On Tuesday, I spoke in the Scottish Government Programme for Government Debate and highlighted that we need to work together to deliver the change we need to see. There are lots of positives in the Programme for Government on which parties should be able to work together and bring about improvement across Scotland. I have made it clear that we need a National House Build Plan and have asked the Scottish Government to help deliver this. We need a coordinated joined up approach at all levels of Government in order to deliver the radical change needed to solve Scotland’s housing crisis.
I also made it clear, that while welcoming the Child Poverty Bill being brought forward, we need to go a step further and deliver a comprehensive Anti-poverty Strategy with the aim of eradicating poverty from Scotland once and for all. Again, coordination of services, joined up Government at a local and national level, as well as the dynamic third sector, business and industry, is essential to create a strategy the not only talks about solving poverty, but actually gets round to the business of doing it.
In my closing remarks, I questioned the Government’s proposals to take money away from local government for their education proposal, at a time when public services cuts are already damaging our communities. As good as those national priorities are, such an approach is an affront to local democracy and to local revenue raising. It is not the way to build strong relationships with local government. Decentralisation and the devolution of powers are about not just taking powers to Holyrood but taking powers further down—we really need to stop taking power up the way away from local councils. Scottish Labour is also committed to putting more money into education and we have been honest in saying that we would need to raise income tax by 1p to do that.
The full text of my speech is available below:
There is no doubt that there are major challenges and pressures in communities across Scotland. We all know that. However, in considering the First Minister’s speech, I want to focus on the positives on which we can work together. There are a lot of positives in the programme for government on which we should be able to work together and bring about improvement across Scotland.
We welcome the social security bill. We will work with the minister and the Government, and we would certainly want to put dignity and respect at the heart of that bill. However, I should be clear that every person in Scotland deserves pity and respect. This morning I was on a picket line in Dunfermline, in Fife, with Unison members that work in Fife College. They clearly believe that they are being denied dignity, respect and fair pay. It is important that, if we are going to make claims about dignity and respect, we ensure that we deliver it for everyone.
A housing bill will be introduced. Our manifesto proposed to build more houses. We can—and need to—work together to build houses. Yesterday, Shelter Scotland launched a homelessness and rough sleeping campaign called far from fixed. It is estimated that more than 5,000 people sleep rough each year; 30,000 households were assessed as homeless; an unknown number are sofa surfing, as it is being described; 10,000 households live in temporary accommodation; and 5,000 children wake up every morning without a home to call their own. Housing is a massive priority because of that.
My issue with the Government is not its commitment to 35,000 social rented houses and 50,000 affordable houses, but with how its commitment will be delivered. Just as the Government has said that it will introduce a detailed delivery plan on its commitment to superfast broadband, we need to have a detailed delivery plan that sets out how we intend to build those houses. The benefits of doing so are clear, given the numbers of people who are homeless and on council waiting lists.
Alex Neil mentioned skill shortages, apprenticeships and the jobs that can be created. If members take Fife Council as an example, it had a programme to build 2,700 houses over the past five years, which it has managed to deliver—yes, with the support of the Scottish Government, but also with the support of tenants in raising the money. The number of apprenticeships and jobs that have been created locally is impressive.
We also welcome the child poverty bill. Again, we will want to work with the Government on that. However, we are clear that we need an anti-poverty strategy across all levels of Government. Today, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published its report “We can solve poverty in the UK: a strategy for governments, businesses, communities and citizens”. We need to develop that strategy in Scotland and solve poverty here.
The report makes it clear that, in order to tackle poverty, all levels of government need to be engaged. The Scottish Government needs to be joined up in this place, because the topic runs across every Government portfolio. We need to involve local government, so that that is joined up; we need to involve the dynamic third sector; we need to involve business and industry. That clearly comes across in today’s report.
In welcoming the child poverty bill, I hope that we can pick up on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s work, which has more of a focus on England and Wales, and that we can develop a coherent anti-poverty strategy that will allow us not just to talk about dealing with poverty, but to deal with poverty.
The Scottish union learning fund is mentioned in the programme for government. That is very welcome. The key to the fund is for learners to be able to progress. The cuts on part-time education and the gaps in workers’ skills in particular are a major block.
In my final minute, I will focus briefly on local government. We know that local government has had a really tough settlement these past years. We can see the cuts biting in every community—in services, support and local organisations. The proposal to put £100 million from local government into schools is a good one.
Labour also said that we would raise money: we would put taxes up and invest in public services that way. However, the Government says that rather than put taxes up it will dip into local taxation and start spending that money on its national priorities. As good as those national priorities are, such an approach is an affront to local democracy and to local revenue raising. It is not the way to build strong relationships with local government. As other members have said, decentralisation and the devolution of power are about not just taking powers in Edinburgh but taking powers further down—we really need to stop taking power up the way.
I hope that we can work together on the many bills in the programme that I think can make Scotland a better place. I look forward to working with the appropriate ministers.