§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
It is wholly inappropriate for the House to adjourn for three months while the massive and crushing problem of the long-term unemployed remains. That problem becomes worse as every day goes by, particularly in the context of the economic crisis facing the Government. Halfway through the year, there is already a massive trade deficit that is far higher than the Chancellor predicted for the whole year. Interest rates are increasing almost by the day. Investment in manufacturing industry still has not returned to the levels that were enjoyed a number of years ago, and inflation is rising, as the Chancellor said in his goodbye letter for the recess to his colleagues.
Those appear to be problems of success, without defining clearly what that success is. They have a considerable knock-on effect on the long-term unemployed. Unemployment has been used as an economic philisophy and tool by the Government to drive down wages and to constrain and repress trade union organisation. The Government refuse, even today, to set a target date for when unemployment will return to the levels of 1979. Instead, there has been manipulating and massaging of the figures. We are now on the 20th adulteration of the unemployment figures since the Government came to power; job creation and other schemes are included in the calculation of the number of people enjoying employment.
In the latest finesse, the community programme is to be jettisoned and replaced by employment training. This will have a profound effect on my constituency, Nottingham in general, and the rest of the country. Almost every good aspect of the CP is under threat. In Nottingham, not only do hundreds of CP workers face a return to the dole queue, but the failure to replace the work done by CP schemes will hit hard the elderly, the disabled and other needy groups.
The penny-pinching Tory council in Nottingham has a particularly appalling record and is copping out of its local responsibilities by refusing to become a training manager. A revealing report to the Tory city council in June stated:Many of the Council's current CP placements are project based, for example those on environmental works. The new emphasis on vocational training together with the individual action plan approach is likely to make it impractical for all of the current CP projects to continue in their current form. Furthermore the Training Commission has indicated a wish to phase out such project-based placements.In correspondence with myself, the Under-Secretary of State for Employment statedthat community benefit will not be a main priority of the new programme.Glib phrases are used by Tories locally and nationally, but I shall explain what they mean. The following schemes will be affected in Nottingham, North. The Nottingham women's centre will lose two centre co-ordinators and two play scheme co-ordinators. The Nottingham centre for the unemployed will lose two welfare workers, two outreach workers, one clerk typist, a warden and a manager. The Rainbow centre will lose a librarian and an information officer, an exhibition organiser and the development worker for recycling. The voluntary projects programme based in Bulwell in my constituency, will lose two full-timers and one part-timer who work with the long-term unemployed and the rehabilitated mentally ill.
851 The Nottingham community arts project will lose a printer, reducing the number of courses for printing, photography and arts. MIND will lose one activities organiser. Even Bulwell toy library looks forward to an uncertain future.
One of the worst features is the attack upon the elderly and disabled. The dial-a-ride scheme in Nottingham, along with community transport, will lose 14 drivers and workers. It will be decimated and wholly dependent for a much reduced service on volunteers.
Perhaps many of those projects should enjoy permanent employment and should not have been dependent on the schemes. However, there was not permanent employment and to a large extent those caring projects were filled through the community programme. I hold out little prospect of real investment by the Government to replace the jobs that will disappear with real jobs, perhaps with the local authority or through other auspices.
The list continues. At the Norwich gardens community centre for the elderly, the warden feels that there is insufficient time to undertake what the Government call "training" for the workers. The nature conservancy programme in Nottingham will be severely affected. Brilliant local initiatives such as those taking place at the Bestwood advice centre will be crushed. A total of 39 community programme workers attached to that centre will no longer be in place under employment training. Those workers do the gardening and painting for elderly people, assist with welfare rights, produce community newsletters and so on.
The Top Valley community centre is equally threatened. Shelter, an organisation with a high reputation in the city and nationally will lose three workers in the city. The Broxtowe advice centre will lose welfare and advice workers. The list goes on.
The areas in which there is high social need and where the indicators of deprivation are among the highest in my constituency are those where we will lose extra pairs of hands and extra skills that are essential if the people who benefit from the community based schemes are still to help that community.
