Scottish Budget, speech in the Scottish Parliament 04/02/2009

The budget process is always difficult, and it is self-evidently more difficult for Opposition members because the budget bill can never be a neutral document.

The budget reflects the priorities of the Scottish National Party; it is not a Labour budget, so it is our responsibility to try to influence and shape it.

That is an understandable part of the process—our role throughout the process has been to seek to influence and shape the budget in the direction of the commitments that Labour would have made and the strategy that we would have had.

Nevertheless, the budget bill that we are debating is not the one that we would have introduced.

There is frustration that the budget process has been characterised in commentaries as being about playing games.

The sense that horse trading and game playing were going on was reinforced by decisions that the cabinet secretary made, such as his singling out of Edinburgh instead of addressing the needs of all our cities.

There is recognition that problems have been caused by the presentation of decisions and by the pretence that there was no serious negotiation by Labour before last week's vote, which is simply not true.

The process was too much about the arithmetic in the Parliament and not enough about genuinely reaching out to members to find ways of improving the budget.

There has also been frustration about the pretence that, in seeking to support proposals that would improve the budget, we somehow supported the whole budget.

It is dishonest to suggest that members who sought to persuade the cabinet secretary of the strength of a particular approach had a reckless disregard for the impact on local communities.

That is simply not true—what is happening in our communities has driven and motivated serious negotiation on the part of the Labour Party.

We focused on key issues and we sought to support families and communities who are facing the current economic challenge, so we welcome the announcement of what we sought: a secure guarantee to people who are currently in apprenticeship placements.

As a consequence, many young people and their families can have certainty when before there was a great deal of uncertainty.

For that alone, today will have been a good day at the office.

We urged the Government to understand the critical role of Government intervention and action that goes beyond simple assertion.

We recognised the importance of supporting people who face unemployment and transition to other jobs.

We sought significant increases in the number of apprenticeships because we know our history and we remember what happened when Government took a laissez-faire approach and abandoned young people and families to the scourge of unemployment.

We recognised the opportunity that apprenticeships would provide for training and planning for the future.

The change that we secured in the Scottish budget is a Labour dividend for families; at last there is a firm commitment on apprenticeships.

Critical issues will come into play in the delivery of that commitment.

In the past, I have raised significant issues about the importance of equality proofing and anti-poverty proofing the budget and the role of equality impact assessments.

I remain concerned that, although the budget allocates moneys, it does not do the hard job of ensuring that we meet the diversity of need in our communities.

We can have no confidence that there is any understanding of how people experience disadvantage and discrimination if the budget process does not explicitly set out how such an understanding is arrived at.

Single outcome agreements play a critical part in addressing need locally, and the social inclusion budget has been entirely devolved to local government.

Stewart Maxwell has said that equality impact assessments should be done but that if they are not done it is for the Equality and Human Rights Commission to investigate.

Such a process would take a long time, and there is a simpler solution, which I urge ministers to accept: if they think that equality impact assessment of single outcome agreements should be undertaken because of how such agreements affect communities, they should say that an agreement will not be accepted without evidence that an equality impact assessment has been done.

It is as simple as that.

I want to ensure that the shift in the budget addresses need.

The cabinet secretary has considered Labour's case for modern apprenticeships, and I urge him to apply an equalities approach, too.

It is not enough to assert that Government policy inevitably helps disadvantaged people.

It has been claimed that free school meals, free prescriptions and the council tax freeze benefit the poor, but in a written answer to a parliamentary question the Government confirmed that there is no evidence of such benefit.

We need evidence, so that we can ensure that what we do makes a difference.

As part of the summit on apprenticeships, the cabinet secretary must commit to addressing structural employment issues such as segregation, which reinforces the position of women.

If apprenticeships are segregated, it is inevitable that women's experience of low pay will continue.

We must consider the sectors in which apprenticeships are offered.

Are we improving the care sector, in which there are many women workers?

We must address that issue.

We have to consider what we say to employers.

I was told today that an apprentice hairdresser earns £60 a week for a 45-hour week.

That is unacceptable and would not happen in England.

I urge the cabinet secretary to ensure that the summit on apprenticeships addresses that.

An understanding of those issues is critical to driving social inclusion.

How much of the town centre regeneration money will go to our most-deprived communities?

How will PACE meet the needs of people with disabilities, who are more disadvantaged in the employment market?

We need to understand that equality is not a bonus but at the core of spending decisions and policy documents.

Otherwise, the budget decisions that we make today will reinforce inequality rather than challenge it.

I welcome the shift that the cabinet secretary has made, but I urge him to ensure that, when he allocates funds for his commitments, he considers how his allocation meets the needs of particular groups in our communities.

That is central to our approach, and I look forward to him acknowledging that in his closing speech.