Monday, June 11, 2012

Willie Rennie: We need Scottish Water funds now

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie has asked John Swinney to pick up the phone and talk to Danny Alexander about releasing funds in Scottish Water to create jobs and investment in Scotland.

In the 2011 Holyrood election, Jeremy Purvis came up with the original and radical idea of turning Scottish Water into a Public Benefit Corporation, releasing a one off windfall of somewhere around £1.5 billion. This would be a real boost to the Scottish economy at a time when it is really needed and could create 100,000 jobs.

Liberal Democrats would spend the money on:

£500 million to support Scottish business that grow and create jobs
• £250 million to install super-fast broadband in every part of our country
• £250 million to support science and technology research in Scotland’s universities
• £250 million for an Early Intervention Revolution to transform the lives of young people
• £250 million to transform public sector energy efficiency, micro-generation and reduce household bills through    energy efficiency

If we're looking at early intervention, we should look at a pupil premium - just look at the difference it's making down south. This is a policy Nick Clegg has championed and it's making a real difference as he said last month.

The odds can be beaten. It’s happening right here – New North Academy – where you’re working hard to close the gap and seeing real progress. It’s happening in great schools up and down the country. There are now 440 secondary schools – one in five - where disadvantaged pupils are doing better in their GCSEs than the national average for all children. A new generation of high poverty, high performance schools – with high expectations to match. Yes, they are in the minority, but a minority that proves the power of ambition, leadership, great teachers: a ‘sky’s the limit’ approach.
And that is what the Pupil Premium is for: to equip every school to support pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds, to help us build a more socially mobile Britain where ability trumps privilege, where effort trumps connections, where sharp elbows don’t automatically get you to the front.
It’s not the only tool in the Coalition’s box. We’re intervening at every stage of a child’s educational journey, from when they’re very young - for example, increasing early years education for two year olds in households feeling the squeeze as well as increasing it for all 3 and 4 year olds – to when they make the transition to adulthood, opening up internships and work experience placements. Giving employers cash bonuses to take on the young and unemployed. Providing disadvantaged university students with more financial support than before. Ensuring – through our income tax changes – that when you start your working life you keep more of the money you earn.
But, for me, the Pupil Premium remains the most important lever we have - and it’s in your hands.

You can read whole speech here. For me, it's a policy that sums up what Liberal Democrats are about - breaking down barriers and giving people the flexibility to decide how they do it, what works best for them. That's why some schools are spending the extra money on Summer schools, others on more classroom assistants and all sorts of innovative plans that work for their children.

But anyway, back to Scottish Water. The SNP, having dissed the idea last year, are now saying that it could happen - but only after independence. If it's a good idea, it's a good idea and we don't need to hang around for four years. Why not try to implement it now? Willie Rennie is a bright boy. He's hardly going to suggest John Swinney talks to Danny if he thought Danny would knock him back. He must think there's a realistic prospect of the Treasury agreeing to the plan.

If Swinney doesn't try to make it happen, it looks very much like he's storing it up to use as a bribe in the independence campaign. I actually think he's better than that. It would astonish me if he put narrow party interest above genuinely exploring a sensible idea. Mind you, he's constructing a tax quango now rather than coming up with innovative ideas for use of the new powers the Scotland Act gives. 

The SNP needs to govern for the needs of Scotland in the here and now. People need houses, jobs, a decent education, social care, good health care now. Everything the SNP does seems to be woven round independence which may well not even happen. 

Willie Rennie said pursuing the Scottish Water plan now was a "no brainer":
Unlocking the money in Scottish Water to re-invest in job creating projects is a no brainer.
We need this investment now to create 100,000 new jobs in broadband, science, energy efficiency and more but the SNP government seem content to sit on their hands and do nothing.
There appears to be no longer any objection in principle to reforming Scottish Water by the SNP. They have dropped their wild and inaccurate rhetoric that this would be ‘privatisation’ that we heard during last year’s election. People will ask one simply question, why wait?
The suspicion is that the SNP want to hold this money in reserve as an independence bribe, putting party politics above national interest.
I want Scotland to be able to invest this money now. CBI Scotland and the Institute of Directors want Scotland to be able to free up these funds. Danny Alexander is ready and willing to listen to any approach the SNP government makes.
John Swinney should pick up the phone and work with the Coalition Government to deliver this investment for Scotland.

So, Mr Swinney, please go talk to Danny. Today. Thanks very much.

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