During my Members’ Debate this week on Wednesday the Parliament debated the £2.28 million cut in employability funding from the Scottish Government to the City Council. The employment situation in Edinburgh has worsened dramatically so training is vital.
We now have 17% of school leavers going straight onto the dole and the employment rate for the city is lower than the rate in the country as a whole. I argued that now is not the time to cut back on schemes with a proven track record of getting people into work. In response to my motion Minister Alex Neil MSP announced that he would give the Council £700,000 as a one off payment to enable a transition plan to be developed.
On the day I welcomed the allocation even though the money announced is only a stop gap measure for this year only. My worry was that a one off allocation will not address the underlying problems that employability services in Edinburgh face. Projects could still go under as they lose match funding from other sources without support from the Scottish Government. Analysis of the withdrawal of the full £2.2m annual funding for employability services indicated that 3,500 people would have services removed, 1000 people would be denied the opportunity to enter work and 70 experienced support staff would lose their jobs. So there’s still a gap of £1.6m to be found for subsequent years.
However confusion over the £700,000 now reigns as the next day the Evening News reported that Alex Neil MSP told Blindcraft workers that they should speak to the City Council to see whether the £700,000 he’d allocated to the Council the day before could be used to help the Blindcraft workers.
The Blindcraft workers were marching to the Scottish Parliament to ask for support for their campaign to keep Blindcraft open. The factory, established 218 years ago, is currently under threat of closure by the local Lib Dem SNP council’s proposals to close Blindcraft. The workers I spoke with had no expectations of getting jobs again if the factory closes.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The First Minister stepped in to save the Glencraft Factory in Aberdeen when it faced closure. In Glasgow Labour’s political leadership means that the Royal Strathclyde Blind Factory works in partnership with Glasgow Council’s City Building Company. We need that level of political commitment in Edinburgh. I’ve now written to Alex Neil to clarify his remarks since it cannot be the case that the same money can keep both vital training projects and the Blindcraft Factory open. The cash simply won’t stretch that far. I’m told that confusion now reigns at the Council. So I’ll also be asking for a meeting with Councillor Tom Buchanan who chairs the Council’s Economy Committee to lobby him on protecting our training services and jobs. Training organisations and Blindcraft workers deserve better.