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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament (Hybrid)

Meeting date: Thursday, November 5, 2020

Agenda: First Minister’s Question Time, Portfolio Question Time, Young Persons Guarantee, Defamation and Malicious Publication (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1, Decision Time


Young Persons Guarantee

The next item of business is a statement by Fiona Hyslop on the young persons guarantee.


The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Fair Work and Culture (Fiona Hyslop)

I am pleased to announce the launch of the young persons guarantee today. The pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for young people in how they go about their daily lives. We know that they have been among the hardest hit by the economic harms resulting from the virus—[Interruption.]

Take a few seconds, cabinet secretary.

Fiona Hyslop

Sorry about that, Presiding Officer.

As I was saying, the pandemic has clearly hit young people particularly hard through the economic harms resulting from the virus. The impact of the pandemic varies across different parts of the economy, and evidence suggests that it is exacerbating the inequalities that have existed across the labour market for some time. Those on low incomes and insecure contracts, which have been more prevalent among young people, have been the worst affected. We will continue to ensure that fair work principles remain embedded within our approach to delivering the guarantee through our promotion of the living wage and fair work first.

At its heart, the guarantee is about connecting young people with employers and with a range of learning and training opportunities to support them and to help them to progress towards employment. Our intention is that the guarantee should be shaped and led by employers and driven by the needs of young people, and we must deliver it by working in partnership.

I am pleased that, following the publication of his report, Sandy Begbie agreed to continue to work with us on the implementation of his plan for the guarantee. Over the past two months, he has been leading an implementation group, which has now agreed a high-level action plan to deliver the guarantee in a way that addresses the scale and immediacy of the challenge ahead. We will publish that plan today, and work will continue quickly to put it into action. From the beginning, I have been clear that young people must be at the front and centre of this work, and I asked Young Scot to take forward work on how young people could help design the guarantee.

I want all our young people to benefit from the opportunities that are on offer from the guarantee, which will embed an equality and human rights approach into its delivery. Tackling inequalities must be the defining hallmark of the guarantee. Working closely with Close the Gap, Barnardo’s and Enable, we have been engaging with young people to ensure that the guarantee is inclusive by design and is focused on how it will meet their needs. As part of that work, Intercultural Youth Scotland has produced a report on the barriers that young minority ethnic people face in getting access to opportunities. Again, the initial reports from those pieces of work will be published today. The work that Young Scot is developing with us will ensure that a wide and diverse range of young people across the country will have a genuine voice and will be able to contribute directly to how the guarantee evolves over the coming months.

In launching the guarantee today, I want to set out how we intend to support new opportunities. We have committed £60 million this year to deliver the guarantee, and our discussions with delivery partners are being finalised now to ensure that we get the maximum impact. That is additional support on top of the significant investment that is already available for key areas including the apprenticeships and the colleges that will deliver the guarantee.

We will begin by recognising the pivotal role that local government has to play as a key partner, and I am pleased to inform Parliament that we have now agreed the allocation and distribution of the £30 million to fund local partnership activity, which will support around 8,000 young people. A significant part of the funding will be for recruitment incentives, and that will include supporting small and medium-sized enterprises and third sector employers to create more jobs, including apprenticeships. Other priorities will include providing additional support to wrap around kick-start placements, increasing supported employment, skills training and mental health support. The guarantee will also provide key workers for those who need more support.

We are strengthening the network of 21 industry-led developing the young workforce groups by funding school co-ordinators. Building on successful pilots in Glasgow and Fife, that will increase the capacity of schools to support young people in continuing to engage with the DYW programme to make choices that are informed by input from employers. Funding will be made available to support additional opportunities delivered by the third sector, including formal volunteering, with new funding for in-school mentoring offered by MCR Pathways and more career inspiration activity through the Founders4Schools programme. There will also be support for work to incentivise graduate internships.

