Holyrood News

This week MSPs have been discussing …

Youth Employment Strategy

The draft Youth Employment Strategy was published this week (31 Jan) and focuses on individual support for young people in Scotland who are not in work.

Action outlined in the plan includes: the development of a cohesive all-Government, all-Scotland effort to increase youth employment; a clear and targeted approach to support young people at different points on the journey to employment; the development of progression opportunities with the apprenticeship programme; targeted support to help young people take advantage of job opportunities in growth areas such as energy and the low carbon economy; intensive support for those furthest from the labour market through My Work Coach, under development by Skills Development Scotland; specific financial support to employers to encourage them to employ young people from disadvantaged groups such as care leavers and young carers; intensive support services for disengaged young people.

Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance, said she had been meeting with employers, employer organisations and employees to gather views on how best to tackle youth unemployment and what contribution the business community could make.

On Wednesday 1 February, the draft strategy was discussed at the National Economic Forum summit, highlighting the important role business had to play in tackling the issue. The First Minister told the summit that there was “absolutely nothing more important than giving hope and opportunity and life chances to the young people of Scotland”.

He added: “If we dedicate ourselves to that task, then there will be something special emerging from this forum which will matter an enormous amount.”

The First Minister also pointed out that although the youth employment rate currently stands at 24% among 16-24 year olds, 35% of these are in full time education.

Higher Education and Further Education Governance Statement

In Parliament on Wednesday, Education Secretary Michael Russell made a statement on Further and Higher Education Governance and published the reports of the Review of Higher Education Governance in Scotland, chaired by Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, and the Review of Further Education, chaired by Professor Russel Griggs OBE. The recommendations of both reviews will be taken forward in discussion and consultation with the further and higher education sectors, as we reform post-16 education.

On college reform, the Cabinet Secretary said: “Principals know I am listening and that they are influencing the debate. We are having the kinds of conversations people said were impossible.”

Further Education

The Cabinet Secretary announced that colleges will be organised into 12 regions with a focus on collaborative working.  Lanarkshire – will comprise Coatbridge, Cumbernauld, Motherwell, and South Lanarkshire Colleges.

The Cabinet Secretary also stated: that moving toward a more regional basis for colleges will make the sector more efficient and responsive to the needs of students and local economies; colleges would be expected to collaborate and plan together within 12 newly-created regions; college provision will continue to be delivered locally.

The Further Education Governance Review by Professor Griggs contains recommendations including: a move to a regional structure of colleges and a set of proposals for regional governance; the removal of a rule debarring people over 70 from being appointed to the governing body of a college; the Scottish Government establishes its own leadership and strategic guidance of the sector through the creation of a new FE Strategic Forum.

Higher Education

The review makes recommendations including: the Scottish Parliament should enact a statute for Scotland’s higher education sector setting out the key principles of governance and management; a Scottish Higher Education Forum should be established, convened by the Scottish Funding Council and chaired by the Cabinet Secretary for Education and Lifelong Learning; the chair of the governing body should be elected, thus reflecting the democratic ideal of Scottish higher education electing chairs of court (recommended by a majority, one member dissenting).

The Cabinet Secretary said that the report recognised the importance of academic freedom, and it was clear that in any programme of change, this should be protected.

Colleges Debate

On Thursday, the Conservatives held a debate on colleges in which they called for the Scottish Government to reconsider the funding allocations for the college sector outlined in the 2012-15 Spending Review.

When asked by Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell, whether the Conservatives would still advocate raising fees from students in Scotland, Tory Education Spokesperson Liz Smith said: “Yes, absolutely”. The Cabinet Secretary replied that this proposal had been rejected by the people of Scotland.

The Cabinet Secretary went on to say that from 2007 until the end of the Spending Review period, the Scottish Government will have invested £4.7bn in colleges – a figure 40 per cent higher than the investment made under two terms of the previous Administration. He also said that non-profit-distributing investment represented an additional capital investment of £300m.

On the subject of regionalisation and reform, the Cabinet Secretary said that he had listened closely to the views of the sector and the £15m Transformation Fund had been welcomed by NUS and Scotland’s Colleges. He also added that the manifesto to maintain student numbers was being kept, and the student support budget had increased by 25% since 2006-07 from £67.3m to £84.2m. As part of the review of post-16 education, the Cabinet Secretary said college support would be reviewed to ensure that the balance between national policy and discretion was right and NUS had already been involved in a discussion on the issue.

