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Schools-Employers (Compacts)

Volume 130: debated on Tuesday 29 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what representations he has had from groups of local employers and schools who wish to develop compacts; and if he will make a statement.

The Government are making available £3 million a year for each of the next four years to encourage the development of 12 employer-school compacts within inner city areas in England. It is also proposed to support a further two compacts in Scotland and one in Wales. The Manpower Services Commission has received a number of inquiries from interested employers and schools.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that even more progress could be made on reducing unemployment on the one hand, and skill shortages on the other, if we were to develop compacts in my area? We are constantly faced with the conflicting problems of skill shortages and unemployment. Does my right hon. Friend agree that developing compacts as they are now envisaged would foster in our young people, before they leave school, a greater awareness, understanding and direct experience of industry, thereby, we hope, increasing the number of pupils who might consider taking up employment in industry after leaving school?

I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. The whole concept of compacts is that employers should guarantee a job with training to young people, particularly those from inner city schools, who meet agreed standards of achievement and motivation. Obviously, we should like to develop the idea in the west midlands, among other areas. I know, of course, of my hon. Friend's interest in Wolverhampton.

The Secretary of State will know that the Opposition are very much in favour of the compact idea. Indeed, ILEA pioneered the idea in central London with great success, and many people — including the Government — are now modelling their plans on that success.

There are dangers, however. Targeting is very important. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that targeting the youngsters who need the help provided by the compact—those less likely to obtain qualifications—is what the game is all about? Is he confident that employers will deliver on the compact, when they have signally failed to deliver on the general contribution to training over the past 10 years? The right hon. Gentleman knows —because he is carrying out a full investigation into training —that the voluntary principle has not worked.

The hon. Gentleman must be fair about, for example, the London compact. It is certainly true that ILEA has been very much involved with that, but so has the London enterprise agency, which involves companies in the private sector.

That, I think, is the reply to the hon. Gentleman's question : companies have become involved with the London compact. The aim — I agree with the hon. Gentleman — is to give a good education and an opportunity in employment, particularly in difficult areas such as the inner cities. We have 12 pilot schemes, and I hope that we shall learn from them.

There can be little doubt of the benefit of industrial and commercial links with education, but does my right hon. Friend agree with our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science that the presence of city technology colleges in some of our cities will act as a stimulus and a catalyst for even more compact schemes throughout the country?

I agree with my hon. Friend, and I believe that the closer together that we bring industry and schools, the better it will be for both sides.