Further Education in Fife
I have written to the Principle of Fife College asking for a meeting to discuss a number of issues including the recent problems that saw hundreds of students not receiving their bursaries for over a month with some still waiting. This caused major problems with students having to go to pay day lenders to pay their rents and to live. I am seeking assurances that these students will be supported to address the issues they have been left with.
I am also keen to discuss the on-going challenges for the college giving the massive cuts that they have had to deal with in their budgets at a time when they were already under pressure from amalgamating the three colleges in Fife into one. As a result staff are having to do more with less, the numbers of people gaining access to a course has fallen and the systems are under pressure. Given that Fife has a higher number of people going into further education as opposed to higher education and we have too many people without the skills to be able to get jobs, this does not bode well and must be addressed. Our government in Edinburgh has wrongly in my view set other priorities above colleges and the result is not good for our local economy and for local people.
Housing in Fife
I was very happy this week to meet a group of apprentices who are working for a local builder who is just one of many involved in building new council houses across Fife. In 2012 the Labour administration in Fife took a decision to disregard the cuts in their house build budget that came from the Scottish Government and raised the money elsewhere to push ahead with their ambitious plans to build 2700 houses across Fife. The site I visited in Cowdenbeath is just one of many across all of west Fife that is seeing new houses being built to address what is an absolute housing need that we have.
Since going into the Scottish Parliament I have used every opportunity I can to highlight the housing need in the communities I represent and across the country. Where the SNP government do things that I support I say so but in housing their decision to cut the capital budget was a major mistake that has seen the waiting lists grow at a massive rate with more and more people pushed into the private rented sector where rents have sored. Over the last ten years the numbers of people living in the private rented sector has doubled with no control over the level of rent increases in this sector which between 2011 and 2014 saw an average rent rise of 9.2%. I have supported and voted for rent controls over this sector in the Parliament but to date the SNP majority have voted these down.
So I support a form of rent control in the private sector but more than anything I support a doubling of the budget for a house building programme across Fife and Scotland. As I saw from my meeting with the group of apprentices, investment in affordable housing brings multiple benefits and will be part of the foundation to economic recovery and growth giving people much needed skills, training and jobs in the building sector which amazingly is currently reporting a skills gap. This is also why it is madness to be cutting college budgets when there is such massive gaps in skills that forces companies to recruit abroad through agencies because they cannot get skilled labour in Scotland.