It has been another busy month, combining constituency events with the quickening pace of events in the Scottish Parliament.
It was great to see the progress that is being made at Gowkthrapple’s CentrePoint, and as always a pleasure to accept their invitation – in this case, to open the new Orchard View Community Café, and to meet the winner of the competition to name the café, Helen Aston.
At Motherwell College, I made a keynote speech at an event showcasing the talents of a group of young carers. The college has been working with Action for Children to provide opportunities and encouragement for these admirable young people who may well be tomorrow’s celebrity chefs.
In parliament, the Finance Committee is tackling the budget. After weeks of calling for more detail about spending plans, we finally have a better indication of where cuts are being imposed.
In committee, I questioned the Scottish Futures Trust on the Clyde Valley High School project. I don’t believe that the Scottish Government’s Non Profit Distributing model will be any cheaper than the schemes it replaces. Firms will still make profits. If squeezed in one aspect, they will increase another.
What could save money is the very low prices in the construction industry because of the current lack of work – 20% lower than four years ago. To take advantage of that before prices go back up, the local authority which has a framework agreement already in place, needs to get contractors firmly signed up, and that is difficult when it has to make the deal through a Scottish Futures Trust Hub that won’t even exist until late 2012.
At Ministers Question Time, I attacked the cuts in college budgets. Many colleges are located in and serve students from areas of high unemployment and deprivation, where the proportion of school pupils going to university can be as low as 5%. I asked the Cabinet Secretary whether he accepted that this year’s painful 10% cut, to be followed by an excruciating 20% next year, was a particularly severe blow for such areas.
Mike Russell denied that the college cuts would hurt poorer communities more, and hid behind the excuse that the Scottish Government was impotent in the face of UK government cuts.
While it is true that the coalition are cutting budgets with excessive zeal, his response ignored the fact that he has chosen to make college cuts much deeper than other cuts, and that the Scottish Government has chosen not to raise more money to protect public services – even giving up their tax varying powers.
I am working with staff and students, and my Labour colleagues in parliament, to raise this issue, not just as an attack on education, but also as an attack on those areas where further education colleges are a vital pathway for employment and access to higher education.
The chamber also witnessed a singularly unusual event. The First Minister misled parliament – and then apologised for doing so, saying that “the responsibility for that is mine, and mine alone, which is why I apologise to the chamber for the misinformation.” I welcome this and would like to see such honesty more often.