The Government’s efforts to reduce the largest deficit in UK peacetime history and deliver sustainable economic recovery are an important way of dealing with youth unemployment. Further specific measures to help young people in Northern Ireland to find jobs are the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive, with whom we are happy to work closely.
Given that youth unemployment now stands at over 20%, does the Secretary of State not share Opposition Members’ sense of urgency about the need to get Northern Ireland’s young people back to work? We have proposed a bank bonus tax that would help to create 2,000 jobs for those young people. What specific things are the Government going to do?
I will take no lectures from Labour on youth unemployment. Youth unemployment rose by a third—by 35%—under Labour in Northern Ireland, youth employment fell by nearly 10%, and economic activity among young people fell by 3%. We are determined to rebalance the Northern Ireland economy. Our deficit reduction plan is keeping interest rates low, which is vital for job creation and investment, and corporation tax is being reduced. We have also recognised the special circumstances of Northern Ireland by providing, on average, a higher block grant per head than is provided anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
Since it was established by the British and Irish Governments, the International Fund for Ireland has played an important role in facilitating and encouraging investment in projects that support communities, businesses and young people. What future role does the Secretary of State envisage for the IFI, and how can it help the Governments and the Northern Ireland Executive to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment in Northern Ireland?
I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the IFI. It has done tremendous work in the past, and continues to do that work. I shall be happy to meet IFI representatives to discuss how we can work together more closely to address youth unemployment issues. I am sure that they will engage with Northern Ireland politicians who will travel to the United States for the St Patrick’s day commemorations in a week or so.
The Secretary of State referred to corporation tax. Will she update the House on her discussions with the Treasury about the possibility of devolving to the Northern Ireland Assembly the power to set its own rate of corporation tax?
Youth unemployment in my constituency has increased significantly in the last year. Will the Secretary of State ensure that that figure is not added to by the closure of the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency office in Coleraine, and will she speak with the relevant Transport Minister to make sure that those 200 jobs and their cost-effectiveness are preserved by bringing employment across to Northern Ireland?
I am very much aware of the importance of this issue. I was in the Coleraine area only last week, and I have discussed this matter with the Transport Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond). He is aware of the concern felt in Northern Ireland, and he either met Alex Attwood for further discussions yesterday or will meet him today. It is important that he takes into account the views of Northern Ireland before he makes his decision.
Instead of saying, “It’s not me, guv,” and shuffling responsibility for the terrible level of disaffection among unemployed young people in Northern Ireland, why does the Secretary of State not accept that it is her Government’s macro-economic policies that are causing this disaffection? With the marching season coming up and the loyalist disorder just past, this is a very toxic situation and she is just walking away from it and shuffling responsibility on to the Northern Ireland Executive.
Not at all. The Government’s macro-economic policy is focused on dealing with the deficit and creating the right conditions for growth so we can start to resolve problems in relation to youth unemployment. That is why we are focusing on such matters as keeping interest rates low by dealing with the deficit and reducing corporation tax; why we are investing in broadband capacity—that is why Belfast and Londonderry are going to become part of our super-connected cities programme; why we are offering tax breaks for high-end TV, another growth area of industry in Northern Ireland; and why the Prime Minister is bringing the G8 to Northern Ireland, to showcase it to the world as a great place to do business.