A total of 3.6 million 18 to 24-year-olds are now in employment, 11 per cent. more than in 1997. More young people are in higher education than ever before, and the number of young people claiming jobseeker’s allowance for more than six months has fallen by 70 per cent. since 1997, to just over 50,000.
Yesterday’s labour market statistics showed an increase in unemployment among 18 to 24-year-olds to 518,000, and a 20 per cent. increase in long-term unemployment among that group. Does the Chief Secretary agree that employers have a right to expect young jobseekers to be able to read and count, and that it is truly appalling that, according to the CBI, a third of employers have to teach those skills to new job entrants?
The hon. Gentleman omitted to mention that yesterday’s unemployment figures showed another sharp fall. The claimant count has been less than 1 million for six years—it was never less than 1 million under the 18 years of a Tory Government—and now it is below 900,000. Yesterday’s figures also showed that we have the highest employment rate among the G8 countries. Moreover, as I said earlier, more young people are in employment, and the proportion of 18 to 24-year-olds who are not in education, employment or training has fallen over the past 10 years.
There is more to be done on skills, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman welcomes the recommendations of the Leitch report, published before Christmas. We will make further announcements about that today, and our response in the form of an implementation plan will be published in a few weeks’ time.
The trend in general unemployment in central Ayrshire dropped significantly again this month, but there is one slight problem—the deficit in public service jobs. What progress has the Chief Secretary made in the context of the Lyons report and the dispersal of civil service jobs, with a view to giving more employment prospects to 18 to 24-year-olds?
I am very pleased with the progress that is being made in my hon. Friend’s constituency. As he will know, our target for the period up to April 2008 is for 20,000 jobs to move from London and the south-east to the regions. There have now been transfers to every region and country in the United Kingdom, and we are well on track towards our target. However, if there are specific opportunities for relocations in my hon. Friend’s area and if he draws them to my attention, I will ensure that the Office of Government Commerce, which is managing the programme, is made aware of them. We want to make certain that full advantage is taken of such opportunities.