HC Deb 06 April 2000 vol 347 cc1140-1
4. Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth)

If he will make a statement on his plans to increase opportunities to learn about business in schools in unemployment blackspots, with particular reference to former coal-mining areas. [116603]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Miss Melanie Johnson)

We are providing an extra £10 million in this financial year to enhance education-business link activities in England, including in high unemployment areas. On 11 May, we are launching Enterprise Insight, a campaign to inspire young people to follow careers in enterprise, which will focus initially on young people and high unemployment areas.

Mr. Trickett

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply and welcome the initiatives that she has announced. I hope that, shortly, there will also be a welcome announcement on state aid to the coal industry. Is she aware of the work in schools such as Hemsworth high and Minsthorpe community college, which seek to bring together the education and business sectors in areas of long-term decline? Will she seek to build on that work? After all, the future regeneration of areas such as mine and those represented by many other hon. Members depends on today's younger people.

Miss Johnson

Yes, I certainly support the work in my hon. Friend's constituency and recognise its importance, as, I am sure, he recognises the importance of the work that the Government have done to raise standards of literacy and numeracy in schools, so that young people will be equipped for the world of work. I am sure that he recognises, too, the progress that we have made as a result of initiatives to reduce unemployment throughout the country.

In my hon. Friend's constituency, youth unemployment is down by 68 per cent. since the last election and long-term unemployment has fallen by 60 per cent. Those figures clearly show that business-education partnerships will be working in fertile territory in building for young people for the future.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

Does the Economic Secretary regret that the Government's announcement that they will abolish training and enterprise councils will lead to the removal of business input to training, including in schools?

Miss Johnson

No, I do not regret the change. The TECs were strong in some areas, but discredited in others. A number of difficulties had arisen. Our initiative in that regard, coupled with the work of the new Small Business Service, will do only more to enhance support to small and medium enterprises throughout the country. When we set all that in the context of the fact that we are able to provide a stable economic climate in which business can flourish—unlike the boom and bust of the Tory years—we realise that those will make a positive contribution in a climate in which business can flourish and is flourishing.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

On the question of coal mining communities, the hon. Lady might know that, on Tuesday, there was a substantial lobby of people from the various coal mining communities in the United Kingdom. The Welsh representatives, a cross-party group, were desperately worried about the absence of additional funding, or any commitment from the Chancellor to provide that, to secure objective 1 funding. Had he done something about it, the Prime Minister would not today have to be in the south Wales valleys, trying to shore up the haemorrhaging Labour vote.

Miss Johnson

Objective 1 status is a matter for the spending review. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is forgetting the enormous progress that has been made in his constituency through the new deal in lowering both long-term and youth unemployment, and the initiatives that have already been launched in respect of the coal fields, which include new provision of £60 million over three years to fund the Coalfields Regeneration Trust and Coalfield Enterprise Fund. A further initiative, Network Space Ltd., has been established as a joint venture between English Partnerships and the private sector to provide workspace sites in former coal fields and to create yet more jobs.