HC Deb 25 November 2002 vol 395 cc18-20
19. Mr. Chris Bryant (Rhondda)

What assessment he has made of the most recent unemployment figures. [81288]

The Minister for Work (Mr. Nicholas Brown)

Economic stability and active labour market programmes have helped people move from welfare to work in all parts of the country. Consequently, unemployment has fallen to levels not experienced since the 1970s and has remained at those low levels for more than a year.

Of course we want to do more. That is why we are introducing even more support to ensure that no area is bypassed and no one is excluded from mainstream economic prosperity.

Mr. Bryant

I am sure that my right hon. Friend knows about the dramatic fall in unemployment in constituencies such as the Rhondda since 1997. However, has he had an opportunity to consider the new survey that MORI conducted on behalf of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust into the attitudes of young people in former mining constituencies to employment? Has he noted that fewer than 1 per cent. of young people in such constituencies believed it likely that they would become company directors? What are the Government doing to ensure that young people in former mining constituencies increase their aspirations?

Mr. Brown

We need to increase and broaden people's aspirations. Proactive management of the labour market is therefore important. A first job is a stepping stone to a whole career. There is no reason why people from constituencies that traditionally relied on a single employment base such as mining and shipbuilding should not share in the rest of the country's aspirations.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York)

The Minister will agree that unemployment, especially youth unemployment, was already falling before the Labour party came to power. Does he also agree that skills shortages are the problem in areas such as Vale of York? Who will conduct a skills audit to marry the skills that employers require to places that currently lack them?

Mr. Brown

The regional development agencies are considering skills needs region by region. I take the opportunity to praise Yorkshire Forward, which covers the hon. Lady's constituency. The RDAs have recently produced studies that cover the ground that she rightly mentioned.

Mr. Khalid Mahmood (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

What progress has the Jobcentre Plus initiative made?

Maria Eagle

How long have we got?

Mr. Brown

Exactly. The reply could keep us here until 3.30 pm. Jobcentre Plus is a flagship programme for the Department which has been established throughout the country. Its purpose is to bring together benefits advice and proactive labour market advice, and to help people to achieve the most that they can by getting them into work.

Mr. Gary Streeter (South-West Devon)

Does the Minister agree that it would be better for the Government to spend more time and resources in encouraging more young people to become apprentices in sonic of the trades that are suffering skills shortages instead of staying on at school to study inappropriate A-levels or even going on to university? Where are we going to get our future carpenters, plumbers, bricklayers and welders?

Mr. Brown

It is right to look at modern apprenticeships, and to make sure that we are addressing skills shortages in the economy. That is a matter that should be discussed on a regular basis between my Department and the Department for Education and Skills.

Mr. James Plaskitt (Warwick and Leamington)

Over the last five years, unemployment in my constituency has fallen to below 2 per cent., but individual wards still have high levels of unemployment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is still a need for programmes to promote employment and enterprise in such wards, even though they are within constituencies with low overall levels of unemployment?

Mr. Brown

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government have programmes in place to target specific pockets of high unemployment. There is a range of reasons for that high unemployment, which is why the schemes to tackle it are varied.

Lawrie Quinn (Scarborough and Whitby)

My right hon. Friend will be pleased, as I was, to know that the Whitby Gazette recently reported that unemployment in that fishing port is at an all-time low. Given the debate that we had last week on fisheries, what work will his Department do in the event of fisheries employment opportunities failing—we hope that that will not happen—because of the forthcoming threat being brought in by Europe?

Mr. Brown

Where there have been large numbers of redundancies in the fishing sector—and in other sectors—local jobcentres and Jobcentre Plus, where it is rolled out, stand ready to help. If a rapid response is required, it will be there.

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