HL Deb 22 July 1991 vol 531 cc457-9

2.37 p.m.

Lard McCarthy asked Her Majesty's Government:

Why the placement target of the Employment Service has been reduced during a period of rising unemployment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)

My Lords, my right honourable friend sets targets for the Employment Service which take account of planned improvements in its efficiency and effectiveness and the conditions prevailing in the labour market. I am convinced that the target of placing 1.3 million unemployed people into jobs, the equivalent of over 5,000 placings for every working day, for the current financial year is both demanding and realistic.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the noble Visco ant for that reply. Does he not agree that on page 329 of the June issue of the Employment Gazette the Government admit that they have reduced the target by some 22 per cent. on last year? The reason they give is: the downturn in the labour market and the anticipated reduct on in vacancies". In other words, as unemployment gets worse the Government reduce the target for the Employment Service because they do not propose to do anything about it. Is that fair?

Viscount Ullswater

No, my Lords; nor is it correct. The Next Steps Agency is learning from experience. The targets this year are fewer and better formulated than last year when they were set on the basis of the limited historical performance information then available. In 1991–92 the Employment Service has 14 demanding targets covering job placings, help with job search, job preparation and training, and paying benefits accurately and promptly.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the target is being reduced and the numbers being placed are falling that can only fuel further unemployment and that the Government's policy should be directed in the opposite direction?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the placings for next year reflect the success of placings for this year. To that extent the targets have not been reduced.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the CBI is reported this morning as saying that the prevailing fear of unemployment is undermining consumer confidence and presumably therefore retarding economic growth? In those circumstances is it not necessary for the Government to do far more in the way of job creation? Does he agree that that is not accomplished by reducing the targets as indicated?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the Government are stepping up their very positive action by offering this year some 840,000 other opportunities to help unemployed people back into work as quickly as possible and the number is approaching 900,000 for next year. The Government view the matter very seriously and the Employment Service is now a billion-pound agency.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that the effective way of dealing with the problem is for the Government to pursue economic and fiscal policies which will lead to the lowering of unemployment?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I entirely agree. The Government are taking the necessary steps to combat inflation and thereby create the climate for renewed economic growth. That is the route to increased employment.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that, as a result of the reduction in the employment training budget, some training centres catering particularly for those in need of rehabilitation following a period in prison are having to limit adult training to those best able to benefit by securing jobs? At a time when government policy is said to be to reduce the prison population by expanding community punishment, is it not most inappropriate to be reducing job training for ex-offenders?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, the prime concern of the Government is cost-effective training for individuals and not continued funding for any particular provider, either private or voluntary. Ex-offenders have preferential access to the full range of services and programmes offered by the Department of Employment. The time spent in custody counts towards the qualifying period for our major programmes, employment training and job clubs, and will count towards the employment action programme. Many ex-offenders are eligible immediately on release. The announcement on 19th June of new measures for the unemployed included an increase in funding for employment training for the training of 15,000 more people, particularly those with numeracy and literacy problems.

Lord McCarthy

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount for all that he has said in answer to the questions, but he has not answered my original Question. Why are the Government planning a reduction in help for the unemployed when the numbers of unemployed are rising? The Government are doing all kinds of things but they plan to do less for the unemployed in terms of the placement service than they did last year. Why?

Viscount Ullswater

My Lords, I have gone a long way towards explaining why, but obviously I have not convinced the noble Lord. The number of opportunities for the unemployed is greater than at any other time. That is helpful in many ways. The Employment Service is doing an extraordinarily good job and the number of people flowing out of unemployment on a monthly basis is some 278,000.