Plans to devolve support for Scotland’s unemployed people have collapsed, leaving the Smith Agreement on more powers for Holyrood in tatters, according to the head of Scotland's charities' body. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), says that an expected £100 million employability budget will be cut to just £7m by 2017, when it is devolved.
Martin Sime, SCVO Chief Executive, warns that employability is "a bad deal gone sour" after the UK slashed funding. Help for people to find work is to be devolved according to the Smith Commission. The settlement gave Scottish ministers responsibility for employability services and support. However, the recent UK Government spending review included a huge cut in the amount Holyrood will receive. Mr Sime said the plan to transfer responsibility for employability support to the Scottish Parliament had been "dealt a mortal blow."
He said that in combination with Westminster's determination to maintain the widely criticised sanctions regime for those deemed in breach of job-seeking agreements, the diminished budget fatally undermines the ability of Scotland to do things differently.
"The UK Government will continue to hold all the cards. Its punitive approach will continue to damage some of our most vulnerable citizens. In short, the employability deal brokered by the Smith Commission looks to have collapsed!
"The UK Government's flagship work programme was failing and is deeply unpopular in Scotland, not least because it was run by private sector behemoths trying to make profits of the backs of the unemployed. The not too difficult challenge was to design something better... much good work was underway. However, without anything like enough funding, it will be impossible for a new Scottish offer for unemployed people to become a reality."
In anticipation of greater powers to help the unemployed find and keep work, the SNP Government has already consulted on what an alternative to the UK's controversial Work Programme might look like. Charities have been among those engaged in discussions about how the system could be simplified and made more efficient whilst maintaining the dignity of unemployed people. They also want a more holistic approach to tackling the barriers keeping them from employment.
A community jobs scheme run by charities has also boasted success rates at least on a par with the companies signed up to deliver the UK Government's Work Programme.
John Downie, SCVO’s Head of Policy added:
"As well as flying in the face of the Smith agreement, the Chancellor's behaviour is a clear breach of the no detriment principle. What the people in Scotland are now left with is beyond insulting. The SNP Government should refuse to sign up to the fiscal framework until Scotland's citizens get what they were promised in good faith under the Smith Commission."
Local MSP Kenneth Gibson said:
“This is a devastating blow, entirely against the Smith Commission recommendations.
“Just as Scotland gains more powers to better support people into work, we now face the challenge of dealing with a threat to our ability to deliver services that are fit for a fair and modern Scotland.
“The Tories want to be seen to devolve powers to Scotland whilst crippling our ability to make those powers work. With such underhand and duplicitous actions they should hang their heads in shame and embarrassment. Better still, they should restore these appalling cuts!”