HC Deb 23 April 1998 vol 310 cc959-60
8. Mr. Ross Cranston (Dudley, North)

What discussions he has had with his EU counterparts on his policy to spend the windfall levy on an extension of the welfare-to-work programme. [38249]

12. Gillian Merron (Lincoln)

If he will make a statement on his policy of spending the windfall levy on an extension of the welfare-to-work programme. [38253]

The Paymaster General (Mr. Geoffrey Robinson)

We have had extensive discussions with our EU colleagues about how to equip our young and long-term unemployed people with the skills that they need to find and keep work. Promoting employability is a key policy objective of the EU employment guidelines agreed last November, and it was endorsed by G8 Finance and Labour Ministers meeting in London in February. I am pleased to report that our new deal policies have been received enthusiastically in both the EU and the G8. I am sure that the whole House would like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the initiatives that he has taken in all these respects.

Mr. Cranston

I thank my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend for taking the news of this brilliant programme to other parts of Europe. I should like my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend to meet the 200 young people in my constituency who now have a chance of decent employment as a result of the programme. Now that the programme has gone nationwide, what are the early indications of its success?

Mr. Robinson

The only people yet to be convinced about the seriousness of our intent and the success of the programme are cynical Conservative Members. My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that, on his pathfinder project in the black country, which I had the privilege to visit, 2,467 people have joined the programme and 158 have already found work. Most important, three quarters have gone into unsubsidised jobs. That is most important for the eventual success of the programme. We have made a good start. It is too early to make an overall judgment about the whole programme, but it is clear that we have started well, and we are continuing to make progress in all the pathfinders across the country.

Gillian Merron

I welcome the extension of the new deal in the ways that were announced in the Budget. They were asked for by people in my constituency, and that is an indicator of the success that we can expect in tackling unemployment. How will the new deal for communities help places and people who daily have to battle with poverty, difficulties and deprivation?

Mr. Robinson

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the fact that we have continued to extend the moneys and the areas covered by the new deal. We have put £50 million more into the gateway programme, which is one of the most important new developments in the new deal. We have found £100 million for the long-term unemployed over-25s. We have a £60 million programme to help partners of the unemployed to give them access to employment opportunities that they did not have before. In all those ways the community will clearly benefit.

I shall take this opportunity to tell the House how active my hon. Friend has been in making a success of her new deal programme in Lincoln. She convened a meeting involving all the partners to the programme and, as a result, eight private sector companies have signed up. Opposition Members should take a similarly involved and active interest. We expect 17,000 companies to have signed up to the new deal programme within the next three months. It will be a big success despite Opposition Members, not thanks to them.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

I commiserate with the Paymaster General on his not being Prime Minister, and hope that he will explain whether he thinks that, at the end of this expensive welfare-to-work programme, unemployment will be lower than it is now.

Mr. Robinson

If there is to be any commiseration in the House, it should be extended to the hon. Gentleman, and I commiserate with him.

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster)

How does the Paymaster General define a windfall?

Mr. Robinson

I define a windfall tax as one that we exacted on the privatised utilities that were sold grossly below their value because of the incompetence of Conservative Members. The £5 billion that we raised from that is being put to good use.