Community Payback Orders

30th January Kenny MacAskill announced that a pilot project designed to speed up the punishment of low level offenders sentenced to a Community Payback Order has seen encouraging results during its first nine months, with 92 per cent of offenders on the pilot sent out to pay back the community within 24 hours.

Kenny MacAskill: “We want to see low level offenders out paying back communities by doing some tough manual labour. “Punishment should be tough and justice should be immediate which is why we are piloting this new initiative. The aim is to get these low level offenders out doing manual work to improve communities within hours of being sentenced. “Whether it is cleaning streets of graffiti, renovating elderly care homes, restoring fallen gravestones or helping to clear pavements of snow, these offenders should be repaying communities they have harmed. “It is early days, but the initial results are encouraging with an overwhelming majority out doing manual labour and making improvements to communities within 24 hours and nearly all of them out within seven days.” A ‘presumption against’ ineffective short prison sentences of three months or less in favour of a new Community Payback Order came into effect in Scotland on 1st Feb, 2011.

Samsung Heavy Industries

31st January Alex Salmond welcomed the news that Korean giant Samsung Heavy Industries (SHI) is to base its first European offshore wind project in Fife in an inward venture worth up to £100m that is expected to create more than 500 new jobs in Scotland. The announcement came at the Scottish Offshore Wind and Supply Chain Conference in Aberdeen, at which the First Minister was delivering a keynote speech.

Alex Salmond: “I am extremely pleased to welcome this inward investment by Samsung Heavy Industries which further reinforces Scotland’s place in the development of the next generation of offshore wind turbines. “Their choice of Scotland as their first base in Europe for renewable technology development is testament to the fact this country is fast becoming the European centre for research and development in new offshore wind technologies. For Methil to be chosen as the test site for Samsung Heavy Industries ?new 7MW wind turbine is another example of this country’s ability to secure investment from global multinationals.”

Committee on Climate Change

31st January 2011 Scotland’s 2009 emissions fell three per cent below the 2010 target according to the report of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The report is the first assessment of the Scottish Government’s progress towards meeting climate change targets. It also indicates that final emissions data for 2010 is likely to show a rise in emissions, due to the cold winter weather that was experienced at the beginning and end of 2010. Key findings include: Scottish emissions fell in 2009 and were three per cent below the level of the first legislated target for 2010; Emissions are likely to have risen in 2010 as a result of the cold weather; Policies in the first Report on Policies and Proposals (RPP) have made a positive contribution to emissions abatement; Strengthening of existing policies in the RPP and new policies will be required to sustain/increase the rate of progress and meet future targets. Minister for Environment and Climate Change Stewart Stevenson “The UK Committee on Climate Change Committee report is a welcome contribution to our understanding of what we need to do to achieve our climate change targets.”

Year of Creative Scotland 2012

On Wednesday 1st February the Scottish Government led a debate on the Year of Creative Scotland 2012. Key points for the debate were:

– The Year of Creative Scotland will inspire our people and our visitors to celebrate Scotland’s world renowned culture and creativity, boosting our key tourism, events and cultural sectors and building the momentum towards Homecoming 2014 and beyond.

– The 2012 Year of Creative Scotland is one of a series of focus years that will showcase Scotland’s great tourism assets as we journey towards 2014, a year we also host the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games.

– The focus years have already been a great success – the Year of Food and Drink attracted over 500,000 people to events and activities the length and breadth of the country, boosting our local and national economies and showcasing Scotland rich local produce to the world.

– The creative industries are worth more than £5 billion to Scotland and support over 60,000 jobs. Edinburgh’s Festivals bring at least £261 million to Scotland’s economy and the Scottish museums and galleries sector welcomes 25 million visitors annually and contributes £800 million to the Scottish economy.

– The aim of the Year of Creative Scotland is to: “To build on the momentum generated in 2009 and journey towards the next year of Homecoming in 2014 by promoting and celebrating Scotland as a culturally vibrant and creative nation to the people of Scotland and our visitors.”

During the debate Fiona Hyslop announced more than £1.1 million Scottish Government support for culture projects. It includes Barnett consequential allocations for 2011-12 totalling £840,000:  £300,000 for the National Library of Scotland, including contributions towards the Kelvin Hall project and improvements at the Causewayside building; £300,000 to the National Galleries of Scotland for maintenance, repairs and the improvement of facilities for visitors; £240,000 to the National Performing Companies to be invested in new equipment for performance and education work. In addition, National Museums Scotland has received £300,000 for estates maintenance from the existing 2011-12 capital budget.