In recognition of the challenges that are faced by those who might have otherwise gone into apprenticeships, we have set out £10 million to support pathways to apprenticeships, which are aimed at providing education-based opportunities. We continue to work with colleges to support industry-focused further education opportunities for young people. That builds on the funding that we have already agreed to provide to universities to create additional places following this year’s exam results, and recognises the critical role that our universities and colleges have to play in supporting young people.

Overall, that funding will provide a range of opportunities that will make a difference to young people’s lives. However, we have to make connections to employers, so I also announce that we are launching a new web portal, developed with Skills Development Scotland, that will act as the first point of contact for information on the guarantee. The site will put in one place the wide range of opportunities that are being created under the guarantee. It will be an important step forward in providing coherence and signposting young people to jobs and other opportunities, as well as to relevant advice and guidance, which will continue to be offered by local authorities, jobcentres and third sector partners.

We know that we still face significant economic challenges. I understand that many businesses and sectors are under real pressure, but it is clear that many employers want to stand behind and help deliver the guarantee now. As part of our launch activity, this morning I met Capgemini, SSE and NHS Lothian, all of which have signed up as early adopters to the guarantee. They, and many others, are already beginning to create good, fair, sustainable opportunities, and they clearly recognise the value that young people can bring to their organisations.

We have been working closely with businesses on developing a set of asks that are challenging and proportionate to the current situation. The intention is to demonstrate clearly the commitments that employers can make to support young people. I am happy to report that a number of organisations have already set out their intention to become early adopters of the guarantee. From the public sector, it is right that the Scottish Government has committed to the guarantee and is leading the way. I will be working with all public sector bodies to encourage them to stand behind the guarantee. From the private sector, as well as Capgemini and SSE, Scottish Power and Standard Life Aberdeen have given their backing. We will be working hard to encourage many more to follow in the weeks and months ahead. I thank those businesses for their commitment. I assure them that the Scottish Government will work closely with them so that, collectively, we get this right for young people.

The unprecedented scale of the economic challenge has necessitated new approaches. Since the start of the pandemic, I have been clear in my support for some of the actions that the United Kingdom Government has taken. The recent extension of furlough is welcome, even if the manner in which it came about left some questions. However, the scale of the unemployment challenge that we now face is equally important. I urge the UK Government to work in partnership with us to deliver the guarantee, and to go beyond the kick-start scheme to provide a clearer commitment to supporting those whose jobs and livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic.

I have set out the next steps that we will take to deliver a young persons guarantee. I look forward to working with colleagues across Parliament to continue our support for young people throughout the pandemic. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge, but if we work together as a country, we can deliver for our young people. My message to Scotland’s young people is simple: we are right behind you, we want you to be successful and we will do everything that we can to give you the opportunities that you need.

I will write to all members with more details on the guarantee, including information on the new web platform. I would welcome your support in promoting the guarantee to as many young people and employers as possible.

I am very pleased to come to the chamber today to launch the young persons guarantee. By working in partnership across parties, across the country and across organisations, and by working with employers, the third sector and our great education system, we in Scotland can make sure that, however difficult this year has been, there is a platform and a future for our young people.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

The cabinet secretary will now take questions on the issues that were raised in her statement, for which I will allow around 20 minutes. Members who wish to ask a question should press their request-to-speak button.

Maurice Golden (West Scotland) (Con)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement. I welcome the launch of the youth guarantee scheme and I am pleased to hear that a number of organisations are looking to become early adopters. Scottish Conservatives will lend whatever support we can to ensure that the scheme helps as many young people as possible. One way of doing that, as Sandy Begbie recommends, and as the cabinet secretary recognises, is to ensure that it complements the United Kingdom Government’s kickstart scheme. Just last week, it was announced that a 200-strong digital army of young people will be established at HALO Kilmarnock following £1.5 million of funding under the kickstart scheme, and it will be useful to see how the Scottish Government can complement that.

