Supported Employment Workplaces Scottish Parliament speech 7 October 2010

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was slightly late for the beginning of the debate.
I was delighted not to miss any speeches, other than part of the speech by my colleague Lewis Macdonald [Laughter.]
I had a good sense of what he was going to say, so it was fine.
This is an important debate but we must put it in context.
In their briefings, Leonard Cheshire Disability and others reflected that challenging the scandalous level of unemployment among people with disabilities must be about more than tackling the issue of sheltered workplaces.
I could not agree more.
There is a demonstration today in the Parliament highlighting the need to recognise the human rights of disabled people at a time when budget choices are being made.
That understanding of the broader context of the needs of disabled people has meant that we on this side of the chamber continue to press for a skills strategy that understands inequality in the workplace, the lack of opportunity for people and the challenges faced by disabled people in particular.
That is why we have been so critical of the single outcome agreement process.
I am sure that Bill Kidd will agree that the Government has persistently refused to ensure that single outcome agreements that determine spending in local authorities are equality impact assessed.
If that is not done, how can we ensure that the needs of disabled people in relation to education, employment strategies and every local authority service are being met, and that the political choices that are currently being made do not disproportionately disadvantage people with disabilities?
That is the reason for our commitment to the broader issues of disability and it is why we continue to express concern that the changed role for Scottish Enterprise means that it is not working to address the employment needs of people with disabilities in the way that it might have done in the past.
We look to Westminster with dread as we see the downgrading of a commitment to tackle inequality and the possible dismantling of the bodies that monitor progress in equality.
Not only is it possible that people will be more disadvantaged, but there will be no machinery to ensure that decisions on that are challenged.
However, the fact that we cannot do everything does not mean that we cannot do anything.
I was surprised by the defensiveness of some members in their speeches. Dr McKee, especially, seemed to expend more energy on explaining why things could not be done than on considering the positives.
That is in sharp contrast to Frank McAveety's contribution, in which he explained precisely how someone who has political power can make political choices that can make a difference.
It is disappointing that action on supported workplaces, using article 19, has not been properly recognised.
Despite what the minister said, I remain disappointed that the huge project at the Southern general has done so little. The minister says that it is a problem if we make one person het. I say to the minister that he is het.
He is the minister. He has the capacity—a capacity that some of us long for—to drive things forward.
We want the Government to lead by example.
The minister is not a dispassionate observer of what is happening at Blindcraft and how we can make a difference using article 19.
There is a huge issue about mainstreaming employment opportunities for people with disabilities.
We should challenge employers on their disgraceful record.
We owe it to people who work in sheltered workplaces not to say, "You can only go that way."
We must recognise that there is the opportunity to go either way.
I accept what Gavin Brown said about the importance of debating in measured tones.
I am a good example of how that is done.
However, I wonder whether people in the disabled community sometimes feel that our measured tones reflect complacency. No member would want that.
In the Tory amendment, Gavin Brown talks about balance and the importance of reflecting the challenges for some public bodies.
We recognise that and we would hope that the timetable would reflect the fact that some bodies will be unable to move as quickly as others.
However, that must not slow the process down; we must recognise the power of the measure.
We understand the differences among various bodies, but we expect speedy action from the minister on publishing the timetable.
We do not want Gavin Brown's amendment to be a get-out clause, but we acknowledge that in speaking he made a number of positive suggestions about subcontractors and, on that basis, we can support his amendment.
Mike Pringle talked about how difficult it is to support sheltered workplaces in tough economic times, but the reality is that when we are in tough economic times, because of what is happening at a UK level, people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable.
We must do more and not use the economic situation as an explanation for doing less.
Tackling inequality is not a task just for when the sun shines; at this time, we need even more positive action to meet the needs of disadvantaged groups.
Ian McKee made the same point.
He said that we are in tough times and so perhaps we should expect that the more vulnerable people will suffer. However, that should be not an excuse for not acting, but an imperative to act.
The implication of what Ian McKee said is that we are talking about good works, charity and doing people a favour. It is not about that; it is about allowing people a level playing field on which they can show and prove their potential. In a decent society, we owe it to people with disabilities to support them; it is not a question of our feeling good about offering them an opportunity, in the way that was suggested.

Ian McKee: The implication of what I said in my speech is that when the hard times come, there is little point in continuing to subsidise the production of something for which the market is falling. We should be devising sustainable ways of changing patterns so that the needs of the future—not of the past—are considered.

Johann Lamont: In tough times, the Government should redouble its efforts to make a difference and should use the powers that it has to do that.
I agree absolutely with Bill Kidd in commending Glasgow City Council and its work through the Commonwealth group and City Building, but we know that it did not happen by accident. It happened because active political choices were made.
We can make a difference to disabled people through the use of specific contracts and I was disturbed by the minister's blinkered view, which he has given in Parliament before, that the Scottish Government does not really need anything that sheltered workplaces make.
If there was a disabled champion in the Government, they would look at the contracts, speak to the sheltered workplaces and have a dialogue about the potential for them to meet the Scottish Government's desires.
I made a point about the concerns about the Southern general hospital, where a huge opportunity was missed.

Jim Mather: I wonder whether the member heard me talk about the Southern general in specific terms. If she did not, she can refer to the Official Report.

Johann Lamont: I listened all too carefully.
I accept that the Government has used community benefit clauses; what I am saying is that not one contract has been reserved under article 19.
A huge opportunity, which would have increased the benefits that come from the community benefit clauses, has been missed.
No one is in favour of tokenism, but if every public body in Scotland reserved one contract to a sheltered workplace, let us imagine the difference that that would make to the workplaces and what it would tell the public body about how things can be done.
It would make a seismic change that would move such contracts from tokenism to common practice.
There is a broader issue about understanding the power of the public purse to drive change and create opportunities, especially at a time of economic difficulties.
The idea that public spending is problematic is promulgated at a UK level, but we know that public investment can stimulate private sector activity.
In housing, for example, the Scottish Government rightly brought forward its budget because the private sector understood that public money could sustain jobs and skills in the short term.
It is simply not good enough for ministers—this is a feature of the SNP—to go on at length about what they care about and develop strategies and then not do the hard work of delivering on those strategies.
It is a question of tough action and getting the contracts in place.
That, rather than reflecting on the discussion and explaining how somebody else is not doing the work, is how we can make a difference.
With a budget of £8 billion, the reservation of one contract—possibly—is abject failure and it speaks of the values and priorities of the Scottish Government.
It is hardly surprising when the Government's entire mindset is to talk about the powers that the Parliament does not have.
The Government should use the powers that it has to create economic opportunity and to drive good practice into the private sector.
We will support both amendments because of the key recognition that the Government has not done enough so far and that a timetable will be produced.
This is not a question of tokenism.
The minister said that the Government does not rely on article 19 alone, but the problem is that it does not rely on it at all.
That is about its priorities.
The minister mentioned Donald Dewar.
Donald Dewar understood that we get power to make a difference to people's lives.
The Government should use the power that it has to make the difference and to support sheltered workplaces.