On the 3rd February it was announced that the project to build a state-of-the-art visitor centre at Bannockburn has taken another significant step forward. Alex Salmond “The eyes of the world will be on Scotland during 2014, with international events such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup being held on our shores. “2014 also marks the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, and I am delighted to announce today a significant milestone in the commemoration of this fascinating period of Scottish history in what will be the most ambitious partnership between the National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.”

Prison Visiting Committees

On 2nd February the Tories led a debate on Prison Visiting Committees. Kenny MacAskill has written to all visiting committee members thanking them for all their hard work, commitment and dedication. We welcome the wide support for a new advocacy service. On the issue of monitoring, we will review and engage on how this is provided. The Scottish Government intends to carry out a further public consultation on these proposals this year. Consultation will begin in May this year.

Prison visiting committees were established in the 19th Century, since then there have been considerable changes in prisons. Continuing with prison visiting committees in their current role is not tenable. Today, prisons are more accountable and transparent, with routine inspections, both announced and unannounced. HM Chief Inspector of Prisons follows this up with a detailed report and recommendations. Also, a range of service providers regularly visit and work in prisons, dealing with and supporting prisoners. In addition, we have a responsibility to protect prisoners, with the relevance of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Chief Executive of the SPS is accountable to the Scottish Ministers for compliance with legislation on the management and treatment of prisoners held by SPS.

Currently there is not an advocacy service to support prisoner’s needs and welfare. A new advocacy service will have a role providing independent advice and support, building the confidence and skills of offenders and aiding vulnerable prisoners, contributing to reduced reoffending. The aim is to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Kenny MacAskill emphasised to Parliament that the new advocacy service will “will support hard-to-reach prisoners and prisoner groups, mentor and support prisoners appropriately and professionally, and improve prisoner links with the community.” Providers of the new service will need to have local knowledge of working with offenders, support prisoners to improve on communication with families and will establish connections with the local community and with prisoners returning to communities.

Broadband Infrastructure Action Plan

A debate was held this week on the Government’s plans to roll out next-generation broadband across the entire country

Building on the ambition set out in Scotland’s Digital Future – A Strategy for Scotland published in March 2011, Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan makes clear our aspiration for Scotland to be keeping pace with, and surpassing, international benchmarks in delivery of next generation broadband.

Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan reflects Scottish Government’s vision that digital connectivity will provide the fundamental building blocks for the future of the Scottish economy and ensuring the availability of next generation broadband for all is one of the top priorities for Scottish Government in this parliamentary term.

Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan outlines the partnership action required across the public and private sectors – by Scottish Government, local authorities (including COSLA), enterprise agencies, industry and others – now and in the coming years to deliver world-class digital infrastructure for Scotland.

The action plan will provide the core national infrastructure that will enable the delivery of the other three strands of Scotland’s Digital Future – progress towards digital public service delivery, an increase in digital participation and growth in the digital economy.

Scotland’s Digital Future – Infrastructure Action Plan sets out four critical programmes that combined will ensure that the Scottish Government’s ambitions are met and a world-class digital infrastructure for Scotland is met.

Programme 1: Achieving a step change by 2015 will address the current digital divide and put in place infrastructure in those areas that the market will currently not go to ensure a step change in speeds by 2015. Key Target: Speeds of 40 – 80 Mbps for between 85% to 90% of premises by 2015. Key Next Steps: By end March 2012, Scottish Government to produce a procurement strategy will seeks to extend the reach further and deliver the best possible speeds for those where delivery of 40 – 80 Mbps is not possible.

Programme 2: Achieving world-class by 2020 will deliver a longer term plan, developed in parallel, to ensure we have the right mechanisms, partnerships and commercial models in place to deliver world-class infrastructure in a sustainable way in partnership with industry. Key Next Steps: The Scottish Government will develop a full plan outlining the options for delivering our world-class ambition – December 2012.

Programme 3: Demonstrating and delivering innovative and local solutions will be targeted at promoting locally based projects and programmes and also trialling new technologies. Key Next Steps: A seed fund will be established by April 2012; The Scottish Government will engage with industry and academia on promoting innovative technology options.

Programme 4: Increasing take-up/usage rates will be targeted at raising digital participation rates (for businesses and individuals) and raising demand for services – helping to improve the commercial case for investment and delivering better outcomes for Scotland

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