HC Deb 06 April 1984 vol 57 cc1328-34

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Garel-Jones.]

2.32 pm
Mr. Alfred Dubs (Battersea)

The subject of this debate is the proposed cuts in mode B1 places on the youth training scheme which was established by the Manpower Services Commission in September 1983 as a successor to the youth opportunities programme.

The scheme offers a 12-month programme of training, work experience and education to all 16-year-old school leavers, whether employed or unemployed, and unemployed 17-year-old school leavers. By the end of December 1983, some 440,000 training places had been approved, a further 9,300 were firmly anticipated and more than 250,000 young people were in YTS training.

There are two types of funding under the scheme—mode A and mode B. Mode A is provided by employers who receive a grant for each trainee. Under mode B, the MSC makes grants available to sponsoring organisations that run schemes such as community projects, training workshops and work skills courses which offer places to unemployed trainees. Mode B is subdivided into mode B1 and mode B2. Mode B1 covers community projects, training workshops and information technology centres, and is the main subject of this debate. The mode B2 schemes are provided by colleges.

Of the young people in training at the end of December 1983, 71 per cent. were in mode A training, 21 per cent. were in mode B1 training and 27 per cent. in mode B2 training. The total number of entrants, which is not the same as those in training, into the YTS by the end of January was 325,000, compared with 284,000 at the end of November and 304,000 at the end of December. There were about 20,000 entrants to the scheme during December and a similar number during January. Therefore, it is misleading for the Government to quote occupancy figures for the end of December as if this represented a static demand, when demand has rapidly been increasing month by month.

The real bombshell came last December when, after only four months of the mode B1 scheme operating, the Secretary of State for Employment announced that he intended to reduce figures substantially from the 89,000 mode B1 places that had been approved. After some discussion and toing and froing, the Secretary of State eventually settled for a reduction to 70,000, a loss of 19,000 places, although he had earlier attempted to reduce the figures to 60,000. It is the difference between the 89,000 and the 70,000 that is partly the subject of the debate.

I have two concerns. One is about the effect of the overall reduction in the scheme, and in the mode B1 places nationally, and the other is about the effect of these reductions in the Wandsworth area. However, I shall first meet the charge that the reason why mode A seems preferable to the Government in comparison with mode B1 is that, the Government say, mode B1 is more expensive. On examination, this is not borne out by the facts. It is not true if the comparison is the cost of training an unemployed trainee in the two modes.

If, under mode A, an employer takes on three unemployed people for every two trainees that he would normally employ, he will receieve five times £1,950— or £9,750 — as support, and this is the so-called additionality rule. As only three of the trainees are unemployed, the comparative cost is £3,250 per unemployed trainee taken on under the scheme. For budget purposes, the cost of the mode B training is usually given as £3,500, so there is little difference in cost. If the Government are using that as an argument, I suggest that they should not do so, although they may wish to suggest a different reason.

The effect of the Government's reductions has been widespread. The mode B1 scheme is run by local authorities, voluntary organisations, of which community service volunteers are a part, and of which the Young Men's Christian Association and the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders are among the largest. I have had representations from a whole range of organisations that are concerned about the effect of the scheme. I shall illustrate this by giving a few examples, but I could take up all the time available to me with the many examples.

Community service volunteers in 10 YTS schemes are being asked to take cuts averaging 23 per cent. in numbers. For example the Strathclyde scheme is to be cut from 165 to 120 trainees, and there is to be a 33 per cent. cut in south London. The YMCA is particularly upset that its "training for life" scheme is to be cut by 773 places. That cut affects schemes that it has all over the country. Youth Aid has also complained about the cuts in its schemes. For example, it has a scheme in Doncaster with 125 trainees which is fully occupied with a waiting list and is facing complete closure.

The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

Did the hon. Gentleman say "Youth Aid"?

Mr. Dubs

Youth Aid informed me that a project called Metro Action in Doncaster had that number of trainees, and faced closure by the end of March.

There is also a threat to the Brixton Young Family Housing Aid Association. There is such a scheme in a disadvantaged area of Lambeth, and cuts are being made. The project caters entirely for black people. It is run by a black community organisation. A scheme in Skelmersdale new town called Tomorrow's People Today also faces cuts.

