HC Deb 14 March 1989 vol 149 cc274-5
6. Mr. Wilshire

To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps he is taking to increase the range of skills available and the number of people seeking work in the south-east.

Mr. Fowler

I am taking a number of steps to increase the range of skills available in the south-east and other regions. They include the setting up of training and enterprise councils to help employers to define and meet local skill needs. We are also helping young people and the unemployed to learn new skills through YTS and employment training.

Mr. Wilshire

As the labour force survey shows that there are now more than a million more people in work than when Labour was booted out of office, does my right hon. Friend accept that such an increase creates new problems of skill shortages and unfilled vacancies in areas such as Spelthorne? Does he believe that the new training and enterprise councils will enable local employers to focus training on local skill shortages and unfilled vacancies?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir, I agree entirely. The purpose of, and the concept behind, such councils is that they should be employer-led local bodies which assess the training and labour needs in their own particular areas. This is something that many employers have urged for a long time. I am glad to say that although we introduced the prospectus only on Friday there has already been a tremendous amount of interest—including interest from 20 or 30 areas where plans for training and enterprise councils are well in hand.

Mr. Beggs

Will the Secretary of State use every opportunity available to him to inform industrialists here that in Northern Ireland, where there is high unemployment, there are already highly skilled and well-educated people—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The question is about the south-east of England, not the south-east of Ulster.

Mr. Beggs

I thank you, Mr. Speaker, for making that point. I wanted to draw attention to the absence of skilled people in the south-east and to the fact that we in Northern Ireland could assist the Minister to relocate or even set up small subsidiaries to provide employment and meet the needs that exist in the south-east.

Mr. Fowler

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman. If I meet employers in the south-east who complain of skill shortages and are looking for somewhere to set up or perhaps expand their businesses, I shall certainly say that for all the reasons set out by the hon. Gentleman Northern Ireland seems to be an extremely good place to do so.

Mr. Rathbone

On that same point, does my right hon. Friend liaise with his right hon. Friends to ensure that jobs are created outside the south-east, thus relieving the congestion and strain on housing there in the way that everyone in the south-east wishes?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. As my hon. Friend says, it is not just a matter of private industry—it is a matter of the public sector, too. A major part of my Department, the Training Agency, is in Sheffield. It was announced only last week that a further part of the Ministry of Defence was to move to the north-east. That seems an altogether sensible move of the kind that ought to be encouraged.