16 December 2015

(S4O-05181) Youth Employment

8. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what information it has on how youth employment in Scotland compares with the rest of the European Union. (S4O-05181)

The Minister for Youth and Women’s Employment (Annabelle Ewing): The latest data from Eurostat show that Scotland, with a rate of 54.6 per cent, had the third-highest youth employment rate across the European Union countries for quarter 2 of 2015. Only the Netherlands, with a rate of 61.3 per cent, and Denmark, with a rate of 55.9 per cent, were ahead of Scotland.

Stewart Stevenson: That is very welcome news, although overtaking the Netherlands and Denmark should remain an objective.

What investment is being made to improve opportunities for young people across Scotland so that we can get to number 1?

Annabelle Ewing: I share Stewart Stevenson’s ambition to get to number 1. The Scottish Government has been taking a number of initiatives and making a number of investments to ensure that we do everything that we can so that young people can fulfil their potential in life. For example, we invested £12 million last year and we have invested £16.6 million this year in embedding our developing the young workforce principles and policies. We have also provided more than 25,000 modern apprenticeship starts year on year, and some 101,000 modern apprenticeship opportunities have been delivered in the current parliamentary session. We have ambitions to go further and secure 30,000 modern apprenticeships starts by 2020.

Of course, we also work with Skills Development Scotland on employability activity, we invest in community jobs Scotland, which is operated through the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and we have extended eligibility for the educational maintenance allowance. There are a number of other initiatives, and I should add that we work with Inspiring Scotland to help young people in the 14 to 19-year-old age bracket. We are therefore conducting a number of activities across a range of areas to ensure that we are doing everything we can.

In that regard, I am pleased to note that the labour market statistics that were published this very morning show that youth employment has increased by 20,000 over the past year. We are going in the right direction, but we recognise that we have more to do.

10 December 2015

Statement: Common Agricultural Policy (Payments)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Elaine Smith): The next item of business is a statement by Richard Lochhead on an update on common agricultural policy payments. The cabinet secretary will take questions at the end of his statement.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): I draw members’ attention to the fact that I have a very small registered agricultural holding, but I receive no public funding for it.

The basic and greening payments process has been at the heart of what the cabinet secretary has said today, but farmers also wish to be assured that coupled support for beef and sheep and, indeed, the £60 million for less favoured areas are also on schedule to be paid in a reasonable time.

Richard Lochhead: Stewart Stevenson is right that we have to recognise the importance of the payments other than the basic payments that will happen in the coming months. Normally, we pay the beef calf scheme in April and the less favoured area support scheme payments go out around March. I have said publicly already that some of those payments could be delayed by a few weeks, because the message that we have had from the industry is that all our efforts and resources should be focused on the basic and greening payments. However, clearly I am keen to minimise any impact on the other payments, given the fragility of some of the sectors involved and the cash-flow issues that they face.

8 December 2015

Statement: Forth Road Bridge

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): The next item of business is a statement by Derek Mackay on the Forth road bridge. The minister will take questions at the end of his statement, and there should therefore be no interventions or interruptions.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): Does the minister recall my announcing in June 2007 that there would be a new bridge delivered in 2016? Is it a result of a proper and permanent response then, and effective management now, that we are on schedule and £1 billion below the budget that I announced at that time?

Derek Mackay: I think that it is fair to say that, as well as all the other contingency plans that have been put in place as a result of the bridge closure, the decision that was made to build the replacement crossing is a rather substantial contingency plan. The events have vindicated the Government’s decision to build a replacement Forth crossing, which is being delivered on time and under budget.

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