HC Deb 13 November 1997 vol 300 cc1024-8
6. Mr. Drew

What measures he has taken to ensure that options offered to young people on the new deal are of high quality. [14325]

Mr. Blunkett

We count quality as being of paramount importance. That is why in both the gateway and the main programme there will be key elements, such as contacts with a personal adviser for each participant; contract team visits, which will be made from the Employment Service regions; quality inspection visits for both training and further education; and, of course, the supplementary hotline provided for those who have concerns or worries. It is vital that we work with both employers and the voluntary sector to make sure that this is not a make-work scheme, but a programme to be proud of.

Mr. Drew

I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer. May I ask that the role of the dedicated advisers be brought to the fore, especially in rural areas where people face difficulties of access and a lack of provision and where those advisers will play an interesting and important role?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend is quite right. In addition to the measures spelt out a moment ago by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights, there will be a discretionary fund, specifically for transport, to assist those who are taking up the full-time education option in further education colleges. We want the advisers to be able to help from the moment young people enter the gateway, with education and social advice to build up their confidence and skills before they enter the main programme and so ensure that they are able to sustain the training and education elements throughout the programme.

Mr. Baldry

I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that young people, either those in the new deal or those coming into employment generally, will be concerned about the level of the minimum wage. Both the TUC and the trade unions have made representations in respect of the minimum wage. Given the new dispensation, may we have an undertaking from the Government that if, eventually, the minimum wage is set at a level equal to or above what is proposed in those representations, the donations to the Labour party made by the trade unions before the general election will be returned to them?

Mr. Blunkett

If the Conservative party had handed back the money every time they gave a contract to or privatised a company that was associated with, or had been in any way involved with, a donation to the party through either an individual or an organisation, they would have handed back more than they have received over the past 20 years.

Miss Melanie Johnson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, just as education would help the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), the new deal will provide excellent opportunities to improve the employability of young people, which is an important product of the scheme? Does he also agree that it will be a high-quality scheme and not one designed purely to massage the employment figures, like those of the previous Government?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend is right. That is why every single option under the new deal will include education and training to a recognised qualification, including a year in a full-time education place. That is why the CBI, the chambers of commerce and the representatives of small and medium-sized enterprises are so supportive of the new deal programme. They recognise, as did the CBI earlier this week, that skills for the future are crucial to the competitiveness of our nation as well as to the life chances of the individual and will be a key element in ensuring that we can encourage growth without inflation and enable our economy to succeed in the 21st century.

Mr. Don Foster

In view of the answer that the Secretary of State gave to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), will he confirm to the House that a contract recently given for the delivery of the new deal in Hackney was given to Reed Personnel Services, that the head of that organisation is Alec Reed, and that that gentleman is alleged to have given £100,000 to the Labour party? Although I have no reason to believe that there was any impropriety whatever in that contract, can the Secretary of State confirm his support for the Prime Minister in acknowledging the urgent need to reform party political funding to remove even the whiff of impropriety in such arrangements?

Mr. Blunkett

I am very pleased that the hon. Gentleman believes that there is not a whiff of impropriety because if he did believe that, he should say it outside the House.

Let us make this absolutely clear. No Ministers were involved with the letting of the contract—that is an absolute, unequivocal statement. There are many people who have given, during the past few years, to all three political parties, who have subsequently, through their organisation or company, bid for Government contracts. There has been nothing wrong, and no one has previously suggested that there was anything improper or lacking in probity in the system that has been operated.

If any Opposition Members have anything to suggest about the way in which the civil service does its job, they should do so and we will examine those suggestions.

Mr. Reed

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the new deal scheme will work because it is a quality scheme and is widely supported by business, the voluntary sector and participating individuals, unlike the schemes that young people have suffered in the past decade? The youth opportunities programme, youth training, the youth training scheme, training for work: you name it, we have had it.

How does my right hon. Friend intend to ensure that young people—those who will benefit from this high-quality training—are involved in consultation leading up to the start of the new deal and, more important, how will he ensure that quality is maintained throughout its delivery?

Mr. Blunkett

Quality, continuity and accountability within the scheme are features which will distinguish the new deal from the programmes and schemes that the Conservatives introduced during their 18 years in office.

It is vital to make it possible for young people to play a part in monitoring and reviewing the programme, to say what they think about the programmes that they are engaged on and, where necessary, to redesign a system that is responsive. It is vital for us to set up outreach facilities so that that can be done. I should like to suggest that young people should be part of the review teams; in that way, we can ensure that their interests and those of their age group can properly be reflected.

Mr. Willetts

Can the Secretary of State confirm a figure researched for me by the House of Commons Library, which tells me that a young person who is unemployed already has an 84 per cent. chance of moving off benefit within a year? How much better than that does he expect to do with his welfare-to-work scheme? Can he also confirm that it was one of his socialist heroes who said that socialism is about priorities? Does he really believe that putting £3.5 billion into a problem that is obviously shrinking is the right ordering of priorities when there are so many other pressures on his budget and elsewhere?

Mr. Blunkett

I do not believe that 15,000 to 20,000 youngsters a month reaching the point where they have been unemployed or out of education for more than six months is a minor problem, or something which should not be tackled by a Government who believe in the economic gains that can be made from investing in those young people—which I described a moment ago—and in the critical nature of social cohesion, which means that we must heal our communities instead of dividing them.

I believe that the investment is worth making. If only 10,000 young people were out of work for more than six months—as opposed to the 122,000 young people in that situation at present—it would be worth applying that money to provide life chances and heal the communities in which they live. Our investment will give young people the economic opportunity to earn their own living and pay back the Exchequer, rather than drawing on it through dependence.

7. Mr. Barry Jones

How many new deal welfare to-work places he plans to create in (a) Wales and (b) the north-west in the next year; and if he will make a statement. [14326]

Mr. Alan Howarth

We shall offer help to everyone who becomes eligible for the new deal, and sufficient places will be available to meet that commitment. We are making very good progress in Wales, the north-west and elsewhere in planning and implementing the new deal. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Disability Rights launched the first of the pathfinder areas this morning.

Mr. Jones

Does my hon. Friend agree that Wales's recovery from the great loss of steel and coal jobs still has a long way to go? This excellent scheme might provide a real lifeline to valleys and towns in Wales. is my hon. Friend aware that in Deeside in my constituency far too many young people have aimless, hopeless lives and have no access to worthwhile work? Is there any way in which my hon. Friend might enlarge the scheme? He knows that we will never heal the wounds of Thatcherism until we give work and hope to our young people.

Mr. Howarth

My hon. Friend speaks from his deep commitment to his constituents, so many of whom have suffered as a result of the processes of industrial change. Shotton is in his constituency and Llanwern is in mine. Although his experience of these issues is much greater than mine, I well understand the trauma and the difficulty faced by steelworkers and their families who have lost their jobs and find it desperately difficult to gain new work opportunities.

Against that background, we attach much importance to the new deal for the long-term unemployed and to ensuring that a new generation of young people does not suffer the same experiences. We are determined to make a great success of our existing commitments under the new deal, and we shall see thereafter what remains to be done.

Mr. Keetch

Does the Minister recall the commitment that Labour gave before the election to help 250,000 long-term unemployed under-25s to receive the new deal? Will he comment on the figures supplied today by the Library which suggest that only 122,000 people qualify—

Madam Speaker

Order. The question relates to projects in Wales and the north-west. I have warned the House before that supplementary questions must follow the substantive question. I know that Hereford is not far from Wales, but I do not think that the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. Keetch) will be able to get his question in order. If any other hon. Member wishes to speak about Wales or the north-west particularly, I shall call him or her—I thought not.