Despite difficult economic circumstances, more people in the United Kingdom are in work than ever before in our history. Unemployment, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment are now falling. Through initiatives such as our city deals programme we will work with local communities to respond to particular local challenges.
Back in the real world, long-term youth unemployment in Hartlepool has risen by 86% since this Government took office. How much of that increase can be attributed to the Government’s economic policies and which of those policies will the Minister now change to help the jobless youth in my constituency?
I know that the hon. Gentleman was a member of the previous Government who left the mess that we are clearing up, but I would have thought—[Interruption.] I take an interest in Teesside, as he knows. In his article for the Hartlepool Mail, he said:
“The town’s economy has the makings of a modern, innovative and highly skilled manufacturing”
town. The hon. Gentleman should get behind his town and support the city deal for Teesside that his colleagues are campaigning for.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the combination of rising private sector employment in this country and the number of measures that we are taking, including the largest apprenticeship scheme for almost 50 years, is one reason why our youth unemployment is at a much lower level than that in large parts of Europe? It is now past 60% in Spain.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important that we make sure that our young people have the skills available, and the expansion of the apprenticeship programme is a key feature of that. It is important to send the right message to young people, which is that there is a 90% chance that a young person who joins the jobseeker’s allowance scheme will have a job within a year, and a 60% chance that they will have a job within three months. It is very important that that message gets out and that young people should not be demoralised by the Labour party.
In parts of the United Kingdom that are highly dependent on the public sector, such as Northern Ireland, does the Minister agree that we need to maximise the private sector to ensure that the hard core of young people who are unemployed get into skills and training programmes so that when jobs become available they are best placed to get them?
One of the best ways to tackle youth unemployment is to encourage the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises. In that regard, may I share with the Minister the good news that Northamptonshire has recently been declared the most enterprising county in Britain, and that in Kettering in the third quarter of last year there were 154 new company formations, a record for the borough?
I am very pleased to hear that from my hon. Friend, who has to count as one of the House’s most enterprising Members. He will know that Northampton came out very well of the recent cities survey with regard to its record of growth, and it is very important that we support that by getting more jobs and more people into work there.
In answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright), the Minister made it absolutely clear that he is completely unaware of the fact that the cuts in the north-east total £4 billion, greater than those in Spain. Is it any wonder that youth unemployment is third only to Spain and Greece?
The hon. Lady should reflect on the fact that the fall in unemployment in the north-east of nearly 25% is greater than that in any region in the country. She should be celebrating the turnaround in the north-eastern economy to which she and I have been aspiring for many years.
To go with the enterprise taking place in Northamptonshire, may I urge colleagues throughout the House to consider having an apprentice in their own office? I have had apprentices for two years now, both of whom were school leavers from Northamptonshire schools. They do a brilliant job and there are all sorts of facilities available to support that.