By a Newsnet reporter
SNP MP Pete Wishart has accused the Labour party of deliberately misrepresenting the facts as misguided attacks over the Scottish Government’s modern apprenticeship scheme were repeated during Scottish Questions at Westminster yesterday.
Edinburgh East Labour MP Sheila Gilmore raised the issue of some modern apprenticeships going to people already in employment, assuming the scheme was only for people who were unemployed, when in reality the programme has always supported both getting people into work and up-skilling those already in employment.
Speaking in the House of Commons, the Labour MP – addressing junior Cabinet Minister, MP David Mundell – criticised the Scottish Government for spending money increasing the skills of young people already in work.
She said: “Last week in the Scottish Parliament the Labour spkesperson on youth unemployment, Kezia Dugdale MSP, uncovered figures that showed that the 25,000 modern apprenriceships, the Scottish Government is claiming to have set up, over 10,000 of them were people already in work.
“And would the Minister agree with me that the Scottish Government should be spending public money creating additional jobs not just re-badging jobs?”
In response, Mr Mundell, Scotland’s only Tory MP, agreed that money should not have been spent on those already in work and accused the Scottish Government of not presenting facts accurately.
Last week, Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale made the same accusations over the figures during First Minister’s Questions. Ms Dugdale put it to First Minister Alex Salmond that out of approximately 25,000 modern apprenticeships, around 10,000, or 40%, had gone to young people who were already “well established in jobs”.
In response, First Minister Alex Salmond accused Ms Dugdale of embarking on a “disreputable campaign against modern apprenticeships”, and revealed that last year only 23% of 16 to 24 year old Modern Apprentices had been in work for at least six months – compared to 49% in 2006 when Labour were in power – an improvement of over double Labour’s record. He also noted that Labour had voted against the creation of apprenticeships contained in the Scottish Government’s last budget.
Mr Salmond said: “I have looked at the heart of Kezia Dugdale‟s complaint. If we look at 16 to 24-year-old apprentices, who predominate in the modern apprenticeship programme, we see that the proportion of them who had been in employment for more than six months was 23 per cent.
“That means that 80 per cent were new workers going into apprenticeships in the 16 to 24 age group. What was the figure when the Labour Party was in office in 2006? It was 49 per cent. In other words, when Labour was in power, with a reduced number of apprenticeships, half of the young people had been in a job for six months or longer. That figure has now been reduced to 23 per cent.
He added: “Kezia Dugdale has the effrontery to conduct a campaign against a modern apprenticeship scheme that is one of the most successful in western Europe.”
Despite figures being produced last week which proved the Labour smear was without substance, Ms Gilmore repeated the same line in the House of Commons this week. The scenes were reminiscent of Labour’s persistent claim that the Scottish Government gave steel contracts for the Forth Bridge to China, a line Labour continued to promote at Westminster even after it was demonstrated in the Scottish Parliament that there was no Scottish-based company capable of taking on the specialised work.
SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire Pete Wishart described the new intervention by Ms Gilmore as “scurrilous”, and accused Labour of being more interested in finding ways to attack the SNP than it was in securing apprenticeships for young people. He called on Labour to stop “digging themselves into a hole”, saying:
“I am astonished that, having been given the facts from the First Minister last week, the Labour party continue to dig themselves into a hole over modern apprenticeships. Perhaps if they hadn’t voted against the creation of 25,000 modern apprenticeships in the Scottish Government’s budget, they would be more familiar with the way the system works.
“Not only has the scheme always been open to people already in work – half the 16 to 24 year olds were already in work for six months when the scheme was run by the Labour party. That figure is now down at 23%.
“Labour should realise they are in a hole over this and simply stop digging.
“Modern apprenticeships is a good news story, offering real training opportunities to thousands of Scotland’s young people. The Scottish Government invested around £72million last year to support more than 26,000 modern apprenticeships starts. The total number of modern apprenticeships has almost doubled from 55,288 in 2006/07 to 109,324 in 2010/11.
“I would have thought such investment in jobs and training would be welcomed by the Labour party – but they seem more interested in making scurrilous political attacks than supporting action for jobs.”