SCOTTISH Labour leader Richard Leonard has come under fire after he attacked the Scottish Government over zero-hours contracts.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice) showed that while the total number of people on zero-hours contracts in Scotland dropped to two per cent, the number of young people employed on such contracts rose to eight per cent – or one in 12.

Leonard seized on the figures to demand the Scottish Government to “drive up” working conditions.

However, a spokesman for Economy Secretary Keith Brown said Leonard was guilty of “another embarrassing boomerang attack”, given the overall percentage of people on zero-hours contracts is lower in Scotland than in “Labour-run Wales and Tory-run England”.

The Spice figures, which cover the period October to December 2017, showed 71,000 people – including 26,000 under-25s – were on zero-hours contracts, without guaranteed hours or income as a result.

Labour said the real total could be higher as the figure was based on self-reporting and would only cover those who are aware of what type of contract they have.

“Our economy isn’t working for young people, who find themselves more likely to be stuck in insecure, low-paid work,” Leonard said.

“A UK Labour government would ban zero-hours contracts – but there are important steps that could be taken in Scotland right now.”

Leonard demanded public contracts should not be awarded to companies who employ staff on a zero-hours basis. “The SNP Government should remove zero-hours jobs as a ‘positive destination’ in its surveys of school leavers, even if it makes it more difficult to spin the numbers,” he said: “An insecure contract is not a positive destination for our young people.

“Crucially, we need to end the taxpayer-funded exploitation of workers on public contracts. The Scottish Government spends £11 billion on public procurement every year supporting thousands of jobs – this money should not be going to companies who use zero-hours contracts.

“This is the people of Scotland’s money – we should be laying down the rules and using it to drive up working conditions.”

Brown’s spokesman said: “This is yet another embarrassing boomerang attack from Labour, which only points out the progress Scotland is making under the SNP against the much poorer performance of Labour-run Wales and Tory-run England.”

The spokesman added: “No-one should ever have to take a zero-hours contract and, as a result of the SNP’s work in government, the number of people on zero hours contracts in Scotland is lower than in Tory-run England or Labour-run Wales where three per cent of contracts are zero hours, compared to only 2.7 per cent in Scotland.

“In fact the estimated number of people employed on a zero-hours contract in Scotland fell by 6000 last year and is falling faster than in the rest of the UK. Our work to support young people in the labour market, prepare them for work and equip them with the skills the economy needs has also led to a 40 per cent reduction in youth unemployment four years ahead of schedule.”

Responding to a freedom of information request last year, the Scottish Government said none of its staff or those employed through its agencies were on zero-hours contracts, al though it could not supply information regarding outside organisations.

In recent weeks Nicola Sturgeon and Leonard have been at loggerheads at First Minister’s Questions over employment issues, with the former urging the latter to back employment law being devolved to Holyrood allowing tougher action to be taken. Labour is opposed to the move.