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Volume 538: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2012

The annual population survey of 2010 estimates that 36,000 18 to 19-year-olds in Scotland were not in education, employment or training between 2009 and 2010.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response, but it does not really answer the question of what is happening between the ages of 16 and 18, which is as important, if not more important. What is he doing to encourage youngsters to enter industry and to enable them to take up apprenticeships as joiners, electricians and plumbers, because this Government have failed to attract people into those industries? Does he agree that the idea, which I suggested to him at a meeting, of setting up schools-industry liaison committees is worth supporting?

The hon. Gentleman rightly continues to focus on this issue. We are all deeply concerned about youth unemployment. I have visited his constituency, and I have also had other meetings in Ayrshire and elsewhere, and it is right that we should join the Scottish Government, employers and all the agencies to help young people—aged between 16 and 18 and of any age—to find work or support. The youth contract that we announced before Christmas will bring £1 billion of extra investment into supporting the young unemployed, whether through wage incentives, additional work experience and opportunities or money to the Scottish Government. That money could also be used to create the school-industry liaison groups the hon. Gentleman wants.

As the Secretary of State says, youth unemployment is a huge concern for Members of all parties and for people across Scotland. The youth contract will help by providing 40,000 opportunities for young people in Scotland, but this problem will not be solved easily, so what will my right hon. Friend do to bring together people from the UK Government, the jobcentres and the Scottish Government, as well as business employers and education representatives, to offer the opportunities that young people in Scotland need?

Over many months now, I have been bringing together exactly those groups in different parts of Scotland—including Ayrshire, Falkirk and the borders. At the end of March, I, along with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and the Scottish Finance Secretary, will bring everybody together so we can focus as two Governments and as all the interested parties on tackling this scourge that we must get rid of.

The problem with the Secretary of State’s complacent answers is that he simply does not grasp the scale of the crisis of slumping demand, employment and confidence that grips Scotland’s economy due to the crushing austerity being imposed by this Government. Does he not share the real fears of young people that, with youth unemployment at over 21% and seven people chasing every vacancy in Scotland, there simply are not enough jobs to go around, and is it not time to change course by boosting demand through a cut in VAT now, before this Government’s failing economic plan plunges Scotland into the misery of another downturn?

I think it is wrong for the Labour party to be complacent about its record on the economy, which landed us in this mess in the first place. The shadow Defence Secretary, one of my predecessors as Scottish Secretary, said this week that Labour has to face up to the realities of the economy and the deficit, and the hon. Gentleman should do that, too. We want to work with everybody so that we can reduce youth unemployment, and I invite him to look at the youth contract in more detail.