NACRO has been particularly hard hit. Its schemes cater for offenders and people who are particularly disadvantaged. Those schemes have been successful. It has a scheme in Lewisham, which faces closure. There are schemes in north-east London that face significant cuts. There is a scheme in Durham, where a cut from 90 to 30 places is proposed. There are schemes in Pontefract, Wakefield, Lambeth, Gwent, Haringey and Hull.

In all those areas, those schemes provide places for some of the most vulnerable people in society. Their record is that a significant number of people on them are rehabilitated from having been offenders, get jobs and go straight. If the cuts mean that the individuals who are now on schemes will no longer be able to stay on them and similar people will no longer get places, we shall be transforming a saving from one Department into a major increase in expenditure in the Home Office's law and order budget. It costs a great deal more to keep a young offender in custody than to keep him on such a scheme. The cost to society is immeasurably greater. That is a short-sighted attitude by the Government

Mr. Martin Stevens (Fulham)

I am sorry that I was not here at the beginning of the debate. If, as I suspect my hon. Friend the Minister will say, the reduction in places for mode B youth training scheme operations is designed not to save money but to reflect the anticipated fall in demand, does the hon. Gentleman agree that it would be reasonable to apply some flexibility, so that when in his case and my case in Fulham the demand is manifestly there we would not have to cut?

Mr. Dubs

That is the Government's other argument. With regard to the national cuts, the difficulty is that the mode B1 scheme has existed for only a short time. There are some unoccupied places on the schemes, but bearing in mind the nature of the schemes, the nature of the people and the increase in numbers coming on to the schemes, it is short-sighted to say that, because certain schemes do not have full occupancy by a certain date, they should be cut.

I shall give some examples from Wandsworth. A week and a half ago I took part in the deputation to the Minister that included Wandsworth councillors. The concerns in Wandsworth go right across the political spectrum. The deputation included the deputy leader of the council, Councillor Heaster, as well as all three Members of Parliament of both parties representing constituencies in Wandsworth. Although that deputation would not agree with my criticisms of the national cuts, those on it are particularly concerned about their effect on Wandsworth.

Wandsworth has a number of successful mode B1 schemes. They are successful because of the way they operate now and because they got off the ground more rapidly than schemes in many other parts of the country. I have many disagreements with the council on a range of political issues, but in this case it backed those schemes whole-heartedly. Its expenditure this year is planned to be over £400,000 on the schemes. Some of them employ a very large number of young blacks and altogether, by any standards, the schemes have been particularly successful.

Under the Manpower Services Commission's plans to implement the Government's cuts, it is now proposed that, instead of a national average cut of about 20 per cent., the cut in several places in Wandsworth should be 45.8 per cent. That is a very savage cut.

It is proposed that there should be a cut in the Wandsworth Spectrum, a NACRO scheme, from 65 to 45 places. Wandsworth council has a playleaders scheme and the MSC proposes that it should be closed altogether. In my constituency, at the St. Ann's training workshop, it is proposed that the 60 places should be taken away and that the whole scheme should be closed. That scheme is fully supported by Wandsworth council. The training workshop in Tooting will stay, but at the training workshop in Putney it is proposed that there should be a reduction in places from 40 to 30. Of course, there are some levels of under-occupancy on the schemes, as there are on all schemes, but they are very slight. In the case of the Wandsworth Spectrum, the NACRO scheme, there were difficulties in getting staff, and that resulted in some shortage of numbers but, nevertheless, by all standards the schemes are judged to be particularly successful.

In London south-west area, mode A occupancy is 40 per cent., mode B1 occupancy is 59 per cent., and mode B2 is 58 per cent. Judged by those standards, the schemes in Wandsworth are particularly successful, are doing well and should not be cut.

Currently in Wandsworth 1,202 young people are registered as unemployed at careers offices, in addition to the estimated 1,400 school and college leavers in 1984 eligible for youth training schemes. Unfortunately, many of the existing places will not be immediately available for 1984 leavers, as they will be occupied for a further six to nine months. Furthermore, the change in age for the young workers' scheme eligibility from 16 to 17 will mean an increased demand for youth training scheme places.

It is not possible, as the Minister has suggested nationally, that mode A employers can absorb the reduction in mode B. They cannot do it in terms of numbers or of the type of people. Wandsworth is simply not the sort of area where there are enough mode A employer-based schemes to cope with the additional burden imposed by those reductions.

