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Training In Work

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 26 June 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he intends to increase the numbers receiving training in work.

The number of people in work receiving training increased by 70 per cent. between 1984 and 1989. The employer-led training and enterprise councils that are coming into operation around the country will actively promote measures to continue that encouraging trend.

Is the Secretary of State aware that according to the European Commission's 1989 labour survey, the United Kingdom has the lowest-skilled work force in Europe, with only 38 per cent. classed as skilled compared with the EC average of 63 per cent? Is he further aware that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is quoted in today's issue of The Times as saying that it will have to axe thousands of training places because of Government cuts in training expenditure? Why do the Government still refuse to support the long-term future of this country?

I look forward to meeting the national council tomorrow, when I shall explain to it that the Government are spending some £2·7 billion of taxpayers' money in the current year on training, that we are seeing an increase in employers' contributions to training, and that the extent to which our work force is beginning to become well trained is increasing apace, and will continue to be enhanced as a result of the activities of training and enterprise councils.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the people who most need training are school leavers, who go into work instead of further education in one form or another? Will he consider making a link between employers' national insurance contributions and the level of qualifications that young employees manage to achieve while working for that employer?

My hon. Friend is known for his ingenious suggestions and that is one which we shall certainly consider, as we consider all suggestions to help performance in that area. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that young people who enter work receive training, and I am delighted that employers are increasingly recognising their responsibilities in that area.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that training organisations throughout the country are considering withdrawing from Government training schemes because of cuts in this year's budget, and will he deny that he has already agreed to cuts in next year's budget? When will he start to stand up for the interests not merely of his Department but of the future of training in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman's question is entirely inaccurate. Well over 90 per cent. of the recontracting exercise on employment and youth training has been completed. Possibly unlike the hon. Gentleman, I accept a responsibility towards those who have received training and are in need of it, but I do not accept responsibility for those who provide training, if they do not do so in the most cost-effective and efficient way.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that British employers are spending £18 billion a year of their hard-earned cash on training? Is not that encouragement by the Government much more effective than the compulsion offered to British employers by the Opposition?

The cost to British employers was £18 billion in 1986–87—the latest year for which we have full statistics. It has certainly increased since, and is a sign of the extent to which training takes place throughout the work force. Of course, we must do even better, but it is wrong to denigrate our present performance.