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Skill Training

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans he has to encourage the development of community-based skill-training schemes.

The Government have given training and enterprise councils the responsibility and resources to plan and deliver training which is most appropriate to meet local needs.

What the Secretary of State said will be news to Hexagon Community Ltd. in East Lancashire road in Liverpool, which has found that the TEC in our area has abolished allowances for protective clothing and in many other spheres, as well as cutting the unit cost paid per person so that the entire staff has taken a pay reduction in the past few months. Is not it about time that the Government showed that they have a real commitment to training by encouraging self-help enterprises such as that in my constituency? Is not it appalling that those people, who give so much of their time, should be facing restrictions while the Secretary of State hides behind the skirt of TECs which have been created as shock absorbers for this dreadful Government?

The hon. Gentleman must make up his mind whether he supports his party's policy on the training and enterprise councils. We are assured constantly by Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen that the Opposition support TECs, are enthusiastic about the idea and wish them to continue. Training and enterprise councils are responsible for dealing with matters in their area.

The hon. Gentleman talks about resources. We are spending two and a half times as much in real terms as the Labour party spent when it was responsible for these matters. The hon. Gentleman must know that this is not one of the two immediate spending priorities to which the shadow Chief Secretary has signed up. He should face up to reality—drop the pledge or own up to the tax.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Government have spent more on training than Labour did when it was in power, even taking account of inflation? Does he agree that we need no lectures on training from Opposition Front Benchers, because they have objected to employment training, the youth training scheme and every other training proposal that we have made?

My hon. Friend is right. Before they start trying to lecture us on training, the Opposition—particularly the shadow spokesman on employment—would be well-advised to persuade the Transport and General Workers Union to drop its boycott of youth training, employment training and the training and enterprise councils.

Are not training programmes such as youth training and employment training predicated on employer participation but, because of the recession, the employers have contracted out, causing a crisis? We therefore need community programmes, such as that mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing), which are more expensive. Will the Secretary of State undertake to give extra resources to those programmes so that the ET and YT guarantees can be implemented? They are not being implemented now.

I do not accept either of the assumptions on which the hon. Gentleman's question is predicated. It is incorrect to say that employers have contracted out. Every recent survey has shown that many more employers are maintaining or increasing their training than are reducing it. Over 90 per cent. of employers who responded to a recent survey said that they were providing as much, or more, off-the-job training as they were a year ago. So, the hon. Gentleman is being far too pessimistic about the employers' commitment to training.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, despite the Opposition's opposition to every scheme that the Government have introduced in the past 12 years, there has been a sevenfold increase in the number of people entering training schemes?

My hon. Friend draws attention to the substantial increase in the number of people now taking advantage of Government-sponsored training opportunities, but, of course, there has also been a tremendous increase in the training provided to people in work—an 85 per cent. increase between 1984 and 1990. We are making great strides in the provision of training—employer-financed training and Government-financed training—and it is about time that the Opposition recognised that progress instead of constantly carping and criticising.

As the recession is now much deeper and more pervasive than Ministers are prepared to admit and as we have the fastest rising unemployment in Europe, how can the Secretary of State justify cutting 110,000 places for training young people and the unemployed at the very time when the recession is hitting hardest?

It is absolutely no use the hon. Gentleman banging on about resources, given that he has failed to persuade the shadow Chief Secretary that that should be one of the Opposition's two immediate spending priorities. Drop the pledge or own up to the tax.