HC Deb 13 November 1997 vol 300 cc1034-5
16. Dr. Stoate

What has been the response of employers to the new deal for young unemployed people. [14337]

Mr. Andrew Smith

Employers across the country are responding positively to the new deal by pledging support, and by following up those pledges with practical action.

Dr. Stoate

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply; it will be good news to young, unemployed people in my constituency of Dartford and elsewhere. Does he agree with me that the new deal allows employers to address the skills shortage, which causes so much damage to British competitiveness?

Mr. Smith

Absolutely. This is the right time to introduce the new deal. It maximises the opportunities for young, unemployed people to obtain work, and it helps business by ensuring that young people are equipped with skills and are prepared for work, so that they can develop their training towards a recognised qualification while in employment. That will benefit my hon. Friend's constituents and thousands of others across the country.

Mr. Rowe

Does the Minister agree that, as a result of the steadily falling unemployment inherited from the previous Government, the proportion of young people who require the scheme and who are very disadvantaged, because of their social background, lack of education or other skill shortages, is growing? None of those people will be attractive to employers. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the time taken to get those young people up to the threshold at which most other young people start such schemes will be extended, so that they are on a level playing field and can benefit from the scheme?

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. I appreciate the understanding and sensitivity that he shows towards the young unemployed in his constituency, and towards the programme. As the overall numbers fall, those in particular need constitute a greater proportion. That is why the gateway period of up to four months of assessment, counselling and help with basic skills is so important. It also gives people the opportunity to try tasters of the different options available through the new deal.

In response to consultation over the summer, the Government have introduced another opportunity, whereby young people with particularly acute needs can, after the gateway period, have three months' intensive basic education and skills training, before going on to employment.

This is all about enhancing the employability of young people. It is founded on the good and wise principle that those who most need it will receive the greatest help.