The Wandsworth training workshop has a 90 per cent. occupancy. The threat to close it entirely—I visited it some time ago—has shocked many local people because it goes right against the Minister's statement that the reductions will be in unoccupied places. There is a very heavy occupancy of the places in Wandsworth training workshop, and, in the view of all the people in Wandsworth who have looked at it, it is neither necessary nor desirable to remove occupied places in the way that the Minister has suggested. It would cause severe disruption to the 54 young people who are on the scheme. It would cause redundancies for 12 highly skilled and motivated members of staff, and it would in addition impose a continuing financial burden on Wandsworth council of £80,000 for the remaining two years of the lease of the premises.

However one looks at the question, it makes no sense to close a workshop with a 90 per cent. occupancy when there are 15,000 approved places already under-occupied, even if we accept the Government's overall policy, which I certainly do not accept. Wandsworth council has played its part in trying to help the Government's proposals along as best it can by retaining the places, and by absorbing the 24-place playleaders scheme as a mode A scheme instead of its being a mode B1 scheme.

Wandsworth council, with all-party support, has been suggesting that the cuts in occupied places as proposed in Wandsworth are unacceptable, and that in particular the Wandsworth workshop, with its high level of occupancy, should remain open.

I cannot understand the thinking underlying what is happening, either in Wandsworth or nationally. Wandsworth is facing a cut in places of twice the national average. In other words, Wandsworth is being punished because it has done better and has got more schemes off the ground and got them occupied.

The Government should think again about the cuts generally because they are hitting some of the most disadvantaged young people, including young blacks, who are vulnerable and who will not find alternative employment or training opportunities. They are hitting the many organisations which have devoted much effort to getting worthwhile schemes off the ground. The cuts in Wandsworth are without justification, remembering that the area has some widely supported and excellent schemes. I appeal to the Minister to think again.

2.51 pm
The Minister of State, Department of Employment (Mr. Peter Morrison)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) for raising this issue. He said at the outset that the youth training scheme was the successor to the youth opportunities programme. I hope that he will agree that the YTS is differently based in that the YOP was a special employment measure. The YTS is specifically a training scheme, and it is in that context that I hope that we can conduct the debate.

I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman feels strongly about the general policy—the mode B1 provision as a whole—and about the specific policy as it relates to his part of London. He and his hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox), my hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), who is the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, and their councillor colleagues came to see me to discuss the particular aspects of the area and mode B1 as related thereto. I hope that he will freely admit that I and my officials listened carefully to what was said. I shall return later to the hon. Gentleman's points about Wandsworth.

The YTS is about training and, as I said, it is not a special employment measure. It is primarily employer-based. We have always agreed, across the Floor of the House, that that should be the case, and there has been that acceptance also throughout the Manpower Services Commission, on which are represented leaders of industry as well as trade unionists and educationists.

That is not to say, even though it is an employer-led scheme, that there is no need for the mode B1 type provision. There is such a need because some youngsters will benefit more from that sort of provision of training than from mode A. Equally, other youngsters will benefit more from the mode A type provision.

I find it regrettable—I hasten to say that it has not come from the hon. Member for Battersea — that in some quarters there is a rather patronising outlook towards some of the less able youngsters when it is said that they cannot get on to mode A schemes or that they are not appropriate when, in many cases, they are very appropriate indeed.

We and the MSC must set out to provide as wide a variety of schemes as possible to ensure that a sufficient choice is available; in other words, to ensure that we have sufficient round holes into which the round pegs will go. But—and here I come to the nub of the general point that the hon. Gentleman made—at present we have in the mode B1 provision 90,000 approved places with 55,000 filled, leaving a gap of 35,000. The cost of an unfilled mode B1 place is about £2,000 per annum. That is more than the cost of a filled mode A place; and an unfilled mode A place costs about £100 per annum.

Therefore, with a gap of 35,000 and a cost of about £2,000, taxpayers' money up to—I am not saying that this is the case, but it is up to—£70 million is being spent on training nobody. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it was not Parliament's wish to use the large sums of money voted to the youth training scheme to train no one. The money is there to train youngsters.

