The youth contract, to which I referred earlier, is worth nearly £1 billion. It builds on the substantial support already available to help unemployed young people to enter work. It includes more intensive support for all 18 to 24-year-olds, additional funded work experience places and a new wage incentive scheme delivered through the Work programme.
The number of young people in my constituency who are not in education, employment or training is double the national average, and it has been suggested that the area should be treated as a hot spot for action. Stockton borough council is doing its bit as a local employer, but its powers are limited in the wake of spending cuts. Will the Minister take specific action to help the hardest hit areas, such as mine, and will he make proper resources available so that real things can happen, rather than tinkering around the edges?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, I regard the labour market in the north-east as one of our big priorities. That is why we have targeted the area with support through the regional growth fund and established an enterprise zone in the Tees valley, and that is why we are doing all that we can—through the Work programme, the different aspects of the youth contract, and our work in the skills arena in providing more apprenticeships—to bring about both private sector growth and an increase in the skills of the hon. Gentleman’s constituents to help them get into work.
The Minister has form with respect to inner-city Manchester: he once compared Moss Side to the film “The Wire”. Will he tell me whether he takes the question of youth unemployment seriously? We know that, if left unchecked, it will have an impact on all the malaises that lead to exactly the sort of thing that we see in north American cities, and we do not want to see it once again in inner-city Britain.
Let me say first that the hon. Gentleman clearly never read the speech that I made, and secondly that I defend my comments in relation to the country as a whole in the wake of the terrible scenes that we saw last summer. That issue is one reason why we must focus on youth unemployment, why we are investing so much money in tackling it, and why it is at the top of the Government’s list of priorities. It is just a shame that the last Government failed to deal with the problem in good times, when it started to become an issue after 2004.
Youth unemployment is far too high. I warmly welcome my right hon. Friend’s youth contract proposals, but does he agree that basic skills and qualifications are also vital to ensuring that young unemployed people obtain jobs?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have introduced skills conditionality in Jobcentre Plus, and have also increased the flexibilities available to our skills providers to ensure that when a young person who is out of work has a skills gap, we can refer him or her to a training course immediately to ensure that that gap is filled.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that the number of apprenticeships in Harlow has increased by 76% in the past year? Is that not a better way of getting rid of the problem of youth unemployment than the dependency culture loved by Opposition Members?
My hon. Friend is right—and that statistic is no coincidence, because he, as the local Member of Parliament, has put a huge amount of effort into trying to ensure that more apprenticeship places are provided in Harlow. He deserves a lot of credit for that, as do all Members who are looking for extra apprenticeship opportunities, holding job fairs, setting up job clubs, and making a real difference to their constituents.