To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on employment opportunities in Lancashire.
On 8 January the number of unfilled vacancies registered at jobcentres in Lancashire was 5,716. This compares with 4,790 in January 1987. Only about one third of all vacancies nationally are notified to jobcentres. In the same period, unemployment in Lancashire has fallen from 79,344 to 65,623. All my Department's employment, training and enterprise measures are available in Lancashire.
I am encouraged by my hon. Friend's answer, as it bears out the fact that in my constituency of Fylde unemployment has dropped to about 7·5 per cent. Already, however, employers are experiencing shortages in both semi-skilled and highly skilled jobs. Can my hon. Friend tell me which items in his new training package he feels will contribute to addressing the problem? Does he feel that the voluntary sector has a role to play in that work as well?
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to suggest that the voluntary sector has a role to play. Certainly, employers in the Fylde area report particular skill shortages in administration, legal secretaries, computer staff and so on. The new adult training programme will be very much locally conceived and locally delivered, precisely so that it can take account of particular skill shortages and requirements in particular areas.
Does the Minister honestly believe that employment prospects in Lancashire and the north of England generally can be as good as they are in the southeast, unless the Government are prepared to take proper steps? For instance, a development agency for the northwest would ensure that we received the investment that is needed to achieve decent quality employment in the areas.
The short answer is yes. As my hon. Friend the Minister of State has already said today, the rate of unemployment is falling, not only in the more prosperous regions, but throughout all the regions. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to examine any of the indicators for the areas about which he is concerned, he will find that that good news continues. For instance, unemployment in Lancashire has fallen from 14·8 to 12·2 per cent. Although we may wish that it had fallen still further, the point is that in the present economic environment it is clear that all regions not simply the more prosperous areas will benefit from falls in unemployment.