JIM Murphy made an audacious policy pitch to young voters and their parents yesterday with a pledge to give all 18- and 19-year-olds who go straight into the jobs market from school a payment of £1,600 to help forge their careers.
In his first speech to a Scottish Labour conference as leader, Murphy announced his plan to establish a fund that will pay out the money – the equivalent of a year’s average spend on a university course – that could be used to help a young person get ahead. They could spend it on anything that would help progress their career, such as buying tools, paying for driving lessons or helping with business start-up costs.
Murphy told the party’s one-day pre-election gathering in Edinburgh that the radical proposal would help “redress the balance” for young people who do not go on to higher or further education. His pledge for a £1,600 Future Fund for 18- and 19-year-olds not at university, college or in a modern apprenticeship, was delivered alongside plans to reverse cuts to bursaries.
He said he would increase bursaries for the poorest students by £1,000, signalling Labour’s intention to target young voters who make up a key battleground in May’s election.
The plan was unveiled as Murphy prepares to go on an economic offensive against the SNP, with the publication this week of the Scottish Government’s annual balance sheet which is expected to show an £8 billion hole in Scotland’s finances.
Labour expects the Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) figures to be a dramatic illustration of the volatility of oil revenues, allowing Murphy to characterise the SNP’s plans for full fiscal autonomy as “austerity-max” and argue that any proposal that involves scrapping the Barnett Formula would be economic madness.
Yesterday Murphy said the Future Fund would be paid for through an extra £200 million coming to Scotland in Barnett consequentials due to changes in tax relief on pensions for those earning over £150,000, which a Labour government would make at Westminster.
The Scottish Labour leader made the pitch aimed at young Scots from deprived backgrounds and their parents to help them “fulfil their hopes and dreams”, as the party continues to lag well behind the SNP in the opinion polls.
Murphy said those who do not go on to further studies after school should benefit by up to £1,600, a policy understood to be aimed at working class voters who might be tempted to vote for the SNP on 7 May.
Under the scheme, young people would have to identify a career development opportunity, with the cash then transferred to the organisation delivering the training or goods.
Murphy said: “What about those who don’t go to university? We have always said that the opportunities enjoyed by those who get to university shouldn’t come at the expense of those who don’t.
“In higher education in Scotland a young person gets an average of £1,600 spent on their fees. But what of those thousands who don’t go to university, or who don’t gain similar investment from the nation through college or an apprenticeship.
“They shouldn’t get left behind. [They should get] the same support from the state to fulfil their potential. Their hopes and dreams.
“We want to redress the balance to help those young people destined to enter the world of work straight from school.
“As I’ve said, the average spend is £1,600 so I pledge to young people today that every one of these 18 and 19-year-olds will get a Future Fund, the equivalent of a year’s average HE spend, invested in their future. Money they can invest in training, on setting up a business, buying work tools or spend on whatever they need to get on in life.”
Murphy said this would “act as a powerful incentive to employers to take on young people who come with £1,600 of training support attached to them”.
The Scottish Labour leader, whose family moved to South Africa when he was a child, also announced a plan to create a new scholarship for students from sub-Saharan Africa to come and study in Scotland, in honour of Nelson Mandela.
He warned that Scotland could “become the error in David Cameron’s margin” as he used the speech to intensify the party’s warning that a vote for the SNP in May could hand victory to the Conservatives.
Murphy failed to rule out a pact with the SNP in the event of a hung parliament, but stated that a vote for Nicola Sturgeon’s party could “inflict another Tory government on Britain in May”.
Last night Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson hit out at Murphy for failing to rule out the prospect of a post-election deal with the SNP.
Davidson said: “To simply ignore this key question as they have done at this conference betrays Labour’s arrogance and also their weakness. Ed Miliband knows he can’t win a majority without his Scottish MPs and will instead have to rely on SNP MPs to prop him up as prime minister.”
SNP deputy leader Stewart Hosie said: “The people of Scotland can vote for SNP MPs in May to get rid of the Tories and have a powerful voice for Scotland at Westminster – a voice which will deliver the promises made to the people of Scotland, to move away from austerity economics, and stop the waste of tens of billions of pounds on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.”
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