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Departmental Achievements

Volume 77: debated on Friday 26 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Employment if he will list his Department's principal achievements since 1979.

[pursuant to his reply, 4 April 1985, c. 774]: I have recently published a White Paper, "Employment, The Challenge for the Nation", which describes the wide range of measures we are taking to help revive the economy, to improve the working of the labour market and to aid the unemployed.We have made the improvement of Britain's education and training system one of our top priorities and now plan to spend £1.2 billion on training in 1985–86 compared with just £380 million in 1979. We have successfully launched the youth training scheme which offers a year's planned training and work experience to all 16 and some 17-year-old school leavers. Around 700,000 young people have benefited from the Scheme so far and our current estimates show that two-thirds have moved on from the scheme to jobs or further training or education. We have also opened 160 information technology centres to train young people under the youth training scheme in computing and electronic assembly skills. We have now announced a major expansion of the youth training scheme. We aim to provide by 1986 two years training for all 16-year-old school leavers who do not continue in full time education and one year for 17-year-olds—leading to a recognised vocational qualification. We have asked the Manpower Services Commission to begin discussions on a possible scheme with all concerned and to put forward detailed proposals by the end of June. We intend to provide extra funds of £125 million in 1986–87 and £300 million in 1987–8 for this purpose bringing the Government's total investment in youth training to some £1,100 million by 1987–8.We are also taking a number of other steps to improve education and training for the 14–18 age group.We have launched the technical and vocational education initiative to broaden the curriculum for 14 to 18-year-olds and relate it more closely to employment needs. Sixty-two projects began in 1983 and 1984 and by 1986 every local education authority which wishes to participate will have had the opportunity to do so.We have made available £25 million over the next two years for in-service training of teachers to promote developments, particularly related to TVEI.We have asked the MSC to set in hand a review of vocational qualifications in England and Wales, to ensure that we have a readily understandable system which provides opportunities for people to progress to higher skills and which is really relevant to the world of industry and commerce.We have enabled the MSC to purchase a more significant proportion of work-related non-advanced further education courses provided by local education authorities in England and Wales to help bring training provision more into line with local employment needs. Discussions are now under way about full implementation of this change from 1986–87 onwards.The Government's strategy for the 14 to 18-year-old age group is set out in our recently puplished White Paper on education and training for young people.In the field of adult training we have launched an adult training strategy to make training and retraining for adults more widespread, more flexible and more relevant to modern needs. This involves:

more than doubling, to 250,000 by 1986/7, the number of people assisted by MSC adult training programmes;
—launching the open tech programme to make flexible training facilities more widely available and to help adults who wish to acquire or up-date skills in technical or supervisory occupations;
—establishing the skillcentre network on a commercial basis in order to release resources for this expansion of adult training;
—a major campaign to bring home to everyone, employers, trade unions and individuals, the vital importance to our future economic well being of investment and training.

We also published a consultative paper last autumn to seek views on a new pilot scheme to help up to 10,000 adults finance their own training through a Government supported loan scheme.

We have also taken action to assist the mobility of labour. The Manpower Services Commission's placement services have been improved to provide better access for the public and a national computerised vacancy-circulation system has been introduced. The number of jobcentres will be increased to 1065—the highest ever. The MSC has also extended its employment transfer and job search schemes to cover a wide range of skilled jobs.

The professional and executive recruitment was put on a full cost-recovery basis from April 1983. It met that requirement in 1983–84 and again in 1984–85. PER staffing has been reduced from about 800 to around 300 since 1979.

We have conducted a wide-ranging scrutiny to identify burdens on business which may prevent employers taking on new employees. We have already taken a number of steps to reduce the burdens on employers imposed by employment protection law including extending from one to two years the qualifying period for the right to claim unfair dismissal, where the employer has 20 or fewer employees. We have now announced that the two-year qualifying period should apply to all employees, whatever the size of the company. This will come into effect in June.

We have also published a consultation paper on the options for reforming the wages council system (including exempting young people or controlling their rates, and reducing the scope of regulation) or alternatively on whether the system should be abolished. We have asked for comments by the end of May. Subject to the outcome of consultations, we propose to end ratification of International Labour Convention No. 26 which could restrict our freedom to act in the council area of policy.

We have continued with our step-by-step approach to industrial relations reform designed to redress the previous imbalance in collective bargaining and to make trade unions more accountable to their members.

The Employment Acts of 1980 and 1982 have removed trade unions' statutory immunity in relation to a number of unacceptable forms of industrial action, including secondary picketing and secondary action and have increased the protection for individuals against the abuses of the closed shop. From November 1984 no closed shop is enforceable unless it has been approved by an overwhelming majority of employees voting in a secret ballot.

The Trade Union Act 1984 is designed to secure the holding of secret ballots in three areas of crucial importance to trade union members; for elections to union governing bodies, for pre-strike consultations and over the question of trade union involvement in party politics. There are already indications that the Act is having a significant influence on the practices and attitudes of trade unions.

We have taken a wide range of steps to help those hardest hit by unemployment.

We have introduced the job-splitting scheme and the part-time job release scheme to increase opportunities for part-time work, and continued the job release scheme which encourages older people to retire early and vacate their job for a younger unemployed person.

We have also established the community programme which will provide up to 130,000 places for long-term unemployed people on projects of value to the community. I have recently announced a major expansion of the programme by 100,000 places to 230,000 places by May 1986. We have also asked the MSC to examine the scope for greater involvement of the private sector in the programme and to consider whether charities and voluntary organisations would play a better part in helping the long term unemployed.

We have set up the young workers scheme, covering some 61,000 young people and providing an incentive to employers to take on young people at more realistic wage rates which improve their chances of employment by allowing realistically for their age and relative inexperience. This scheme will close for applications in March 1986 so that its resources can contribute to a major expansion in training for young people under an extended youth training scheme.

We have established the voluntary projects programme which has already helped 55,000 people in the past year, including some of the most disadvantaged to undertake useful voluntary work. We have now asked the MSC to consider ways in which the programme could provide further help for the long term unemployed.

The MSC has introduced a new service, the disablement advisary service, to provide advice and assistance to employers on disabled people's employment matters and has also recently launched a voluntary code of good practice on the employment of disabled people.

Expenditure on all these employment and training measures will be an estimated £2,115 million in 1984–85. Spending of £2,391 million has been allocated for 1985–86.

My Department is continuing to play a full part in the work of the European Community bearing on employment and related issues and allocations to the United Kingdom from the European Social Fund have increased from £130 million in 1979 to £353 million in 1984.

The efficiency and effectiveness of all my Department's services have been kept under close scrutiny. The unemployment benefit service has made steady progress in improving its cost-effectiveness through better management practices and more effective use of its resources. Work is well advanced for the introduction, early in 1986, of a more advanced computerised system in unemployment benefit offices involving the installation of some 10,500 visual display units linked to the national benefit computers. This will improve both the quality and speed of service to the customer and result in some 2,000 staff savings when the project is complete.

During the 6 years to April 1985 the total number of permanent staff in the MSC has been reduced by about 4,500 to just under 21,000 over a period when the commission has successfully introduced several major new programmes like the youth training scheme and the community programme.

Reviews have been carried out in the Department which will lead to better use both of accommodation and of management services and new financial information on budgeting systems have been introduced. A second report on implementing the financial management initiative during 1984 was published recently.