HAPLESS Labour chief Richard Leonard seemed to get confused with the whole devolved-reserved thing at First Minister’s Questions today, when he attacked the Scottish Government for a decision taken by a UK Government body.

The left-winger accused Nicola Sturgeon of letting her administration “underwrite” the exploitation of workers on the platform extension at Edinburgh Waverley.

But the project is operated by Network Rail, a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK Government.

“Workers at the Waverly extension project, just half a mile from the Parliament, have also been charged just to get their wages,” he told the SNP leader, asking her: “Isn’t the case you’ve got no idea how widespread this practice is on the public projects you fund?”

Sturgeon shot back: “This is a Network Rail contact, the Scottish Government has no involvement in the award of Network Rail contracts. Network Rail, despite the fact that we fund them, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK Government and remains accountable to the UK Government.

“But in the spirit of consensus, let me say to Richard Leonard, if he wants to join with me right now and ask, as we have many times in the past, for responsibility for Network Rail to be devolved to this Parliament and this government, then we will make common cause on that issue.”

Network Rail originally handed the £23m contract for the train station work to construction firm Carillion.

The company were forced into liquidation in January this year, leaving staff in limbo.

Workers there had been forced to use umbrella firms to process wages, meaning they were effectively classed as self-employed. While that meant they pay less tax, they don’t have benefits like pensions, holiday pay, and often have to pay for the privilege.

Leonard told the First Minister that this was “taxpayers' money exploiting workers through unethical business practices".

“And you can do something about it,” he added. “Because Carillion is gone, a new contractor is taking this work over in a matter of days, meanwhile the workers in this project have been left in limbo, and they deserve some reassurance today.

“This Parliament and your government should never underwrite the immoral exploitation of working people.”

He asked the SNP leader to commit to work with the union to protect the workforce and to ensure that no worker on Scottish Government-funded contracts would be charged “to simply receive their wages".

An exasperated Sturgeon told MSPs: “I think I’m, speaking in English, I think most people listening to me would understand what I’m saying, but Richard Leonard doesn’t appear to.”

She went on: “We do expect those who deliver public contracts to adopt ethical and fair business practices, and that is despite employment law being reserved.

“Richard Leonard doesn’t like this, but it is a fact, we use all powers at our disposal to encourage ethical business practices and drive inclusive growth.”

On Network Rail, she added: “Yes, we fund the contract but we do not have control over the awarding of that contract, in case Richard Leonard didn’t hear it the first time, Network Rail is a wholly owned subsidiary of the UK Government.”

“We can fix this,” Sturgeon said. “But it would involve Richard Leonard doing more than willing the end of something, he has to will the means as well."

The Waverley project will see a number of existing platforms extended to accommodate a new generation of longer electric trains on the Edinburgh to Glasgow route and the East Coast mainline.

The work, which was due to be completed by December last year, requires repositioning of escalators, demolition of some buildings and a new piece of crossover train track.