I gave a presentation on the public finances to our Young Members Committee today. The election campaign is beginning to clarify the impact of Tory cuts on Scotland with the announcement that they would be looking for £5.1bn of cuts (that's around 15%) to the Scottish budget. That is far higher than the estimated £3bn in the mainstream post-UK Budget estimates.
At least not all business organisations have lost the plot on public spending. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce have highlighted the importance of public spending to the economy, particularly on infrastructure contracts. A point reinforced by the construction industry. However, we have the completely daft Institute of Directors calling for savage cuts in public spending, whilst at the same time demanding more public infrastructure spending!
The overall financial position is of course the same for all age groups, but there are particular concerns for young people.
Youth unemployment has gone up by 89% over the past few years. Although the rate of job loss came down rapidly last year to 17%, that still leaves a large group of young people without jobs. Of particular concern to UNISON is the impact on young people who have been studying for an entry qualification for a public service job. Most public service organisations are freezing posts and that hits new entrants particularly hard.
Last year there was a welcome increase in Scottish Government funding for apprenticeships creating 20,000 jobs. This year that is likely to be cut to 15,000. Another way of increasing the numbers of apprentices would be to specify a requirement for apprentice numbers in public contracts. This could be particularly effective in big public construction contracts.
We are also concerned that young people could be badly hit by local government service cuts. For example, Community Education, including youth work, is being targeted for cuts as are libraries and some social work intervention services.
On a more positive note UNISON membership amongst young people has been increasing proportionately quicker that other age groups. We have a great group of young activists who understand the issues and have a real appetite for campaigning. This is really good news for the future of the movement.