Another, far more direct way to boost the scheme is to ensure that we increase funding. The Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills has said that the youth guarantee scheme budget of £60 million is not enough to reach everyone. The chancellor has today provided an opportunity to do just that, with the announcement of an extra £1 billion of funding for Scotland to tackle the crisis, thanks to Douglas Ross and the Scottish Conservatives. Will the cabinet secretary commit to using some of that funding to ensure that the youth guarantee scheme can help as many young Scots as possible to start their careers?

Fiona Hyslop

First, I warmly welcome the support of the Scottish Conservatives for the young persons guarantee. It is essential that we work together in partnership on this to make sure that we can deliver for young people. That is what they will expect, and that is what employers will expect.

Maurice Golden’s point was about wrapping around the kickstart programme, and we are very keen to do so. Sandy Begbie and I will seek to make further contact with the UK Government to ensure that it understands our proposal. The kickstart programme is quite time limited and we want to make sure that we have a longer period of support for young people so that they can develop and, importantly, have a route to permanent employment. We think that the longer period of support that we are providing will help to deliver that.

On the point about additional resources, we made a bold decision very early on because we were concerned about the level of youth unemployment that we were going to be facing. We made a decision when we did not have the further support from the UK Government because we knew that it was the right thing to do and we knew that we would need to marshal whatever resources we had in order to deliver. I am pleased that we have managed to make an early commitment.

Clearly, the additional funding that is Scotland’s share of contributions that are needed to manage the economy going forward is welcome, but it is not just about the economy; it is about transport, public health and a whole variety of other issues. I will certainly want to make sure that we have the strongest financial platform possible for the youth guarantee, but we should remember that everybody needs to put their shoulder to the wheel. It will be about mobilising financial support from employers, as well as the existing range of employability skills and education resources. Yes, I will take every penny that I can get, but I will have those discussions with the finance secretary at the appropriate time.

Iain Gray (East Lothian) (Lab)

I thank the cabinet secretary for early sight of her statement. The young persons guarantee certainly has our support, and we welcome the launch of the portal and the action plan. However, the measure of success in this will be in the delivery of high-quality job opportunities. Can the cabinet secretary assure us that the guarantee will not just promote the real living wage but will insist on it?

Secondly, with youth unemployment being predicted by some to peak at 100,000, the 8,000 partnership opportunities will not be enough. Is the cabinet secretary sure that the proposed scale is really equal to the challenge?

Finally, the cabinet secretary referred to the funding of additional student places at university. Are those now confirmed as fully funded places at £7,500 per student per annum?

Fiona Hyslop

I also welcome the support for the young persons guarantee scheme from the Scottish Labour Party. The scale of the challenge is, quite rightly, a focus of attention. Currently, the figures for June to August show 44,000 young people unemployed. That is too many, and that is why we need to move swiftly and at scale. The current unemployment rates in Scotland are 12.5 per cent of young people, and the UK-wide figure is 15.4 per cent, which is significantly higher, but we know and understand especially the precarious and serious experience of many young people and the issues that they will face in terms of redundancy.

We also want to make sure that there are new opportunities for young people leaving school, because the opportunities that might have been there previously will not necessarily still be there. I will come back on the question of the funding of university places. I will speak to our education colleagues to confirm the information that Iain Gray requested.

I do not underestimate the scale of this at all. That is why we moved very swiftly. Remember that the recommendation came out of the advisory group on economic recovery, which reported some months ago. It was one of the highlights of its proposals and we have moved swiftly on it. We have set out a plan and worked and co-operated with others; one arm of that, as I said, was working with local government. Quite often it will benefit specifically young people who are needing extra support. I talked about additional support around key workers. That will not be the only avenue for support, but it can make a difference. Mobilising the sum of the parts will mean that we can grow the impact of the resources that we have.

We move to open questions. We have been a wee bit overlong with front-bench questions, so please bear that in mind.

Clare Adamson (Motherwell and Wishaw) (SNP)

It has been estimated that youth unemployment could rise to 20 per cent as a result of Covid-19. However, care leaver charity staff have highlighted the fact that 46 per cent of care leavers were known not to be in education, employment or training before the pandemic hit. How will the Scottish Government’s young persons guarantee support care leavers to sustain employment?

