Iain Gray MSP, outgoing Labour leader, suggested that we needed a Minister for Youth Employment and – haud us back – Alex Salmond agrees.
Why wasn’t this outbreak of consensus front page news? See, youse can get along when you try….
It means a wee shuffle of the Ministerial pack and the Sunday Herald suggests that Angela Constance, currently Minister for Children and Young People, has been asked to move sideways, albeit to a very important brief. The paper also reckons that Aileen Campbell MSP will move from the local government portfolio to the children’s brief and that Derek MacKay MSP who is also an elected member and has been leader of the administration at Renfrewshire council will take her seat.
For a whole host of reasons, the burd hopes that very little of this is true and that the Sunday Herald is simply flying a kite.
First, Angela Constance is proving herself a force to be reckoned with. A fan of the previous incumbent Adam Ingram, I am now a signed up member of the Angela Constance fan club. With some straight-talking, she has established a clear purpose and set out on a mission. It’s all about improving the life chances of children, especially vulnerable children, in Scotland. Enough with the bits of paper, and on with the getting it done, has been a recurrent refrain. Amen to that.
She would be a big loss in what is a complex and heavy brief which has at least two big pieces of legislation coming down the line, in the Rights of Children and Young People bill and Children’s Services bill following in 2012. But her early form suggests she would be a winner in any ministerial berth, which might be why Alex Salmond has picked her out for this high profile role in youth employment.
There is no denying that it is one of, if not the, most important issue facing our economy and society right now. We have over 100,000 young people out of work and in some areas, the youth unemployment rate is running at over 30%. Establishing this post marks an acknowledgement of the scale of the problem and is a good one. But it would be a smaller portfolio than the one she currently has, with a greater chance of failure. If it were me who was offered it, I think I might be tempted to say thanks, but no thanks.
Moreover, this is the kind of ministerial gig that is ripe for a different approach. A minister from outside politics? One who is not an MSP? Do the rules or indeed, the Scotland Act say that all Ministers must be Members of the Scottish Parliament?
If so, how about this – offering it to the Opposition, or at least, setting up a cross party Ministerial task force so that all the parties play a role in trying to address this most troubling of problems. Such a move would answer the charge that the First Minister’s election victory speech on the monopoly of wisdom was little more than hot air. And working together for the common weal, to give our young people a future, a massive task that will require real energy, enthusiasm and creativity, is a worthy objective for all politicians.
Supposing Angela Constance’s shift does happen, what then of the touted incomer, Aileen Campbell? Well, she’s a bit of an unknown known. She’s not really proven herself yet – in fact, the silence on local government matters has been pretty puzzling, given that the elections are in a few months’ time. We were promised a review of the Concordat and the Single Outcome Agreements but there’s been little sign of progress in this area, publicly at least. And while there’s a lot to the local government brief, it doesn’t compare to the weight and width of the one covering children and young people.
One of the challenges in this area is the need to reform how services are delivered and to drive forward change, particularly in shifting spend into early years and into preventing issues arising in later years of children and young people’s lives. That involves negotiating a minefield of often disparate but vested interests. It also involves an attention to policy detail while having a clear eye on the long term prize.
Does Aileen Campbell MSP possess the ability and skill to address any of this? Who knows. It will be a punt, and a risky one, for a portfolio that has a big and noisy public and voluntary sector lobby, as well as the opportunity to garner headlines for all the wrong reasons
Frankly, given the First Minister’s previously two-dimensional form in this area, the burd wonders if Aileen Campbell MSP is being picked for this portfolio because she is a young mother. She has weans ergo she can be the country’s Minister for weans. Or maybe it’s just the Sunday Herald which is being lazy and mischief-making here.
Indeed, the only certainty in all this conjecture is that Derek McKay MSP has already earned a step up the ladder and his shift into a Ministerial portfolio would be a welcome one. In case the First Minister is reading this – I’m sure he does – here’s a thought. Why not just make him Minister for Youth Employment? That would be a very good move and save potential problems arising elsewhere.