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Intermediate Labour Markets

Volume 403: debated on Monday 14 April 2003

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What steps he is taking to develop intermediate labour markets. [108705]

Intermediate labour markets work with disadvantaged people and seek to provide a supportive work environment, helping them to develop the skills needed to retain employment. They are widely used in the United Kingdom, and some are funded by new deal providers and local authorities.

The Department is investing £40 million in StepUp, a transitional work programme that will provide guaranteed jobs for up to 5,000 long-term unemployed people.

Does the Minister agree that the importance of intermediate labour markets was stressed by last year's report of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions? Will he give a commitment to mainstream such measures in the future work of his Department?

I have visited a number of intermediate labour market programmes, including the StepUp pilots. I am impressed by the work that they do, and particularly impressed by the enthusiasm that they seem to be able to raise in local communities—including enthusiasm from local public representatives and local providers. I can give my hon. Friend the commitment that he asks for.

Does the Minister accept that intermediate labour markets are welcome because they help into productive work people who are a long way distant from the labour market? At the moment, the funding streams are very flexible and insufficiently co-ordinated. During work on its recent employment report, the Select Committee heard that some providers were struggling as they tried to make sense of 10 different funding streams. Will the Government do something to co-ordinate the funding so that it is more easily available?

The hon. Gentleman chairs the Select Committee and its point was well made. In response, we are trying to find a way—within the Department and, indeed, across Government—of co-ordinating advice that is given to providers of not only intermediate labour market programmes but programmes more generally on which the Government rely. We are also trying to find a way of having an official to co-ordinate things and to work with lead providers to ensure that the range of provision is properly scoped and that providers have full information in front of them. However, the decisions will remain with the providers. An alternative approach, which is touched on in the Select Committee's report, would be to put the funding resources, or most of them, in one place. I think that that would mean that a whole range of programmes that are important to the Government would end up with less support. The right approach is to have better co-ordination, and we have made a start on that in the Department.

I welcome what the Minister has said. There are still parts of the country where long-term unemployment problems are deeply ingrained and where the private sector has yet to penetrate. Intermediate labour markets allow people to gain the confidence to get back into work. In my constituency, there are two very successful programmes—one in Havercroft and the other doing environmental work—but the funding streams are precarious. Will my right hon. Friend therefore encourage his Department to en sure that the funding streams are more robust in future?

Where, largely for historical and geographical reasons, unemployment is high, intermediate labour markets have an important part to play. If my hon. Friend writes to me about the specific funding issues for the two intermediate labour markets that cover his constituency, I shall—without making any specific promise—see what I can do to help.

I am sorry, Mr. Speaker, I was seeking to catch your eye not on this question but on Question 4.

Precisely what assistance is given to people who have difficulty in accessing the employment market because they have no transport of their own, and what assistance is there for people to travel to Jobcentre Plus? There is not even one Jobcentre Plus in the Vale of York.

I understand what the hon. Lady says; indeed, she has raised the issue with me before. The question of how Jobcentre Plus can provide the new and exciting range of services to sparsely populated communities is an important one. A range of initiatives is under way, including subsidised transport arrangements, which will make a difference. Concentration on this issue in the Department, working with the Countryside Agency, is something that I take very seriously indeed—partly because of my former responsibilities. I acknowledge that, due to the rural nature of the hon. Lady's constituency, it is impossible to provide a Jobcentre Plus office physically within the boundaries of the Vale of York, so if there is an initiative that she thinks will help her constituency, I am more than willing to respond constructively to any specific representations she may wish to make.