Fiona Hyslop

Following on from the answer that I gave to Iain Gray, the £30 million of funding for local partnerships will ensure that a person-centred approach is taken. That will include care leavers as a priority group. As part of the guarantee, we are currently funding the young persons consortium, which includes representation from Barnardo’s, the Prince’s Trust and Action for Children, to deliver the discover your potential programme, an employability programme that is specifically funded to support care leavers.

We are working with those groups to increase the funding that is available this year. We will also engage with Scotland’s corporate parents to identify how they can help to plan delivery of the young persons guarantee by providing support and opportunities for young people who have had experience of care. I hope that that reassures Clare Adamson that we want to ensure that it will be an inclusive young persons guarantee and care leavers will be a priority.

Jamie Greene (West Scotland) (Con)

The cabinet secretary will be aware that it is the retail, hospitality, tourism and leisure industries that employ the lion’s share of Scotland’s young people, but those are the sectors that have been hardest hit by Covid. We should all be gravely concerned about the prospects for our young people. How do we get those people back into jobs in companies that simply do not exist anymore or will not survive Covid, and what plans does the Government have to boost business start-ups, which will ultimately create jobs to replace those that have disappeared during the pandemic?

Fiona Hyslop

Just yesterday, we announced the 90 companies that will benefit from the start-up funding of £25 million, which was announced early in the pandemic period in order to ensure that we are growing the companies and jobs of the future. We will align with sectors of growth for the future, particularly on the tech side in information technology and with a focus on green jobs. That focus of our alignment, working with the 21 developing the young workforce partnerships, will help us to ensure that the package on offer and the jobs available meet the market for the future.

I gently point out that fewer young people would be facing difficulty and redundancy had the UK Government maintained the furlough scheme from the summer period. A significant number of young people will have been made redundant in previous months pending the cut-off of furlough. I welcome today’s decision that they can be taken back on and receive furlough going forward. However, I recognise the need to align the young persons guarantee and job opportunities with the industries that have that capacity and need. Let us try to ensure that we prevent young people from becoming unemployed in the first place, but also create opportunities in new and developing sectors.

I repeat the need for people to be a wee bit more succinct.

Annabelle Ewing (Cowdenbeath) (SNP)

I welcome the launch of the young persons guarantee today, and I commend the cabinet secretary and all those who have been involved for the hard work that will have gone on behind the scenes to get the scheme up and running so quickly.

Can the cabinet secretary provide a bit more detail about the arrangements that will be in place to ensure that the young people involved will have the possibility of not simply training and apprenticeships but real job progression? That will surely be the key measure of success for this excellent initiative.

Fiona Hyslop

I agree with the member, in view of our experience with the Edinburgh guarantee, with which Sandy Begbie was previously involved. The focus there was on ensuring that sustainable employment was part of the scheme, and that is what we are working towards with the young persons guarantee. That is really important—it is what we need and what we want to see.

We need continuity across the UK, which is why, if the kickstart scheme is used, wraparound support is important. We are looking at the permanency of the employment and at how we can work on the apprenticeship side with Skills Development Scotland and the third sector to ensure that young people have good-quality, work-based learning opportunities, with a view to that becoming an important part of their journey towards securing a job.

I am aware from talking to companies such as Capgemini and SSE, and to NHS Lothian, this morning that they know that young people will be an asset to them. The experience that they have already had of supporting young people into employment is proof that young people, if they are part of the scheme, can secure employment and will make a welcome contribution.

Johann Lamont (Glasgow) (Lab)

At present, a young person who leaves school and goes into a job on a zero-hours contract is counted by the Scottish Government—unacceptably, in my view—as going to a positive destination. Would the young persons guarantee scheme place someone on a zero-hours contract? If so, would that be regarded as fulfilling the job guarantee?

