As the Shadow Minister for Further and Higher Education, Youth Employment and Training, well-funded support for young people to receive a world leading education is of paramount importance to me.
Building skills is vital for both helping young people to improve their prospects, and to support and respond to the workforce needs of businesses and recruiters.
Unfortunately, however, skills and education are an afterthought for this SNP Scottish Government.
I, and colleges across Scotland, are extremely concerned that the SNP Government are choosing to cut college funding for 2022-23 by £51.9m.
This decision is a significant blow to these institutions, which act as a crucial gateway for people into the world of work - especially those from the most-deprived areas.
In 2020-21 one fifth of 18-19-year olds attended college on a full-time basis, this is an increase of 20.9% from the prior year, which shows the high demand for college learning that our recovery from the Covid pandemic has created.
Ken Milroy, Chair of Colleges Scotland, has also raised concerns about this loss of funding, and has warned that underfunding will have significant consequences, such as a freeze on recruitment and an increase in class sizes.
We should be in no doubt – these cuts will mean more learners denied the opportunity to gain the skills they need in this rapidly changing job market.
Sadly, I am not shocked by this decision to cut funding, given the general lack of investment in jobs and skills by this SNP Government.
The pandemic has shone a light on the already damning skills shortage experienced by local businesses, due to the lack of capacity and funding to oversee training and apprenticeships.
And even before the pandemic, Scottish companies were having to pay on average £17,028 to temporary staff and recruitment companies, with two-thirds of companies struggling to find employees that possess the required skills. A further 74% were anticipating a need to upskill their current staff within the next year.
The Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, states that the SNP will, and I quote “create the industries of the future” but at this stage this is clearly nothing more than a pipe dream with no real policy behind it.
Going forward, it is clear that this SNP Government will continue to bulldoze Scottish education with cuts, whilst simultaneously squandering money on vanity projects and their independence agenda.
At the heart of all this, there are young people in Scotland being mistreated by a Scottish Government whose focus on independence is compromising the education and skills development of Scotland’s next generation.
Unless this changes, Scotland risks falling behind. We cannot risk a future skills crisis. Real action on this issue is needed, and it is needed now.