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Youth Employment And Training

Volume 414: debated on Wednesday 29 October 1980

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2.51 p.m.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a progress report on their plans for finding jobs and training places of all kinds for young people.

My Lords, the Government's economic policies are designed to bring down inflation and create an economic climate in which investment and growth will stimulate an expansion of employment for young people and other workers. In addition, in the six months ending on 30th September this year over 160,000 young people were helped by the Manpower Services Commission's youth opportunities programme. At least a quarter of a million young people will be helped by Easter 1981. It is also expected that some 25,000 young people will be supported in apprenticeship training under the training for skills programme in the youth opportunities programme. Other special employment measures are currently being reviewed, and decisions about their shape and size in 1981–82 will be announced as soon as possible.

My Lords, may I congratulate the Government on this programme, which seems to be going extremely well and is very successful? In fact, I hope it could be enlarged even further; and possibly we might even get some help from the EEC in the training of young people, for they also must be anxious to see that young people are given an opportunity for a good start in life.

My Lords, I am grateful for what my noble friend has said. The YOP has indeed been successful, and our records show that up to 70 per cent. of young people find work immediately after leaving the schemes. We are in receipt of aid from Europe, to which we have, of course, substantially contributed. Perhaps "aid" is the wrong word, but we are in receipt of funds through the European Social Fund for Training, and that affects the provisions for young people in the assisted areas.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why it is that when we listen to the one o'clock news we continually hear that young people cannot find jobs? Therefore, his optimistic Answer really does need to be explained.

My Lords the optimism of my Answer was related to the success of the youth opportunities programme. It was not a comment on the general employment prospects for young people; that is another matter altogether. The general employment prospects for young people are linked to the general employment prospects for everybody, and they can be improved only by bringing down inflation and by restoring this country's competitive position.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that the youth opportunities programme will be able to take all the young people who have been unemployed for six months or so after they have left school in the current year? May I ask as a further supplementary whether there is liaison between his department and the DES about the use of careers officers and careers teachers in schools, so that the young people get sent in the right direction for training?

My Lords, taking the second part of the noble Baroness's supplementary first, I should like to pay a tribute to the work of the careers service, which has succeeded in about 90 per cent. of the placings on to the youth opportunities programme; and we are helping that service by earmarked special provisions from my own department for extra staff and the rest. As to the first part of the noble Baroness's supplementary, for the second year running the MSC has substantially met its undertaking to last year's jobless school-leavers to find them a place on the YOP before Easter of this year, and I would anticipate that we shall be able to meet the same target by Easter 1981.

My Lords, is the Minister aware—I certainly hope he is—of the exceptionally serious situation in regard to the unemployment of young people in the North-East? Is he also aware—I do not suppose he is—that I was there only a couple of weeks ago to discover that anything up to 50 per cent. of school-leavers are remaining unemployed for up to 12 months? Does this not add particular emphasis to the hope expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, that, if at all possible, more should be done under the youth employment programme?

My Lords, I have myself on a number of occasions visited the North-East, and I shall be going again to look at the problems of youth employment in that area, and also at the working of the special programmes to which my noble friend Lady Elliot's Question originally referred. I am at the moment confident that we will meet our targets and service the needs of young people in the youth opportunities programme. If we look like not doing so, we shall of course return to it as a matter of first priority.

My Lords, can the noble Earl give an undertaking that the money which is received from the European Social Fund will be used in addition to British Treasury money, as opposed to being used to top up cash limits?

My Lords, my noble friend, as is his wont, is steering me down a very knotty path. It could be argued that the European Social Fund money is simply cash limited Treasury money in the first place.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the special problems of long-term unemployment in areas of urban decay, such as the London Borough of Brent, and would he not agree that the EEC Social Fund has a special role to play in retraining and training schemes in such areas, especially since we in this country gain 27 per cent. of the funds from the EEC Social Fund?

My Lords, I appreciate what my noble friend has said. A problem that we have with the Social Fund is that it beams the money towards regions of special difficulty, and it defines those regions rather more widely than we do, which would mean that in the case of the London Borough of Brent (though I am acutely aware, as is my noble friend, of the problems there) that region would be considered too small, or as existing simultaneously with a more prosperous region, such as the rest of the South-East, to warrant consideration under the Social Fund. That is a problem we have, but I have been taking this up within the tripartite standing committee in Brussels.

My Lords, will the Minister give us an idea of the average length of time it takes for an employer who applies under the youth opportunities programme to obtain the services of an employee? I ask this, bearing in mind that I know of a case where the employer applied at the beginning of August and only last week was sent a very large envelope through the post, costing 31p in postage, which contained the contract and a lot of "bumf" as well which did not appear to be very relevant to the situation.

My Lords, I would need special notice to give a precise answer as to the average time taken, but, off the cuff, I think it is round about four weeks, which, when one considers the scale of this programme, seems to me to be pretty good going.

My Lords, in completing their plans for helping young people will the Government bear in mind that, to judge from the position in the part of Cheshire in which I live, unemployment has increased even more, proportionately, among those aged between 19 and 24 than among those aged between 16 and 18?

My Lords, I am glad the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, has raised that, because I did not really deal with it when my noble friend Lord Bethell talked about the longer-term unemployed. We are very concerned about this, and we are reviewing the provision for the longer-term unemployed. I would hope that the longer-term unemployed might be usefully engaged in helping to clear up areas of urban dereliction which make such a depressing atmosphere for investment and growth.

My Lords, may I ask the noble Earl a question which seems to be particularly appropriate to the Question asked by the noble Baroness Lady Elliot. Has he considered whether in this period of rapidly rising youth unemployment it would be worth while getting together the large number of charitable organisations like Oxfam in this country and seeing whether they cannot attract the services of at least a proportion of the large number of young people who are at present without work?

My Lords, when I first suggested some things rather along the lines of the noble Lord's supplementary question, that the young unemployed might engage in voluntary work, the roof rather fell in around my ears and it was suggested that I was directing labour. I am glad to say that it is an idea which is gaining increasing support, and I am glad that the noble Lord seems to subscribe to it.

My Lords, can the noble Earl say whether the Government have completely rejected the whole idea of training for stock which, as I understand it, is a prominent feature of the system very successfully practised in West Germany?

My Lords, that pertains rather to the Question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Rochester, but the MSC helps employers through the IPTB system to take on more apprentices than they need, and that could be described as a form of training for stock.