The cabinet secretary will be aware that young people are currently in work that is highly and increasingly insecure. Will those young people be able to access the job guarantee scheme, and will the funding reflect the scale of the challenge that they represent?

Fiona Hyslop

I answered the question on funding in a previous response.

With regard to the type of work that young people should be able to go into and receive support for, we are quite clear on our commitment to the fair work principles, and that that should involve high-quality experience and not—as I said previously—the exploitation that we have seen so many young people at the front end of.

I am not sure whether Johann Lamont is welcoming the young persons guarantee; I am pleased that her front-bench colleague has done so. With regard to support, we have made it clear—as she will know if she has read the reports—that the scheme is about high-quality experiences for young people, with a view to ensuring that they can get a good-quality job as part of that. As part of that journey, they can get training, support and mentorship. That is all part of trying to do the best by our young people, and it does not relate to the way that Johann Lamont put her question in relation to zero-hours contracts.

Andy Wightman (Lothian) (Green)

I thank the cabinet secretary for advance sight of her statement. Scottish Greens, too, will commit to work with the Government to ensure that the scheme is a success.

In her statement, the cabinet secretary said that Young Scot is working with the Government to ensure that young people “will have a genuine voice” and can “contribute directly” as the guarantee requires. I welcome that. Can she say more about the governance in that regard and the extent to which that contribution will be on-going, meaningful and significant?

Fiona Hyslop

I refer the member to the report that was published today with regard to Young Scot’s involvement to date and how it has been involved in shaping the scheme. On how that involvement will proceed, I heard this morning from a number of the organisations about young people on boards, and how they can sit on shadow boards and influence the experience of other young people as part of their employment.

On the governance issue, the developing the young workforce scheme is employer led and localised, with 21 different organisations involved, and we want to ensure that there are connections with the young person’s voice as well. The member raises an important point, and I give him a commitment that Young Scot’s work is on-going; it did not take place only at the start of the process.

Willie Rennie (North East Fife) (LD)

I want to thank Sandy Begbie for his work on this; I found his engagement very constructive.

I support the partnership approach, especially considering the myriad of schemes and funders, and different priorities. It is a good approach. I particularly welcome the mental health support, including today’s announcement.

I may have been hard of hearing, but I do not think that the economy secretary answered Iain Gray’s question about the living wage for all the jobs.

Finally, an awful lot of employers find it difficult to take on young people. How will the measures make it easier for them?

Fiona Hyslop

We know that companies, as of now, can commit to and support the young persons guarantee. There are also businesses that may not be able to do that now, but will in future. Part of why we want to make sure that the 21 developing the young workforce partnerships across the country are the bedrock of the initiative is so that they can support other businesses that may struggle to do that. Financial support may be available in some areas for SMEs in particular to help provide job supplements, which is also important.

We have committed to the living wage, but we know that some businesses will struggle with that. Sandy Begbie’s report makes it clear that anybody who wants to be part of the job guarantee should commit over a set period of time to ensure that they can deliver the living wage for those young people. That is one of the requirements that Young Scot expressed in its discussions with us.

I welcome the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ support for the young persons guarantee.

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I welcome the announcement of such a broad range of early adopters. Their involvement will give young people the chance to succeed despite the economic impact of coronavirus, which has hit them so hard.

Can the cabinet secretary expand on how the Scottish Government will seek to increase the number of employers who have signed up, and encourage as many as possible to do so?

Fiona Hyslop

That is everybody’s job, not just mine. I hope that it is also the job of Rona Mackay and every MSP to speak to their local employers and encourage people and organisations to join the youth guarantee.

We want to ensure that we can work with as many organisations as possible. I mentioned that public sector organisations and a range of other agencies are close to becoming adopters, and those include Social Security Scotland, Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry. I know that my cabinet colleagues and ministerial team will be championing the initiative at every opportunity. Perhaps the Scottish Parliament would also want to consider supporting the young persons guarantee, because that would be a strong leadership role for it to take.

Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I join colleagues in welcoming the young persons guarantee.

