011 the City of Edinburgh council initiated the Edinburgh guarantee, which had the goal of ensuring that every local authority school leaver secured a positive destination in employment, training or further education on leaving school. Working with the public, private and voluntary sectors, the Edinburgh guarantee also sought to increase the number of jobs, education and training opportunities being made available to young people across the city. The council knew the local jobs market and the needs of young people leaving school, and it tailored a programme to best suit those needs.
The Edinburgh guarantee has had some outstanding results, with 91% of school leavers now entering a positive destination after leaving school. Also, 1,370 jobs, apprenticeships or training opportunities have been generated, and 250 employers have contributed to this success, including Standard Life, the university of Edinburgh, BT, Capital Solutions, Barnardo’s, 02 and the NHS. The guarantee has made a tangible difference to the life chances of young people. There are numerous examples of local authorities across the country taking tailored action, and the double devolution of the Work programme and associated benefits would assist that process immensely and help all Scots looking for work. The devolution of Work Choice would also be transformative for disabled people.
This is a real opportunity for the House to deliver a step change in job-creating powers for Scotland. Devolution works well for Scotland, and this Bill takes another step towards delivering on the promise of a powerhouse Scottish Parliament within the safety, security and stability of the UK. Let us wake up this zombie Parliament, pass this Bill, devolve these powers and take a step towards a fairer Scotland for everyone.
Question put and agreed to.
That Ian Murray, Gregg McClymont, Dame Anne Begg, Mr Jim Murphy, Gemma Doyle, Sheila Gilmore, Gordon Banks, Mr Frank Roy, Ann McKechin, Pamela Nash, Mr William Bain and Dr Eilidh Whiteford present the Bill.
Ian Murray accordingly presented the Bill.
Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 6 March, and to be printed (Bill 175).