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Volume 565: debated on Monday 1 July 2013

Jobcentre Plus has a national network of employer relationship and partnership staff whose task is to work collaboratively with voluntary organisations to support more people back to work and encourage and support employers to open up their vacancies to the unemployed.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Newton Farm community association in my constituency has signed up a number of high-profile local people from both the private and the public sectors to mentor unemployed people in Herefordshire. Will he join me in congratulating the association and commending that spirit of self-help and mutual support? Will he also consider ways in which the Government can use jobcentres to offer further support to that and similar mentoring programmes?

I can not only join in the congratulations but say that the local jobcentre has a positive relationship with the Newton Farm community association. We want to do more work with local organisations to encourage people into work, and we are keen to support them in any way we can.

Many smaller voluntary organisations and social enterprises that signed up for the Work programme have had appalling experiences—some not even receiving a single referral—and they complain of being the fig leaf of local engagement for large companies, even though they know the local skills and job market best. What will the Minister do to improve their experience?

The Work programme providers argued for freedom and flexibility over who to contract with, but we have introduced the Merlin standard to govern the relationship between Work programme contractors and their subcontractors. If organisations have concerns about the way they have been treated by the Work programme providers, they should refer those concerns to the Merlin committee.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Jobcentre Plus in the Beverley and Holderness area on working closely with me in organising a jobs fair, which hundreds of local people attended; on the part it has played in ensuring that Beverley and Holderness has one of the highest figures on apprentice starts in the country; and on the fact that unemployment is now 3.5%? There has been a 20% drop in youth unemployment in my constituency in the past year.

I will join my hon. Friend in congratulating his local Jobcentre Plus on the work it has done. Jobcentre Plus does an excellent job in helping people into work, but of course helped by the private sector, which has created 1.3 million new jobs since May 2010.

A key step for jobcentres will be the introduction of universal credit. A press release from the Secretary of State in May last year claimed that

“all new applications for existing benefits and credits will be entirely phased out by April 2014.”

Will the Minister acknowledge that jobcentres will still be handling new applications for existing benefits long after next April?

The right hon. Gentleman never ceases to amaze me with the number of questions he asks about universal credit. He knows exactly what the time scale is. We have said when the national roll-out will be completed and I thought he would have been delighted today that we have extended the roll-out to Wigan.