What constitutes a positive outcome for a participant in the scheme, and how and when will positive outcomes be monitored and reported to Parliament? What are the Scottish Government’s full targets for participation in the scheme?

Fiona Hyslop

Clearly, we want to ensure that every young person has the guarantee, which is the first commitment. That is ambitious and it will be a challenge for us. However, if we do not set firm ambitions—as we heard from Sandy Begbie’s experience in Edinburgh—we have no hope of realising them. Committing to deliver that target is important.

On what success will look like, it will be to make sure that people are in sustainable employment. We have done that previously: during the financial crash period, Scotland had one of the lowest levels of youth unemployment across Europe. Suppressing youth unemployment then has meant that there is now a 3 per cent difference between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

Making sure that young people are in employment and have experience in the voluntary sector that is good and meaningful, and trying to make sure that this generation of young people is not discriminated against compared with previous generations, will also be important. Obviously, we monitor figures regularly for those who are not in education, employment and training. We have managed previously to get record levels of young people into education, employment or training. We want to make sure that we can get back to those levels as quickly as possible. The young persons guarantee at least gives us a fighting chance to do that.

Ruth Maguire (Cunninghame South) (SNP)

I was pleased to hear the cabinet secretary say that the young persons guarantee embeds an equality and human rights approach in its delivery. With that in mind, how will the Scottish Government ensure that Scotland’s diversity is reflected, that every young person—regardless of background—will have the same opportunities and that any structural barriers in their way are removed?

Fiona Hyslop

It is clear that that will be a challenge. However, we want to ensure that Scotland’s long-standing inequalities in the labour market are tackled and that will be a hallmark of the guarantee. We have seen how Covid has exacerbated the inequalities that currently exist

Work on the development of the living wage and the fair work first approach, and with organisations such as Glasgow Disability Alliance, Young Scot, Close the Gap, Barnardo’s Scotland, Enable and Intercultural Youth Scotland will help us with that. The report from Intercultural Youth Scotland, which was published today, is also worth considering because the charity is quite clear on the support that it needs to ensure that those barriers are overcome.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

As someone who introduced a youth guarantee—including the 50 per cent wage support—in Dumfries and Galloway, where 90 per cent of businesses employ 10 or fewer people, I note that the big challenge is obviously with SMEs.

Does the cabinet secretary accept that, for those businesses, survival in the next few months will probably be even more important than their trying to expand? Unless we get wider financial support to them, they will not be here in a few months in order to create the jobs that our young people desperately need.

Fiona Hyslop

As the member will know from my work over a number of months, our focus has absolutely been to ensure support for SMEs in particular. Some of our unique schemes in Scotland, such as the pivotal enterprise resilience fund and the tourism, creative and hospitality enterprises hardship fund, which do not exist anywhere else, have helped people survive.

The member is right to say that this is a difficult time for businesses to do something else and take on young people, so the combination of the kick-start scheme and the potential for top-up and support of wages is an opportunity—particularly for SMEs.

Our approach with that work is to have anchor companies that can help support other businesses, which is why, for example, some of the early adopters will help support their supply chain and encourage the supply chain to do the same.

The situation is very challenging. That is why we have considered the support that we wanted to give to organisations and set out grant support early—through the framework and the levels—to run throughout the next period.

How is the Scottish Government ensuring that the voices of young people are, and will continue to be, heard in the implementation of the guarantee, bearing in mind how Covid-19 will affect young people?

Fiona Hyslop

I refer the member to an answer that I gave to a previous question on the issue. We want to start with young people and want their voice to inform and help design the guarantee. They will be engaged throughout the process and that partnership, to which everybody referred, is not just about organisations or businesses, but about intergeneration.

Together we can ensure that Scotland can do its best to stand by our young people, ensure that they can have jobs, and that this difficult period that we are all going through does not harm their opportunities over the longer term.

That concludes questions on the cabinet secretary’s statement on the young persons guarantee. I remind members who are entering or leaving the chamber to please observe social distancing measures.