Training courses top for budget
Thousands of additional modern apprenticeships will be introduced this year, outdoor education will become part of the core curriculum and the first school will be built under the new Scottish Futures Trust - all fruits of the SNP Government's new pound;33 billion budget which was finally passed by parliament on Wednesday with the support of all the political parties, bar the Greens.
Ministers gave in to Labour demands to increase the number of modern apprenticeships by 7,800, which will cost an additional pound;16 million and bring the total number of new apprenticeships available this year to 18,500.
The courses will come on-stream in August, run for two to three years and be aimed at teenagers and adults. Training will focus on green jobs, the creative industries and the financial services sector.
The SNP administration refused, however, to commit itself to Labour's proposal for a similar number of new places in 2010-11, agreeing only to give it "sympathetic consideration" and to hold an "apprenticeship summit".
The summit will be chaired by Education Secretary Fiona Hyslop and will bring "all key players" together to consider how best to develop the skills and jobs needed during the economic downturn and how to improve opportunities for recovery.
Labour leader Iain Gray said: "These are tough economic times and special measures are needed. That is why Labour felt it was so important that apprenticeships for Scotland's young people should be a key part of the budget."
The Government also acceded to Conservative demands for outdoor education to be made a core part of the curriculum, rather than an extra-curricular activity.
Finance minister John Swinney refused to be drawn on how much funding would be made available or which age and stage the new programme would target. "We are working out the details," he said. "We have the resources and we will make an announcement in due course."
Liz Smith, the Conservative's education spokeswoman, claimed her party had the "full commitment" of the Government for its proposals.