Careers Services debate

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012 @ 8:18PM

I spoke in a debate about the “modernisation” of Scotland’s careers services in the Parliament on December 6th – drawing attention to the reduction in these essential services, particularly one-to-one meetings, due to an SNP Government cut of 20% to frontline services at Skills Development Scotland. My speech is below, and you can read the full debate here.

Kezia Dugdale (Lothian) (Lab): At Jewel and Esk College along the road, there are 1,800 full-time students and just under 8,000 learners overall. I understand that there is just one member of SDS staff left at the college, who is there for one and a half days a week. There has been a huge reduction in the service in the past 12 months alone.

However, SDS is not only scaling back services in colleges; offices are closing down, and where they remain open the opening hours are reduced and the service has been moved into jobcentres. At first glance, that seems to be a good thing, but, when set against the changing practices of the Department for Work and Pensions and the reality of how jobcentres work, it is devastating. Many jobcentres operate on an appointment-only basis. I have spoken to countless young people who find going to the jobcentre incredibly intimidating, especially when the first thing they are faced with is a security guard asking them why they are there. I mentioned that because we cannot ignore the wider context of this debate and the wider context of SDS service revision.

I have heard numerous SNP members who are somehow bemused as to why Labour would oppose the RAG system—that is, the red, amber and green system. Jamie Hepburn said that it is designed to focus on those who are in need. Let me take a moment to explain to him and others why we hold our view. The Unison briefing notes that the vast majority of drop-ins at careers centres were diagnosed as needing one-to-one advice help. In some instances, 80 per cent had an identified need. The 2009 annual report for SDS boasts that 242,000 young people dropped in. If we apply Unison’s evidence that 80 per cent need help, what we get is a figure of 193,600 one-to-ones taking place in 2009-10. The SDS expects to deal with 35,000 amber clients, which is a huge reduction in service in only three years; in fact, that is less than a fifth of the number from three years ago. It looks to me as though tens of thousands of young people will simply slip through the net as a consequence of the changes.

Jamie Hepburn: Does Kezia Dugdale accept that any person who wants a face-to-face interview will get it?

Kezia Dugdale: I accept that, but I will come on to why that is misguided, in a second.

Face-to-face contact goes hand in hand with the website, which should not replace those services, but that is what is happening. Joan McAlpine said that the 35,000 people in the amber group are NEETs. I say gently to her that NEETs are, of course, people who are not in education, employment or training, so how can 35,000 school pupils be considered to be NEETs?

Joan McAlpine: I think that it was quite clear from what I said that those young people were identified as potentially becoming part of that group. That is clearly what it was about and that is why they have been targeted. I think that Kezia Dugdale has made a rather specious point.

Kezia Dugdale: I am sure that Joan McAlpine will go to the Official Report to check that and, perhaps, rectify it, following the debate.

The minister talked about the pioneering service that my world of work represents. I read in papers ahead of the debate that many people praise the service, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank. I say to the minister that it is a shame that just 17 per cent of pupils know that it exists. The minister’s response to my colleague Drew Smith was particularly misleading, because it is necessary to register on the website in order to access a number of the tools. I know that because I had to do it in order to see what tools are available on the website. So, I am afraid that what the minister said is just simply wrong, because 83 per cent of Drew Smith’s constituents are missing out and 88 per cent of the kids in Edinburgh are missing out, which means that 14,975 pupils in Edinburgh alone are missing out as a consequence of the programme.

Mary Scanlon rightly pointed out that 93 per cent of staff whom SDS surveyed are unhappy with the new system. It was not unreasonable of her to expect the minister simply to listen to what the union is saying. We have a Tory spokesperson here asking the minister to listen to a trade union. Does the minister not understand that that is a simple ask? I hope that in her closing remarks she will reflect on that.

While we are on the topic of the Education and Culture Committee, I refer the minister to a point in the Official Report of the meeting of 27 November, which I am sure she read before she came to the chamber today. One of the committee’s members asked SDS how much the my world of work website cost, and SDS said that it would write to the committee with the details. I checked with the committee clerks this morning and found that SDS had told them that they would get an update response before this debate started. However, I am afraid that such a response has not arrived with any of the committee’s members, and I have not seen it, either. I think that it is unreasonable to be asked to debate a website without knowing simple things such as how much it cost the Government to produce. I hope that the minister will be able to provide some information on that at the end of the debate.

This is not, of course, the first time that I have complained to the minister about how difficult it is to extract information from SDS; it happened to me over apprenticeships and it happens to many of my colleagues every time they submit a freedom of information request. I asked the minister during a previous debate to address that issue, and I ask her again to look at the obfuscation and SDS’s deliberate attempts to stop members of the Opposition having simple facts ahead of debates.

Neil Bibby perhaps put it best when he said that giving young people one-to-one advice allows them a decent chance of getting a job. It is not too much to ask, but asking for it is exactly what the Government wants young people to do.

An SDS official told the Education and Culture Committee:

“If a young person finds that they are struggling, they will come forward. They have done so in the past … and there is nothing to stop them doing so now.”—[Official Report, Education and Culture Committee, 27 November 2012; c 1646.]

How complacent. How arrogant. If we ask any teacher, youth worker or anybody else who has contact with young people, they will tell us that often the last thing a struggling young person will do is ask for help, and that serious interventions are needed to help them to move forward.

I believe that tomorrow marks the minister’s first anniversary in her job. There has been little mention of that today, with no cake and no party—certainly not one that Neil Findlay and I have been invited to. I wonder whether that is because, after the minister’s 12 months in the job and with £18 million spent, youth unemployment is higher than it was when she took up her post. Is that any surprise after what we have heard in this afternoon’s debate—arrogance and complacency from a Government that is out of touch and ill-informed? Today, more than 100,000 young people in Scotland are unemployed, but the minister says, “Everything’s fine. We’ve got a website for that.”


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