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Jobseeker’s Allowance

Volume 489: debated on Monday 16 March 2009

4. How many claimants of jobseeker’s allowance there were in (a) the UK and (b) Clwyd, West constituency on the latest date for which figures are available. (263316)

In January 2009, there were 1,282,645 jobseeker’s allowance claimants in the UK and 1,403 in Clwyd, West constituency. Those numbers are based on seasonally unadjusted figures.

The Secretary of State may know that the Indesit-Hotpoint factory in Bodelwyddan, which employs 305 people, is due to close at the end of July. That will be a serious blow to an area with very little other manufacturing industry. The factory union has arranged an advisory day on 22 May, with a view to helping the workers deal with the financial consequences of the closure. Will the Secretary of State encourage the local Jobcentre Plus office to attend the event to give the workers the benefit of its experience and as much advice as possible in dealing with this severe blow for them and their families?

Yes, I am aware of those redundancies. I believe that we are still in the 90-day consultation period. I will ensure that we attend as part of the rapid response service. We will also want to work with the union and the Welsh Assembly Government, who have a good scheme—the ProAct-ReAct scheme—to ensure that we can get help that enables people to get back into work as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Jones) makes a perfectly reasonable point. One of the difficulties in our area is that the travel-to-work area crosses the Welsh border and reaches into Chester and my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that, in engaging with the work, the DWP takes into account the travel-to-work area and ensures that advice is given that crosses the border properly?

Yes; indeed, I met the Secretary of State for Wales and the First Minister recently to do exactly that, because the Welsh Assembly has some devolved responsibilities in this matter. We want to ensure that the offer that we have in place is seamless across the border. There are some differences between the Welsh schemes and our schemes, so that will be a challenge, but we are working closely together to do exactly what my hon. Friend wants.

The claimant count in Clwyd, West has gone up by 40 per cent. in the last year and the number of vacancies posted has gone down by two thirds. The same figures pertain to my own Caernarfon constituency. Is the Secretary of State aware that the director of CBI Wales, David Rosser, said on Friday:

“We believe the Welsh Assembly Government’s response to the credit crunch has been the quickest and most comprehensive of any devolved government in the UK.”?

What lessons can the right hon. Gentleman’s Department learn from the success of the Labour/Plaid Cymru Government in Cardiff?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that unusually friendly question. I can reassure him that we have learned directly from the ProAct-ReAct scheme. We think that this is the right approach, bringing about at its heart extra training opportunities and extra employment subsidies. That is exactly what we have done with our six-month offer, which will come into force in April, as the hon. Gentleman knows. We are working closely together and I hope that that will be to the benefit of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents and all the people of Wales.

In response to a question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) in last Tuesday’s unemployment debate, the right hon. Gentleman said that the Government were still committed to rolling out the flexible new deal on 1 October. On the same day, however, the Minister for Employment and Welfare Reform said that the Government still aimed to do that, but acknowledged that, given the time slippage and delay in the Government’s issuing of contracts, there were concerns about whether bidders would be able to hit the timetable. Bidders have been asked to indicate in their tender submissions whether they can hit it, but given the Minister’s acknowledgement of these concerns will the Secretary of State tell us about the Government’s contingency plan?

We are still committed to October. In the same way as Jobcentre Plus had to amend its proposals in the light of the downturn, so must our providers. The reason the hon. Gentleman is raising questions about delivery is to distract from the fact that he will be cutting £2 billion from the employment budget, just on employment benefit—

It is not nonsense; it is the truth. The Conservatives have a policy of opposing the fiscal boost, so they need to own up to the consequences, which will mean cutting help for people just at the time unemployment is rising. We will not repeat that mistake, which was their mistake in the ’80s and ’90s.