HC Deb 30 October 2000 vol 355 c270W
27. Fiona Mactaggart

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will meet Ministers at the Department for Education and Employment to discuss the possibility of creating a new deal option to help young unemployed people attain fitness levels required for employment in the armed forces. [133011]

Mr. Spellar

The armed forces already contribute to the New Deal scheme and to the personal development of young people. The Services work closely with New Deal personal advisers and the further education colleges, to identify what self-development is required to make young people more confident and self-reliant. The armed forces provide "Taster Days" for those young unemployed people wanting to learn more about service life.

Each Service also runs personal development courses for young people: For the naval service, a typical course includes; fire fighting, boatwork, an assault course, physical recreation, as well as careers presentations and an opportunity to sit the Recruit Test. For 2000–01, the aim is to run 50 of these five-day courses for 750 students. The Army runs a "Pathfinder" programme, which includes personal development courses, work experience arrangements and "Look at Life" visits. The "Look at Life" visits enable young people to spend up to two weeks at an Army unit to experience at first hand the realities of Army life, and they include an element of physical fitness training. In the past year, over 100,000 young people have taken part in this programme. The RAF, in association with Newham College of Further Education, has recently set up personal development courses as part of its ethnic minority recruiting effort. Students visit Service establishments, and undertake some adventure training.

In addition, the armed forces launched the "Skill Force" youth initiative on 5 September, as a contribution to the Government's efforts to deal with social exclusion. The services have deployed two teams of trained instructors into a total of six schools in the Newcastle and Norfolk areas, where the initiative is being piloted. The instructors are delivering key skills training to children who have been disapplied from part of the national curriculum and who are in danger of disaffection. There is an element of physical training involved with Skill Force. Although this is not a recruiting initiative, Skill Force will make the 15–16 year old participants fitter than they otherwise would be, and improve their chances of passing basic training if they do decide to join the armed forces.

Discussions are now being held between departments to determine other ways in which the armed forces can help to deliver the Government's policies on social exclusion.