Scotland

Best of the rest at conference

Campaigners at the Scottish Labour conference in Oban have been warned not to underestimate the challenge of winning next May's Holyrood election.

Scottish Labour's general secretary, Colin Smyth, pledged the party's campaign in 2011 would be "better and smarter than ever before".

But he warned: "Anyone who thinks we have won already underestimates the challenge we face."

Mr Smyth said the next Holyrood election would be as close as the 2007 poll, where the SNP won just one seat more than Labour.

Andy Kerr, Labour's finance spokesman, pledged to provide 10,000 jobs or training places for young people through a new Scottish Future Jobs Fund.

He told the conference the first places would be advertised within 100 days of Labour taking office, while the scheme would receive £40m in its first year.

Mr Kerr said the number of young Scots not in work, education or training had increased from 31,000 to 36,000 in the past year.

Labour said its UK Future Jobs Fund awarded 15,400 jobs in Scotland, and argued a further 11,000 would have been delivered if the Tories had not cancelled the scheme.

Shadow work and pensions Secretary Douglas Alexander warned Scotland faced being hit hard by housing benefit changes, risking increased homelessness.

He claimed Department of Work and Pensions figures showed 40,000 people in Scotland would have their Housing Benefit cut in from next year because of a new way of calculating entitlement.

A family in a two bedroom flat in Aberdeen will lose £16 a week, Mr Alexander said, while a family in a three bedroom flat in Edinburgh will lose £19 and one living in a one bedroom flat in Glasgow will lose £7 a week, on average.

"Unemployment was the biggest Tory legacy in Scotland the last time they were in power," he said, adding: "Now they are risking homelessness."

Scottish prisoners should be forced to work harder in return for luxuries like TV, justice spokesman Richard Baker said.

The Scottish Prison Service says the policy is already in place, but Mr Baker argued too few inmates had enough work or study to do.

He said: "If you want a TV in your cell, fine, do your work. If you want to use a gym, do some study. A clear message: no perks without work."

Mr Baker also criticised Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill for being "hell-bent" on scrapping short sentences and restated Labour's call for mandatory jail sentences for knife-carriers.

Councils are the "frontline" against spending cuts and should have more powers to create jobs, Labour's local government spokesman Michael McMahon said.

He said a Scottish Labour government would be "ripping up" the concordat struck between the SNP and councils, giving authorities more freedom to spend money where they want.

"We want to make councils drivers of economic growth and regeneration," said Mr McMahon.

"Economic development is not a statutory responsibility of local authorities. We should look to change this."

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