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Large Cities And Towns

Volume 927: debated on Tuesday 1 March 1977

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2.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment to what factors he attributes the rise in unemployment in large cities and towns since the present administration took office in 1974.

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment to what factors he attributes the rise in unemployment in large cities and towns since the present administration took office in 1974.

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Employment to what factors he attributes the rise in unemployment in large cities and towns since the present administration took office in 1974.

The extent of the rise in unemployment that has taken place since February 1974 varies considerably between different cities and towns. These increases are in part a reflection of the present economic recession and in part a reflection of more fundamental changes taking place in the structure of employment.

These changes in the structure of employment—which reflect partly national trends and partly factors that are special to the larger conurbations—have led to an underlying increase in unemployment, which has been going on for between 10 and 15 years.

Does the right hon. Gentleman expect the House to believe that the Government's economic, industrial and financial policies have nothing to do with the increase in unemployment in virtually every town and city in the country?

Many of the Government's policies have sustained a considerable amount of employment in the large conurbations and the cities. The increase in the number of people employed in the public services has particularly helped.

Will the right hon. Gentleman learn from the Government's mistakes and accept that the unending increase in taxation legislation has placed an appalling burden on small businesses? Will he also recognise that a large number of jobs have been lost in the small business sector as a result?

We are, of course, concerned about the loss of jobs in any part of the economy, including the small business sector. This is an area that I am studying with a view to seeing how far measures operated by my Department may be adapted or even built upon to provide some assistance.

Does the Secretary of State realise that the Government's regional policies are completely unrealistic in attempting to deal with the appalling unemployment problems of the conurbations? Is he aware that every time he goes to the Dispatch Box the situation gets worse? Will he now have another close look at regional policy and see that the limited resources are concentrated upon those urban areas which are suffering the greatest hardship?

To take a minor point first, the situation does not get worse every time that I come to the Dispatch Box. On several occasions recently there has been a drop in the number of unemployed. In so far as we can identify a special problem with conurbations, I know that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the fall in manufacturing employment has been faster in the conurbations than in the country generally. It is that to which we have to devote attention in pursuing an industrial and economic strategy to deal with the unemployment problem.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a figure of 80,000 unemployed in the city of Liverpool means that Liverpool is now becoming a disaster area? Apart from the question of the Government changing their basic economic and industrial strategy, which is essential, cannot something now be done at least to convene a conference on Merseyside, where serious proposals might be put forward aimed at bringing down the high level of unemployment?

Certainly on Merseyside, as in Sunderland, there is a serious unemployment problem. A committee of Ministers is well advanced in studying the special problems of conurbation areas taking into account the special employment problems. I hope to be able to announce very shortly in the House some development of my Department's measures which will have a bearing on this as well as on other matters.

Will my right hon. Friend not agree that the temporary employment subsidy has saved 181,000 jobs in towns and cities and elsewhere? Ought not that scheme to be extended, at least until the end of this year?

The extension of the temporary employment subsidy is one of the major matters being considered by the Department of Employment. There has been a considerable uptake in the subsidy over the past few months during which the scheme has been operating. We shall shortly be facing the problem of certain firms whose 12-months' subsidy is coming to an end. This matter is under urgent review.

Does the target of 700,000 unemployed by 1978 still represent Government policy, or is there now some new Government target?

No. The Government have not adopted any new target. We are aiming to bring unemployment down in that period as rapidly as we can.