The training burden placed upon senior people in the establishments I have mentioned means that they cannot fulfil the needs outlined under employment training. An advice worker, under stress and working hard, cannot put aside the time to take 40 per cent. of a trainee's time under direct supervision. It is impossible to imagine that people under such stress will be able to put aside such time. That is one reason why the schemes cannot work and the numbers will go down.
Adventure playgrounds, tutors for creches and keep fit classes will be hit. In addition, the skilled team of community programme administrators and supervisors who run the city Councils community programme schemes face an uncertain future and will perhaps be out of work. That is the profit in one constituency from the change from the community programme to employment training. I am afraid that that profit is repeated in constituencies throughout the land. The unseen and unheard-of problems will hit voluntary organisations in particular over the next few weeks.
852 How could there be other than massive consequences when £500 million, which is effectively earmarked under the community programme for community-based schemes and projects, is suddenly turned off? There are bound to be massive detrimental effects. In addition, the £86 million taken from schemes associated with and related to disabled people will obviously have a major effect. According to the Spastics Society, that is equivalent to 10 per cent. of the whole community care budget being taken from the disabled in one fell swoop.
Who will fill the gaps? In many ways, the CP has been used to paper over the cracks. The Department of Health and Social Security and local authorities have not been able to fulfil all the social needs that are laid upon them and the CP has very often filled the gap. Will the burdens fall ever more on social service departments at council level and on the new Department of Social Security? Who will look after and make good the shortfalls? I suspect that the answer is no one. In the free enterprise culture, the old lady who cannot get her hedge cut or her garden dug will just have to go and whistle. I suspect that the disabled person who relies on the dial-a-ride scheme to get out and do some shopping will just have to hope that somehow a good neighbour will fill in and do right by him.
The community programme scheme has also enabled voluntary work to be initiated in response to local demands and needs. One of the problems about ET— employment training—is that there must be a position of strength before it can begin. There must be workers and a training infrastructure to kick off the new schemes, not least because money is not provided to meet the running costs of the schemes. The small-scale local initiative arising from local demand will find it harder to surface and meet that local demand.
Even those employment training schemes that go ahead will average just six months per person instead of the one year per person under CP schemes. After six months' training, the trainee can put back into the scheme a degree of skill and experience. However, that is exactly when the training period is likely to cease. That effective contribution will cease.
All that I have outlined in one particular constituency flies in the face of the Governments assurances to voluntary organisations. After meeting representatives of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Secretary of State, who I can only assume regards ET as his child—the organ grinder rather than the monkey— said:Every existing Community Programme provider who wishes to offer to provide employment training opportunities of a comparable quality will be able to do so … all projects could move into employment training.That point has since been repeated by the Secretary of State's officials.
Those statements are at total variance with the experience of the schemes in Nottingham, which help the elderly and the disabled and offer advice and support which will now close because of the change. The Government's promises and statements are nothing less than downright lies which are hurting some of the most vulnerable people in my constituency.
The lack of seriousness about training is also shown by the amount of money allocated to training managers. The White Paper announced that, in addition to the basic grant, the average supplementary grant would be £20 a week. In fact, it is nearer £15 per trainee. That is leading 853 training managers to cut their schemes to reduce the quality of training and the number of trainees. In many cases, ET will give substantially less than was available under the community programme. If the Government are serious about training, the training costs in a training programme must be higher than in a programme which allegedly did very little training. As a result, with just four weeks to the launch of ET, many voluntary organisations are desperate and uncertain about the future.
That leaves aside those people who are being trained. If the Government were serious about training the long-term unemployed, the trainees would receive a decent wage which should attract trainees, rather than one on which they can barely exist. Also the threat which still hangs over them would be lifted—they may lose their dole money, or people coming on the schemes at a later point may lose their dole money, if they come off scheme. Proper training is about high-quality programmes—not threats. Intimidation is no answer to the long-term unemployment problem. All that the people on employment training will receive is their benefit, plus £10 on their Giro. Some may receive a top-up or have their travel and meal costs met by some training managers. Rather than serious training, that still resembles the latest in a long line of attempts to massage and manipulate the unemployment figures and to keep down wage costs.
