§ 1. Mr. Kirkwood
To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what steps she proposes to promote more employment opportunities in rural areas; and if she will make a statement.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin)
The Government work with a number of agencies such as the Rural Development Commission and Scottish Enterprise to promote enterprise, economic diversity and employment in rural areas. Using the Employment Service and training and enterprise councils, we have a range of facilities and programmes for people in rural areas.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
Is the Minister aware of the locally derived initiative that Scottish Borders Enterprise has put together, called "Packaged Training", which is particularly appropriate for rural areas given the distances involved in getting people to training opportunities? Is he also aware that, this year, the budget of Scottish Borders Enterprise for that purpose has been cut from £530,000 to £380,000? Last year, 180 people were given an opportunity to retrain, but, sadly, that number will be cut because the budget for this year has already been used. Will the Minister attempt to find ways of providing extra funds so that such employment opportunities can continue to be provided in the future?
§ Mr. McLoughlin
As I said, we provide a range of facilities to help in rural areas. The points that the hon. Gentleman raised are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I shall ensure that they are brought to his attention.
§ Mr. Moss
Will my hon. Friend take this opportunity to praise the work of enterprise agencies, particularly those in rural areas such as the Fens Business Enterprise Trust in my constituency? Is he aware that in the current economic climate, funding for such enterprise agencies has become increasingly difficult to obtain? Will he give some consideration to providing more centralised funding to allow that good work to continue?
§ Mr. McLoughlin
I am not sure that more centralised funding is the way to go about the problem. Perhaps a better way to proceed is to provide money to the TECs, as we have done in the past two years, so that they can make 130 their own decisions. That is probably preferable to the Government's making more centralised decisions. I shall. however, consider my hon. Friend's suggestion.