Scotland politics

Holyrood 2016: Parties focus on closing skills gap

Apprentices Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many firms say they cannot find potential workers with the skills they need

The question of how to improve the skills of Scotland's workforce has featured heavily on the Holyrood election trail.

The Lib Dems highlighted research which suggested many employers cannot get candidates with the skills they need.

The SNP pledged to create more "high-skill" apprenticeships.

Labour called on the SNP to "come clean" over cuts to council budgets, and the Conservatives claimed a key Labour health policy was "in tatters".

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said a report from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills had stated a fifth of employers in Scotland cannot get candidates with the skills they need.

His party plans to invest extra cash in colleges as part of a plan to raise £475m a year extra funding for education by increasing income tax rate in Scotland by 1p across all bands.

Image caption Willie Rennie and Lib Dem candidate Christine Jardine served up stovies in Inverurie

Mr Rennie, who was visiting Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, argued: "The best route out of poverty is work and the best route into work is education. We know the best way to build a sustainable, vibrant economy is to deploy the talents of all our people.

"At the moment too many people are being left behind. Businesses are crying out for skilled workers but Scotland has slipped down the international education league table and 152,000 college places have been lost on the SNP's watch.

"More than 20,000 of these were places here in the north-east. Tens of thousands of people in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire are not getting the opportunities they deserve on the SNP's watch. That will not help Scotland be the best again."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon donned boxing gloves as she met sports coach Martin O"Brien during a visit to Glencassles Community Development Project in Wishaw

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon focused on the same issue when she visited communities near the Dalzell Steelwork in Motherwell, days after a deal was reached to save it and another mothballed steel plant in Clydebridge, South Lanarkshire.

Ms Sturgeon had already promised her party would up the number of apprenticeship training places from 25,000 a year to 30,000 a year by 2020 if it is re-elected on 5 May.

Now, the SNP has vowed those additional 5,000 places will be in "high-level science, technology and engineering courses that deliver the skills employers need and the high-wage jobs our young people deserve".

'Huge opportunities'

Ms Sturgeon said: "Giving our young people the skills they need to be at the cutting edge of our economy and our jobs market is vital for their future and for the future of our economy.

"That means learning from our traditional industries, expanding support for science, maths, engineering and vocational training, building greater connections between industry, schools and colleges, and ensuring our young people are able to see the huge opportunities ahead of them."

Image caption Jackie Baillie played bingo with residents at a sheltered housing complex in Dumbarton

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour said cuts to council services would have a negative impact on older people and make delivering proper social care in Scotland even more difficult.

The party said it would make "fairer choices" on tax to stop cuts to local services, and would spend the health budget more effectively, with an additional £300m for social care to guarantee a care package within a week of assessment.

'Sticking plaster'

Labour's Jackie Baillie said: "We need to end the sticking plaster approach to our NHS which sees queues at our A&E wards and only a third of our NHS staff believing there are enough of them to do their jobs properly.

"Labour would relieve the pressures on our hospitals by protecting the health budget and spending it better. That would help our health service, established in the 1940s, to meet the challenges of the 2040s. More than 270 Scots died in the last year waiting for a care package. That is simply scandalous.

"The SNP need to come clean on the impact of their cuts on our older people that may need extra care in later life. These are cuts we don't have to make. We can end austerity in Scotland by taking different, fairer decisions on tax."

Image copyright Scottish Conservatives
Image caption Jackson Carlaw claimed Labour's policy on GP appointments was in tatters

But Labour came under attack from the Conservatives over proposals unveiled by party leader Kezia Dugdale, which were widely reported as being a pledge that everyone in Scotland would be entitled to a GP appointment within 48 hours.

On its website, Scottish Labour said it would "end the SNP GP crisis and guarantee an appointment within 48 hours," with Ms Dugdale telling the party's conference: "Our plan for the NHS will guarantee an appointment at your local surgery - which you can book online if you choose - within 48 hours".

But Labour's health spokeswoman, Jenny Marra, clarified at a hustings event last week that: "There was a little bit of confusion because of the way it was reported in the press - it's not a guarantee to see a GP directly".

Instead, Ms Marra said the 48-hour commitment referred to "the most appropriate health care professional" rather than specifically to a GP.

Jackson Carlaw of the Conservatives said: "There was no doubt in anybody's mind that Labour was promising everyone access to a GP within 48 hours.

"However, under pressure at an election health hustings this was 're-profiled' by Jenny Marra as nothing more than access to a local surgery but not a guaranteed appointment with a doctor."