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the youth training scheme is a locally delivered scheme. It would not be practicable, sensible or constitutionally correct for me to intervene directly in every decision, whether it was in Wandsworth, or Liverpool or anywhere else. The members of the 54 area manpower boards, to whom I pay tribute—they have done a very good job over the past year in difficult circumstances because a lot of decisions had to be taken in a hurry—are there to advise, given their obvious knowledge of local needs, the availability of managing agents and so on.

However, the line management is such that the area manpower boards are serviced by area managers. They are responsible to regional directors, who in turn are responsible to the chief executive of the training division. He in turn is responsible to the director of the Manpower Services Commission, who in turn is responsible to the chairman of the commission. He in turn is responsible to me and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who are accountable to the House for the operation of the scheme.

Every area manager—there are 55 of them and 54 area boards — will put forward proposals to his area board in the context of the general, agreed policy which, in respect of mode B 1, was for up to 70,000 approved places. That is their remit, and they will be working out the balance between mode A and mode B schemes in their areas. There will be a different balance in different areas because of the different needs of the areas.

I do not want to give the hon. Gentleman the impression that, as Minister of State responsible, I am opting out. If specific matters are raised by hon. Members about any scheme or any balance of schemes in any part of the country, I am happy to look at them. But at the end of the day it is for the area manpower board members to decide their priorities within the general policy guidelines.

I cite the position in Liverpool as an example. I have looked at it carefully because the needs of youngsters there are similar to those of youngsters in inner London. I spent four hours one Saturday morning with five of my officials going through every detail of the proposals which the two area managers put forward.

At the moment in Liverpool we have 6,112 approved places. At the end of February we had about 3,650 occupied places. That is a large gap. It is planned that there should be 4,830 mode B1 places in the two areas—Merseyside inner and Merseyside outer.

The average occupancy rate of mode B1 in Wandsworth since the scheme started has been just over 60 per cent. The proposals are that for 1984–85 the current provisions should be cut by 34 per cent. Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman said, there are sufficient mode A schemes available, and that provision appears to be perfectly reasonable.

On 11 April there is to be a special meeting of the area manpower board to discuss these proposals. Prior to that meeting, I do not believe that it would be appropriate for me to make any comments which might pre-empt its outcome.

Suffice it to say that in Wandsworth, mode A provision covers and will continue to cover all the occupational areas provided under mode B1 in the borough currently except for gardening, which will continue to be provided by one of the training workshops, and electronics, which will be provided by the proposed ITEC. Developments in mode A provision this year include new courses in audio-visual equipment operation and design, electronics assembly and engineering, sports and community service. The context of mode A will be taken into account when decisions come to be taken.

There are those around who wish to knock the youth training scheme. I do not suggest for one moment that the hon. Gentleman did that. It is apparent that he is as concerned as I am that the YTS should work to the good of the youngsters. However, there are the knockers, those who are described as the true readers and writers of The Guardian, who apparently wish to see it fail. I believe strongly that they are completely out of step. Only this morning, as the hon. Gentleman stated in his speech, over 250,000 youngsters went to their schemes on a voluntary basis, and they did so enthusiastically. I have visited many of these schemes, and I have talked to thousands of trainees in all parts of the country. There is no doubt that the trainees believe that what they are getting will be of great value to them in their future working lives. When the knockers suggest that the scheme is not working, I suggest that they are being irresponsible, because they may be sowing a seed of doubt in the minds of this year's school leavers, and that seed of doubt may preclude them from going on to a scheme which will be of as much benefit to this year's school leavers as it was to those of last year.

A small sample of those leaving the scheme up to the middle of November has shown us that, three months later, nearly 40 per cent. were in jobs, nearly 30 per cent. were in other youth training schemes, and approximately 25 per cent. were unemployed. Of the 25 per cent., some will be waiting for a job, some will be waiting to go into further education of some sort or another, and some will be waiting for another scheme. At this stage—it is but a small survey, and all the information is not yet available, because many have still to complete their scheme—the figures look most encouraging. So far as the youngsters, the managing agents and the sponsors of the mode B1 providers are concerned, there is a great enthusiasm for what I can only describe as an enormous achievement by all concerned, in particular, the officials of the Manpower Services Commission.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at two minutes past Three o'clock.