In my constituency, the real level of unemployment is calculated not by the Department, with its 20 additions, but by the unemployment unit. Unemployment is still around 16 per cent. in real terms—16 out of every 100 people in Nottingham, North are without work.
While the number of wages inspectors—whose regional office is in my constituency—has been reduced, and while employers who are discovered to be paying low wages are rarely prosecuted, we heard this morning that the clerical and manual grades in the east midlands have received the lowest increase in wages in the United Kingdom this year.
The employment training programme does nothing to assist those individuals who are so desperate to return to work, to make a contribution, and to be constructive rather than hopeless at home. It merely aggravates the position of the long-term unemployed.
For all its faults, the community programme will be desperately missed by those individuals who have been on its schemes and, even more so, by the needy, the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled, the welfare advice seekers and all those who have benefited from many of the community programme schemes. In my opinion, ET should go home.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Patrick Nicholls)
I do not entirely agree with the analysis by the hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) of the economic situation; nor do I agree with his analysis of the prospects for ET. I would probably embarrass the hon. Gentleman if I did agree with that analysis. He has put this debate firmly in the context of the plight of the long-term unemployed, and I am sure that he is right to do that. Even at this late stage in this Session of Parliament, in doing so he performs a valuable service, both to the House and to the country, in giving us the opportunity to debate this issue, for which I am grateful.
854 I am anxious in the time available to try to respond to the hon. Gentleman's specific points, but I should like to say the briefest of words about the economic situation. The hon. Gentleman is right that in time of recession it is the vulnerable who will suffer most. Certainly in a time of recession, it will be the long-term unemployed who will suffer from that vulnerability.
The hon. Gentleman is worried about inflation, but I advise him—because of the respect that we have for him, I warn him that it is a trick question—to name one month under the last Labour Government when inflation was as low as its present relatively high level under this Government. Dealing with problems as they arise and counting inflation and the threat posed by it is preferable to Secretaries of State being turned around in their motor cars on the way to the airport and having to take a begging bowl to the International Monetary Fund. History, which I am sure will take great account of the hon. Gentleman's speeches and mine, will have to make up its mind about that.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned schemes in his constituency which he feels are under threat. I am sure that he will not take it amiss if I say that it would be better if we could follow this debate up by the hon. Gentleman writing to me about his worries so that I can consider them.
It is sometimes assumed that community programme providers who are not in the business of training cannot function under the new scheme. We plan to have about 194,000 project places under the new adult training programme, which is broadly what already exists. It is somewhat ironic to hear the praise that has recently been heaped on the community programme, as, when the Government introduced it in 1983, Opposition Members universally derided it. One of the constant criticisms of it was that it was only a makework scheme and not a training programme. It is somewhat ironic that we are now being criticised for building on the community programme and trying to ensure that it has a training content.
I do not apologise for the fact that we have developed the valuable work done by the community programme to ensure that there is a training content in future. The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that many community programme providers will not want to be training managers. They may not be equipped to be training managers. Just as there is more than one way to salvation, so there is more than one way in which the community programme can play its part in the new programme. Many training managers will be responsible for delivering training, and they will need project places. In many parts of the country, CP providers will contract or subcontract to provide project placements for training managers. That process is beginning to take shape.
I bear in mind experience from my constituency. Several consortia are getting together. They are often made up of people who are unable to provide direct training, but know that they can provide project places. They team up with those who are able to provide training. That is another way in which the community programme can pass into the new programme. It is a mistake and overly pessimistic to think that, simply because a CP provider cannot become a training manager in his own right, he cannot take part in the new programme.
The hon. Gentleman drew the House's attention to commitments given by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and, I dare say, by my right hon. Friend the 855 Minister of State. I, too, have been saying it throughout the country. The Government are anxious that voluntary organisations should play their full part in providing training, but I am aware from my private office correspondence and from representations that have been made to me that some voluntary organisations are worried about how they will fit into the new scheme of things. That is entirely understandable. The Training Commission and Employment Ministers do their best to resolve such problems.
