HC Deb 06 December 1988 vol 143 cc151-3
1. Mr. Alton

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many employment training scheme places have been taken up on Merseyside since the inception of the scheme.

The Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Norman Fowler)

At 25 November there were more than 3,250 people on employment training on Merseyside.

Mr. Alton

Although it is good news that 3,500 people are now taking up training, 31,500 people under the age of 25 are unemployed in the Merseyside area yet paradoxically, the Merseyside chamber of commerce points to a skills shortage. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is worth looking again at issues such as the remuneration of people on the schemes, and does he agree that it is futile for people to indulge in litigation that is costly to the ratepayers when what is needed is co-operation between local authorities and the Government to put many of these unemployed young people into work?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, I agree that the aim must be to try to provide training for as many unemployed people as we can. About 15,000 employment training places are now available on Merseyside, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will bring that to the attention of his constituents.

Historically speaking, Liverpool city council's action to punish local voluntary organisations and employers who co-operated with employment training was clearly against the interests of the unemployed. That is why we sought judicial review and won in the High Court. I hope that that is now behind us and that we can all get down to making employment training work on Merseyside.

2. Mr. Favell

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has received on his proposed alterations of training arrangements.

Mr. Fowler

The White Paper "Employment for the 1990s", which I published yesterday, sets out new ways in which training and enterprise activities are organised and delivered both nationally and locally.

I held a number of meetings prior to the White Paper and will now hold discussions in a number of areas concerned with training.

Mr. Favell

The Government are to be congratulated on recognising that training requirements differ not only from region to region but from town to town. Centralised planning is not the answer; local involvement is the answer to getting things moving. That is how our great towns and cities were built in the first place. The training and enterprise councils are a marvellous idea. When can Stockport have one? If we can be the first in the north-west to get one, we shall leave the rest standing.

Mr. Fowler

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We are not yet quite in a position to set out the prospectus for training and enterprise councils; it will be set out in the next few weeks. I shall bear Stockport's interest in this very much in mind.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's general point. This is training for the local labour market. It is training for industry and it is relevant to jobs. That is what the new organisation is all about.

Mr. Wallace

As well as providing training for the unemployed, I am sure that the Secretary of State agrees that it is important that companies invest in training the employees who already work for them. To that end, has he considered giving credit or assistance to companies that invest more than most in training, and giving it at the expense of the companies that are not pulling their weight in providing training for their employees?

Mr. Fowler

There are no proposals on that in the White Paper, but what the hon. Gentleman said about companies training their own staff is crucial. As we go into the 1990s, the difference between one company and another will be largely the difference between the people, and the skills and training of the people, in those companies. The responsibility for training people in employment must obviously rest with the employers.

Mr. Couchman

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, with the diminishing pool of young labour and the intense competition for it, it becomes ever more important to attract older workers back into employment? Will he launch an initiative into recruitment and retraining of that group of potential workers?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, a whole range of lessons about the new labour market of the 1990s will have to be learnt. One of the chief lessons is that we must train people who are already in employment to be as adaptable as possible to new skills. Another clear lesson is that we must examine alternative forms of recruitment. We need recruitment of unemployed people, women, older workers and ethnic minorities. Those are all opportunities and I hope that employers will take them.

Mr. Meacher

Why should employers who already show less interest and devote less money to training than employers anywhere else in Europe show any more interest or spend any more money as a result of the Minister's latest proposals? Why should they who have so manifestly neglected their own employees improve on the dismal record of ET? Will the Minister confirm that ET has failed to attract anything like enough long-term unemployed to fill the 187,000 designated places? More than half way through the first six months, fewer than one third of the places have been filled.

Mr. Fowler

On the first point, the hon. Gentleman is simply out of date on the attitude of employers to training in employment. More employers than before are now training in employment and a whole range of schemes such as the compacts initiative—the most recent—are proving employer's interest in training. In spite of all the opposition and the attempts at sabotage by the hon. Gentleman, the employment training programme has got off to a very good start. That is no thanks to the hon. Gentleman or to the Labour party. They have played a discreditable part in the whole employment training issue and they have no credibility whatever.

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