Malcolm stresses the importance of job creation - especially for young people
Debate on managing Scotland's Finance Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
My main theme today is the way in which the cabinet secretary and the Scottish Government have been playing politics with the public finances and making the wrong choices.

However, lest I seem to be too negative, I will start by praising the cabinet secretary - briefly, in case I alarm my colleagues - in relation to two constituency issues. First, I commend the responsible way in which he has responded to the tram crisis by setting party politics aside and calling for the project to be completed, given that it cannot possibly be in the interests of Edinburgh or Scotland for it to fail.

Secondly, I commend the approval that the cabinet secretary has given to 84 million of borrowing by the City of Edinburgh Council for developments at the waterfront in my constituency being paid for by the retention there of new business rates income. In the summer, I called for some of this tax increment money to be used to complete the tramline to Newhaven, and I am pleased that Jenny Dawe, the council leader, and Charles Hammond, the chief executive of Forth Ports plc, have supported that proposal this week.

Unfortunately, when it comes to public finances more generally, party politics come to the fore. We can see that in the wording of the SNP amendment, which talks of

"the dire condition of the United Kingdom's finances due to years of Labour economic mismanagement".

As far as I can see, while believing, like us, that what is proposed by the current UK Government is going too fast and too far, the cabinet secretary has agreed with most, if not all, of the economic and financial measures that were taken by the previous Labour Government, yet we still have the party-political nonsense that is evident in the motion. [Laughter.]

The Presiding Officer:
Order.

Malcolm Chisholm (Edinburgh North and Leith) (Lab):
The second example of the Government playing party politics with the public finances is seen in the lack of leadership in the budget discussions. That leadership was called for by the Finance Committee's report in June, but most, if not all, of the recommendations of that report were simply ignored by the cabinet secretary. We did not need a full detailed budget, but there should have been an outline to kick-start debate and avoid the paralysis that we have seen over the summer and autumn months.

That evasion for party-political purposes has now been compounded by the astonishing news that we are to get a budget for only one year - news that has not just astonished but has alarmed public bodies throughout Scotland. The rhetoric is all about the defence of front-line services, but how on earth can front-line services be protected without planning on a three-year basis? Once again, supposed party-political advantage is to the fore and the sensible planning of public services is very much in the background.

When it comes to choices, there is the same conflict between rhetoric and reality. Sustainable economic growth is supposed to be the number 1 priority of the Scottish Government, but as the Finance Committee, the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee and many outside commentators have pointed out, the main areas that were cut in this year's budget were the capital and revenue areas that are usually linked to economic development. Several examples of that are referred to in the motion, but I will give a local dimension to it. Ron Hewitt, chief executive of the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, wrote to me in the late summer about the decision to remove transitional rates relief, pointing out that

"many businesses have faced rates increases of 50%, 100% and even 200% this year."

The UK Labour Government's transitional relief scheme limited annual increases to 12.5 per cent. When I took the matter up with the cabinet secretary, I received the same negative response as some of my colleagues.

It is, however, not too late for the cabinet secretary to do some good. The motion flags up the coming crisis for young people - a crisis that has already arrived for those who are not in employment, education or training. We have already seen the largest annual increase in that group since the establishment of the Scottish Parliament. That is why Labour's announcement of a Scottish future jobs fund, which would provide 10,000 jobs or training places for young people, is so important. That pledge, coupled with the commitment that we have given to the provision of apprenticeships for everyone who leaves school with the relevant qualifications, shows our determination to avoid the mistakes of the Thatcher years, when unemployment was a price worth paying and young unemployed people were a group worth ignoring.

I hope that the cabinet secretary will take up those suggestions, so that I can praise him on a future occasion, just as I did briefly at the start of my speech.
November 4th 2010 (Column 29984-6)