The responsibility for skills falls within the remit of the Department for Education and Skills. However, my Department offers training and support for young people who take up work in a wide range of occupational areas, including the construction industry, through the new deal for young people. Since the new deal started, nearly 180,000 young people have been helped by the full-time education and training option, and over 85,000 through the employment option. There are already 19,000 young people employed in construction across London, and there is no shortage of further opportunities, given that there are currently around 11,000 vacancies.
The Minister is right. The Chartered Institute of Building confirms that seven out of 10 firms are expecting more work this year, and three quarters have difficulty recruiting people with the right skills for the industry. Could he, with his colleagues in the DFES—I appreciate that it is a cross-departmental responsibility—ensure that all the young people who, in constituencies such as mine, are keen to get into the building industry, have not just the initial training, but the opportunity to go from the training into apprenticeship and the work that give them the security of employment that they need, London needs and Britain needs?
Indeed, those opportunities exist. The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the on-site training and the job shop at Battersea power station, which I am sure is attractive to many of his young constituents hoping to get into the construction industry. We are working there with Lambeth college and South Thames college. There have been more than 10,000 inquiries to that job shop already, and I am pleased to tell him that as a result 640 young people have gone straight into construction work in London, 43 per cent. of them drawn from the ethnic minority communities.
Will my hon. Friend speak to his colleagues to ensure that the young people who are enticed into training go on to get full-time apprenticeships—not short, modern apprenticeships—where they can learn all the skills necessary for them to be of use not only to the London area, but to the entire country?
My hon. Friend is right. There are extensive opportunities for young people to find employment in the construction industry and to develop skills. He will be pleased to know that £63 million was available to support construction apprenticeships last year, as a result of which 24,000 young people came forward and began construction apprenticeships. We are grateful for the fact that there are 15,000 employers around the country offering construction partnerships.
As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of schemes have been extremely effective already in helping young people find work. I suggest that he looks at the results of the new deal for young people. Some 700,000 young people have gone through the new deal for young people programme, and as a result we now have a very low level of youth unemployment. The programme has helped us virtually eradicate long-term youth unemployment.
Has my hon. Friend given consideration to tapping into the skills and expertise of construction workers who have had to retire through ill health or personal injury? That would be a double whammy, in the sense that it would take them away from daytime television and pass on their skills to the young people who need them. Such a scheme would need the support of the appropriate trade unions, and should not affect their benefits.
My hon. Friend is right: those who formerly worked in the construction sector have an enormous range of skills of which we can make use. In many parts of the country, learning and skills councils, when they are delivering locally, are engaged in that process, as are colleges. He will be aware that the Scottish Executive are looking at ways of developing those ties even further.
David Freud has talked of a “poverty of skills” in the UK, yet only 11 per cent. of benefit claimants who lack everyday literacy and numeracy skills complete a basic skills qualification. Will the Government now assess all new claimants so that those with reading or maths needs, for example, can participate in training as soon as they make a claim, without having to wait six months for an assessment?
David Freud also pointed out that the Government have a “genuinely impressive record” in helping young people to gain the skills to find work. If the hon. Gentleman cares to look at the skills base that exists for young people, the opportunities for acquiring skills, the expansion of the further education sector and the contribution made by the new deal for young people, he will accept that the opportunities now are far greater than they were 10 years ago.