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School Leavers (Employment Prospects)

Volume 981: debated on Tuesday 18 March 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he is satisfied with the employment prospects for school leavers leaving school in the summer of 1980.

I recognise the serious employment problems confronting summer 1980 school leavers. That is why the Government have agreed to proposals from the Manpower Services Commission to expand the youth opportunities programme by 25 per cent. in 1980–81, and have renewed the undertakings to school leavers and the long-term young unemployed.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his acceptance of the Manpower Services Commission's proposals is very welcome? Is he satisfied that those participating in the youth opportunities programme will learn worthwhile and relevant skills? Has he any evidence to show that the private sector of industry is now more attractive to school leavers than the public service sector?

Certainly the work experience programme, where the youth opportunities programme has been working within industry, has improved in recent years. It has helped to keep down the cost of the schemes. The schemes still vary in their quality, and we need to achieve as large an element of training in the schemes as is humanly possible.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the Manpower Services Commission will have to vary the youth opportunities programme if it is to deal with the problem of youngsters leaving the programme in the spring of 1981 without any chance of finding work? Will he take action to ensure that apprentice recruitment is maintained this summer?

I am aware of the difficulties referred to by the hon. Gentleman. I am also aware of the need to maintain the number of apprentices, and we are doing all we can about that.

Does not the Secretary of State consider that the time has come for some new initiative to encourage employers to create jobs for school leavers? Has he considered the possibility of an all-party appeal to the CBI and the small firms, and of using the media, especially television, to try to create some new thinking and new initiative? Perhaps employers could be persuaded to take on one more school leaver than they would have otherwise done. May I suggest that sort of campaign?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's suggestions. There are difficulties in making a specific appeal to small businesses at present. Having said that, we need to be more imaginative in the schemes that we are contemplating for youngsters. I hope that, before long, I shall be able to put more imaginative schemes before the House.

Have not the replies of the Secretary of State on this issue been quite bland and complacent? Has he not seen the forecast by the Manpower Services Commission that unemployment among young people is likely to double by early 1981? Surely he has seen the various economic forecasts, including the latest forecast by the Cambridge Policy Group, which shows the extent of probable unemployment. That will affect the job prospects for young people. Does not the youth opportunities programme require much greater expansion than is being planned? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us what action the Government are taking to deal with the growing problem of the long-term unemployed, apart from cutting back fiercely on STEP?

Forecasts should be taken with a degree of scepticism, which is what happpened under the previous Administration. The youth opportunities programme will be expanded from 210,000 entrants this year to 250,000 or 260,000 in 1980–81. That will enable us to give the same commitment to school leavers as has been given in former years.

I am worried about both the growth in youth unemployment and the growth in the number of long-term unemployed. These are factors which, regrettably, have been with us for more than the 10 months that we have been in office.