Leaders: Olympic bounce produces no winners in Scotland
AMID the endless stream of economic statistics – which are often hard for the layman and laywoman to understand or get excited about – there are two that tend to attract more attention than others.
What matters most to people is job security and the cost of living, so the numbers that catch their eye tend to be about unemployment and inflation.
By that measure, yesterday was not a very encouraging day on the economic front. New numbers on unemployment in Scotland showed a rise of 4,000 between July and September to a total 218,000. The Scottish unemployment rate is now 8.1 per cent, compared to the UK-wide average of 7.8 per cent. The numbers of those in employment in Scotland fell, while in the UK as a whole they rose.
Adding to the bad news, figures from the Bank of England indicated that inflation remains unexpectedly high, adding to the average family’s difficulties in making ends meet. The Bank’s governor, Sir Mervyn King, grimly warned that he was cutting his growth forecast to 1 per cent a year, adding that the recovery would be “slow and protracted”.
We have long since stopped looking to Sir Mervyn for a happy smile or a cheery soundbite. But yesterday’s pronouncements made it quite clear the economic situation across Britain is not going to improve any time soon, and that we can anticipate no significant recovery in our fortunes for a number of years.
What should concern us in Scotland in the clear difference in economic performance north and south of the Border. There has been much discussion about the economic benefits of the London Olympics in the south-east of England, but can this really fully explain such a marked differential? The next three months’ figures will be the definitive test of whether yesterday’s encouraging news for England is just a blip. Until then we should not be so easily reassured.
Even if you disregard the north-south comparison for a moment and just look at Scotland’s economy in isolation, there is cause enough for concern. Scotland’s unemployment rate of 8.1 per cent masks a much more serious jobless problem among young people, and the employment picture in some pockets of Scotland is now reminiscent of the worst era of Thatcherism.
First Minister Alex Salmond was quite right yesterday when he called on the Treasury to act on a “flatlining” economy, and not use the Olympic bounce as an excuse for inaction. The Scottish Government, like the Labour party at Westminster, make a compelling and convincing case for new stimulus in the economy to kickstart growth.
But Mr Salmond’s critics here in Scotland also have a point when they argue that there should be no complacency north of the Border either, and that any structural problems in the Scottish economy need to acknowledged by Scottish ministers, and addressed.
College of hard knocks
THE resignation of Kirk Ramsay as chairman of Stow College was perhaps inevitable after Michael Russell, Cabinet secretary for education, so publicly declared the college leader had lost the minister’s confidence. Inevitable, perhaps, but still regrettable.
Mr Ramsay’s offence – in the minister’s eyes at least – was to make a recording of Mr Russell addressing a large meeting of officials from Scotland’s college sector, as they discussed future strategy. Mr Ramsay then circulated the recording to colleagues.
This was not some secret or confidential meeting between two or three officials – it was a discussion among a group of 80 people, intended to broadcast the minister’s thinking on the way ahead for the sector.
Can there really be a grave distinction between Mr Ramsay’s recording of the proceedings and a minuted note of the meeting? Would not such a recording provide an accurate reflection of the minister’s views?
Opposition MSPs are now calling for a parliamentary committee inquiry into Mr Russell’s conduct, which seems a reasonable request given the extraordinary circumstances of this affair, and the background of a funding crisis in the college sector.
Mr Russell has overstepped the mark, and damaged his reputation. Not only that, he has invited criticism of his ministerial style of working, which might kindly be described as robust. He has handed his opponents the opportunity to describe his behaviour as indicative of a “culture of secrecy, bullying and intimidation”.
Scotland’s colleges, and the
attitude of the minister overseeing them, are a fitting subject for parliamentary scrutiny.
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