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Volume 491: debated on Wednesday 29 April 2009

5. What recent discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on measures to reduce unemployment in Wales. (270722)

Last week’s Budget announced a further employment package, building on steps taken in the pre-Budget report to respond to rising unemployment, including an extra £1.7 billion for Jobcentre Plus.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. Five years of jobcentre closures and staff cuts have meant that Wales now has 144 jobseekers for every personal adviser, which is nearly double the figure a year ago and means that each adviser has only about 15 minutes a week to help each person into work. Given that unemployment in Wales is likely to rise by a further 50 per cent. over the next year, will the Secretary of State speak to his Cabinet colleagues to ensure that Jobcentre Plus has people in place with enough time to help those who are unemployed find work?

Of course I will, but the hon. Lady will accept that a percentage of that £1.7 billion for Jobcentre Plus will go to Wales, and the whole purpose of that spending will be to do the sort of things that she mentioned, with proper advice and sufficient time to talk to people who come to Jobcentre Plus about their own particular difficulties.

My right hon. Friend will recall the devastation that was visited on communities in west Wales and the valleys during the 1980s and the early 1990s as a result of two Tory recessions. Does he agree that the policies that were followed then were wrong and left a lasting legacy that meant that under the Labour Government we qualified for special European aid? The way to get out of a recession is not to cut our way out, but to grow our way out.

I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. He will know that long-term unemployment was a scourge in the 1980s and 1990s, and that the Government cannot be an uninterested observer. Government, both in Cardiff and in London, must act, and that is the opposite of what the Conservatives stand for.

Further to the question by the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott), the Secretary of State will know that last year it was announced that 12,000 jobs would be lost in the offices of the Department for Work and Pensions, the equivalent of losing 200 offices. Some 33 towns in Wales are currently without offices. Given that a further £15 billion of cuts are on the way, how many more jobs will be lost in that sector in Wales?

Obviously we have to try to preserve all jobs, whether in the public or private sectors. The Government measures announced in the Budget include the money for Jobcentre Plus, the money for the under-25s in Wales and the measures taken over the last couple of months, and they are specifically designed to ensure that jobs are protected. Of course, we cannot avoid some job losses, because they are inevitable in a downturn such as this, but we have to do all that we can to ensure that other jobs are available—thousands of jobs are still vacant in Wales—for people to take.

This has not been an easy time for anybody seeking work, and we in Swansea, East have also faced challenges. I am sure that the Secretary of State will agree that the work that Jobcentre Plus has done is absolutely fantastic. I want to commend the work of our local Jobcentre Plus in Morriston. Will the Secretary of State ensure that publicity and promotion is made available, both for employers experiencing difficulties and for those seeking work, to promote the work of jobcentres?

Yes, of course I will ensure that that message is put across. My hon. Friend does a great deal for the people of Swansea in this regard. She will know, of course, that the Labour party conference met very successfully last weekend in Swansea. All the policies to which I have just referred also refer specifically to the problems faced by her constituents in Swansea, East.

The Secretary of State will be aware that the latest job loss figures from Wales are dire. Unemployment in my constituency has gone up by more than 100 per cent. in the past 12 months. On Friday, I was at my local Jobcentre Plus, which is doing valuable work, but will the Secretary of State say what additional support can be given to those new victims of the recession who need targeted and specialist support? They have a solid and continuous work history, and often a good education, and they might never have been inside a jobcentre in their lives. They need targeted support and they face a very bleak set of circumstances right now.

I quite understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying. If he follows the proceedings of the Budget last week and the announcements that followed, he will see that some 7,500 new jobs for young people in Wales could be created by initiatives that the Government have taken over the past couple of days and the money that is going in. At the end of the day, the Government are tackling these issues in a manner that is entirely different from the non-policies of the Opposition.

What discussions has my right hon. Friend had with the Secretary of State for Defence about the Ministry of Defence’s policy of sustainable procurement in the defence technical college contract in St. Athan in my constituency? If that policy is adhered to, it will have a dramatic effect on unemployment in south Wales, with planning taking place next month and construction starting next summer.

My hon. Friend is aware that I am in constant contact with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence, particularly on the subject of the defence training academy that is coming to my hon. Friend’s constituency. My hon. Friend has done a great job in this respect, and this is the biggest single public procurement project ever in Wales.

On 6 November, the Secretary of State announced that a £150 million investment fund to help businesses would shortly be operated through Finance Wales. The chief executive of Finance Wales said that the scheme had been planned for some time. Why did it take six months to launch it, why was it left until the Welsh Labour party conference to do so, and what does he say to the thousands of people who have lost their jobs in the meantime whose businesses might have been helped by that fund? Does “shortly” mean “when politically convenient”?

I think that the hon. Lady understands that much of the finance that goes into these schemes comes from Europe. That includes money for Finance Wales, and this week—she is aware of this, as she just made reference to it—£150 million of new money has come into Wales as a consequence. She asked what I would say to the people of Wales with regard to these issues of unemployment. I would say that her party was in government for 215 months, and that for 205 of those 215 months unemployment levels in Wales were higher than they are today in Welsh constituencies.