Some 300,000 places will have to be contracted for under the new programme. About 270,000 contracts have been sent or are in the final stages. I do not underestimate the difficulties that may have been experienced in some areas. Broadly speaking, the community programme is working. Many community programme providers throughout the country have found that they can bring themselves within the new programme. About 270,000 of the 300,000 places are already contracted for.
The hon. Gentleman is also concerned about the amount of time that will be spent on the new programme. He made the point that it will be six months on this programme, whereas it was 12 months on the community programme. I appreciate that the constraints of time apply just as much to the hon. Gentleman as they do to me and that in short debates we all to some extent talk in shorthand. We suspect that six months will be the norm, but if a trainee needs more than six months for his particular circumstances the programme can be for up to a year. Unlike the community programme, the idea is that it will be full-time training. The possibility of full-time training for 12 months, if that is needed, is a better bet than any form of community programme that would involve merely part-time training. When the hon. Gentleman thinks about it, as I know he will in the light of our exchanges, I think he will recognise that that fact needs to be borne in mind.
The hon. Gentleman is also concerned about the funding of the programme. He takes particular exception to the concept of benefit-plus. Although the Government have emphasised the advantages of a training programme, we have to bear in mind that it was designed not by the Government but by the Manpower Services Commission, which is now the Training Commission. It put unanimous recommendations to the Government about the way in which it wanted the scheme to be set up. The recommendations included the funding arrangements and the concept of benefit plus.
I could enliven the debate massively by telling the House about some MSC representations that were not absolutely what we wanted to hear. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment greatly valued the fact that the training commissioners, including the three trade union commissioners, one of whom was Mr. Todd, who is noted for his recent job initiative in 856 Dundee, were all in favour of the scheme. The fact that this was to be a training allowance rather than a rate for the job was put to us, and we accepted the recommendation.
Bearing in mind the criticism that has been levelled against benefit-plus, it is interesting to see who has criticised it. One has to bear in mind the sweet words of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) about the training programme. She is the Labour party's Front Bench spokesman on these matters. The hon. Lady has been eloquent and vocal about benefit-plus, yet when she was a director of Youth Aid in 1982 she referred to the future of the community enterprise programme, the forerunner of the community programme, and said:Consideration should also be given to the possibility of payment on CEP calculated on a 'Benefit plus' basis.I agree, and that is what we are doing. It is a little sad that, having accepted the MSC's recommendations to that effect, and having done what the hon. Member for Ladywood wanted, we are being criticised for it.
The hon. Gentleman has done the House a service by questioning the voluntary nature of the scheme, if only to give me the chance for the umpteenth time to try to shoot down that idea. There is no question of this being other than a voluntary scheme. I put it as low as that to pander to every evil thought that the hon. Gentleman has ever harboured towards the Conservative party. To try to force people into training would not work. The programme will succeed only if the long-term unemployed regard it as an effective mechanism for getting them back into the main stream of British working life so that they can enjoy some of the benefits that the rest of us have enjoyed in recent years. That is what the programme is about. If it succeeds in that way, who needs to make it compulsory? Even if it does not succeed, the idea that we can forcibly train people will not work.
From our exchanges on the Employment Bill, I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is not always absolutely persuaded by everything that I say. I should like to think that he does not doubt my motives but he may think that I am a trifle naive. Mr. Norman Willis, the general secretary of the TUC, is not naive, nor is he an uncritical supporter of Her Majesty's Government. Two weeks ago the Financial Times said that Mr. Willis had reaffirmed his conditional support for the Governments employment training programme. He said:There is no viable alternative.In The Times of the same day, Mr. Willis was quoted as saying that should the programme fail, the whole trades union movement would deserve condemnation as well. Mr. Willis has got it right. He has given the programme his conditional support. He believes that it may yet be a mechanism that can help the long-term unemployed back to work. AU that I would say to the hon. Gentleman is, if it is good enough for Mr. Willis to give it his conditional support, I am sure that it will satisfy the hon. Gentleman as well.
I shall respond to any letters that the hon. Gentleman may care to write about specific points.