HC Deb 24 July 1997 vol 298 cc1032-3
8. Fiona Mactaggart

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment in what ways he will ensure that options offered to young unemployed people are suited to their individual needs. [8603]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights (Mr. Andrew Smith)

The individual needs and circumstances of every eligible young person will be addressed in the up to four months gateway period before they start a new deal option. The Employment Service will work in partnership with professionals and agencies to ensure that young people receive independent careers advice and help in tackling particular social and other problems that are holding them back from training or work.

Fiona Mactaggart

I thank my right hon. Friend for his reply. I commend to him a partnership that already exists in Slough, led by Mars and other local companies and engineered by our local authority, which is beginning to provide opportunities very like those to be provided by the welfare-to-work programme. What has been a concern among that group, however, is that the Employment Service was very reluctant to join the partnership. How will he ensure that the Employment Service does work with other partners to ensure the quality of experience for each individual, because the policy will require a major cultural change in the Employment Service, which has been not about providing services to individuals but about meeting phoney targets?

Mr. Smith

I was interested to learn of the initiative in my hon. Friend's constituency. We want to build on the best practice that is already out there in terms of partnership to help young and long-term unemployed people. My hon. Friend is right to say that successful delivery of the new deal in partnership does involve a change in the task that the Employment Service was given by the previous Administration. It means a culture shift. That is accepted by the people who work for the Employment Service, and a programme is being driven forward by the chief executive. The Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Howarth), and I have addressed meetings of employment centre staff throughout the country to ensure that they are fully engaged in the shift that is needed to ensure that the Employment Service helps our young people to take the great opportunities that will be offered in the new deal.

Mr. Öpik

What consideration has been given to ensuring that young unemployed people in the countryside are successfully included in the scheme, thereby reducing the immense pressures on young people to move from the countryside into cities in search of work?

Mr. Smith

As well as the 27 regional consultation meetings which are being held by the end of the first week in August, there will be local consultation meetings in September and October in each locality so that we can ensure that the new deal design is sensitive to the needs of the client group in the areas in which the programmes are carried forward. The pathfinder districts where the new deal will start early, in January, will include rural areas to ensure that we learn from that experience.