Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Scottish Liberal Democrats win support for students - and praise from NUS - in Swinney's Budget

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have reinforced their commitment to students and young people again by gaining meaningful concessions from Finance Secretary John Swinney in the lead up to today's vote on the Scottish Budget for next year. 

Measures put into the Budget because of the Liberal Democrats include:
  • Additional funding for FE bursaries of £15 million, spread across 2010-2011-12 to provide additional  student support for current student numbers;
  • Additional funding of £8 million in 2011-12 that would support an additional 1,200 college places and associated student support;
  • 1,500 additional Modern Apprenticeships, including 500 places for the renewables sector, at a cost of £2 million;
  •  2,000 additional flexible training opportunities.
That's a lot of young people who are going to benefit. Every year in this Parliament so far, the Liberal Democrats have made students and school leavers their priority when it comes to the Budget and every year have managed to get it changed for the better.

It's particularly gratifying that the Party has won the direct praise of NUS in Scotland for its efforts, with President Liam Burns saying:

“This is great news and testament to the hard work of thousands of college students across Scotland and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Students across colleges and universities have mobilised fantastically well, with over 32,000 letters and emails sent to MSPs on this issue. To win £15m college bursaries, and £8m for college places, in a budget which is being cut is a fantastic result.  We hope this will now end the yearly ritual of college bursaries running out and end the threat of cuts to 40,000 of our poorest students.”
It's awful to think that young people going to college with plans for the future have to give up their course because the college can't afford to pay them a bursary to help with their living costs. Today's announcement means that they more of them will be able to stay on and realise their ambitions.

I'm particularly pleased to see dedicated funding for modern apprenticeships in the renewables sector. If Scotland is truly going to start creating long term, stable, skilled jobs in this area, that's vital. Tavish has been going on about the importance of colleges running courses in green technologies for ages, tackling Alex Salmond at FIrst Minister's Questions last year about issues relating to the wind technician's course at Carnegie College in Dunfermline. Here's a bit of their exchange:

Tavish Scott: Yesterday, the First Minister highlighted the importance of creating jobs in Scotland's renewable energy industry and gave a guarantee of 20,000 apprenticeships. Is the new course for wind turbine technicians at Carnegie College in Dunfermline one of those that is to be guaranteed?

The First Minister: The points are as stated: the estimate for jobs in Scotland's renewables sector is 20,000 in the fairly immediate future—some announcements coming up shortly will confirm that ambition—and the figure of 20,000 apprenticeships is, of course, also correct.

At some point, Tavish Scott will have to accept that various public bodies not only in Scotland but elsewhere are planning budget reductions. That might have something to do with the comprehensive spending review that his colleague Danny Alexander is undertaking at the present moment.

Tavish Scott: "It wasnae me" did not last long there. [Laughter.]

Tavish Scott: The German company Siemens has worked with Carnegie College to create the first-ever four-year wind energy technicians course. The company wants to triple the numbers every year and yet it is made to traipse between the Scottish Qualifications Authority, Skills Development Scotland, the responsible Government department and the Scottish funding council. On its website, the SNP says that the Government has created a "more streamlined service for the Scottish business community" and yet there is still the mess of four Government quangos and departments passing private industry from post to post. That needs to be sorted.

The First Minister needs to cut that bureaucracy. If he does not, Siemens tells me that the apprentices will be trained in Wales or Yorkshire or it will import the skills from abroad. Fife Council saved the course this year. Will the First Minister ensure ministerial time to bang heads together and get the course guaranteed for the future?

This Budget isn't perfect - but the Liberal Democrat influence has made it a whole load better. All in all, a good couple of weeks at the office for Jeremy Purvis and Tavish Scott.

I'll write more about this later - there's a young person who wants my attention at the moment, but I just wanted to dash off a quick post to tell you all the good news.

As I type, I realise Tavish Scott has sent me a punchy little e-mail about the Budget. Here are its best bits:
Today’s Scottish Budget is a major boost for students and colleges.

It has delighted the National Union of Students who have said: “The Scottish Liberal Democrats have worked very hard for students on this issue” and “This is great news”.
It will help tackle a crisis faced in Scotland’s colleges from 1st April this year. They can’t afford to wait for a new government. They need action now. As news reports in the last few days have highlighted, there are potential course closures at Elmwood, James Watt, North Highland, Dumfries & Galloway and Carnegie College and many more.

The changes we have negotiated from the Scottish Government will give thousands of students access to bursary support. That will mean they can take up their studies and find ways into work.

We have also secured funding for more than a thousand new places directly at colleges. This will help colleges who are facing severe financial pressures.

We have also secured funding for additional modern apprentices and training opportunities that rely indirectly on colleges. I raised the issue of apprenticeships in renewable energy at FMQs in the autumn. This is tackled in the Budget changes we have secured.

We are also very pleased that we have secured funding for a second year for our idea of a Post Office Diversification Fund. This benefited fifty post offices in the last year and can now benefit more this year. The fund helps post offices introduce new types of business (such as hot food or drinks). It will help them stay open, serving their communities.

1 comment:

Braveheart said...


Whistling in the wind. Students will never trust the LibDems ever again.

Did you watch the snippet on BBC 6 o'clock news?

The kids tore up Nick for arse-paper. I've never seen a more forlorn politician....


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