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Longer-term Unemployed

4. Mr. David Stewart (Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber): What steps he is taking to help the longer-term unemployed. [85396]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): With the excellent policies of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Employment Service and the new deal are already delivering to young and older unemployed people. We now have the best record in terms of the number and

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percentage of people in employment in our history. We have the lowest youth unemployment for 25 years. There has been a 40 per cent. drop in long-term young unemployment. We have seen 266,000 young people go into the gateway, with 95,000 getting jobs, of which 70,000 have been sustained. The £3.6 billion that we are putting in is the wisest and most effective investment ever on unemployment.

Mr. Stewart: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he share my concern about ageism in the workplace? I recently met a 50-year-old insurance manager who had been unemployed for two years and felt that he would never work again because of such ageism. Will the Government's new code of practice outlaw age discrimination in the workplace?

Mr. Blunkett: My right hon. Friend the Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities will launch the code in a few days. He will spell out our measures for working with industry and commerce to build on some of the excellent examples of which my hon. Friend will know in Scotland. There, the older workers unemployed subsidy for start-up pension funds, the older is bolder programme of workshops to raise employers' awareness of older workers and the 50-plus initiative--pilots for which will be rolled out in the autumn as in the rest of the United Kingdom--will all take head on the problem of ensuring that older people are not neglected. As some of us get older, we feel this more strongly day by day.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): The right hon. Gentleman's response to the hon. Member for Inverness, East, Nairn and Lochaber (Mr. Stewart) notwithstanding, will he abandon his self-satisfaction and acknowledge that the Government are guilty of the most monstrous age discrimination imaginable? They are spending just short of £2.6 billion to assist the 118,000 young people who qualify under the new deal, but less than £500 million on the 194,500 older unemployed people. When will he put his own house in order and explain exactly what he has against older people who suffer the misfortune of unemployment?

Mr. Blunkett: The hon. Gentleman has not counted all the existing and newly developed measures outside the new deal that the Employment Service is adequately and effectively implementing for older workers. He ignores the fact that, under the new deal 25-plus, 10,600 older men and women have entered work. The 28 major programmes that have been put in place on the British mainland are already showing just how effective they can be. The performance and innovation unit has been commissioned to identify ways of increasing the effectiveness of our policies and opportunities for older people. I would welcome all parties in the House making a positive contribution to improving the well-being and opportunities of older workers rather than griping about the success of the Government.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): May I say to my right hon. Friend that you are only as old as you feel? He seems to be carrying the burdens of office very well.

In 1980, my constituency suffered the largest post-war redundancy in western Europe when 8,000 steelworkers, together with many thousands of others in associated

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work lost their jobs overnight. Some of those steelworkers still have no work largely because there are fewer and fewer unskilled jobs. Will my right hon. Friend tell the House and my constituents of any progress that he is making in assisting older redundant steelworkers to find new work?

Mr. Blunkett: I thank my hon. Friend for his flattery about my ageing process--some days are better than others, Madam Speaker.

I agree with my hon. Friend--how could I not, coming from a steel area myself?--about the challenge of ensuring that the reskilling programme is available. We place great emphasis on that investment in training for older workers. The 50-plus initiative, which was announced in the March Budget, will be of particular help to older workers who have spent their life in heavy industry; their futures will be enhanced by those measures, as they will by the reports and recommendations of the skills task force, which we established when we took office. I hope to announce new measures shortly that will enhance still further the available training opportunities.

Measures will also be proposed in a White Paper, which we hope to publish in a few weeks, on a coherent programme, policy and funding for all post-16 education and training.

Mr. Roy Beggs (East Antrim): I pay tribute to the measures taken by the Government to date to tackle the scourge of unemployment. We have had good success in Northern Ireland, and I welcome the continuing fall in its unemployment rate. When considering further measures to assist the longer-term unemployed, will the Secretary of State consider the unintended consequences for experienced teachers of local management of schools funding? Those teachers now have great difficulty finding long-term secure contracts and they may risk joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

Mr. Blunkett: We are mindful of the need to retain the services of long-serving and experienced teachers and measures that have been set in place in broader policies are aimed at doing precisely that. I am happy to talk to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland about the matter. We have introduced greater flexibility for local authorities and schools so that they can vary the formulas for LMS and fair funding to take account of salary levels and the need to retain teachers who are more expensive because of their long service and grading. That will avoid precisely the danger that the hon. Gentleman describes. It is why additional money is being provided for posts for teachers with advanced skills. It is why the Government's Green Paper on reforming the promotion prospects and rewards for teachers will specifically earmark money to fund those initiatives so that money does not have to be found from existing resources.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): The Secretary of State has referred to the new deal as a great help to the long-term unemployed. Can he explain why his Cabinet colleagues evidently do not agree? The numbers of young new deal trainees taken on by Government Departments make fascinating reading. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for International

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Development have taken on none. The Lord Chancellor's Department has taken on none. The Northern Ireland Office has taken on none. Even the Home Office, with its 50,818 employees, has taken on just one. Why should the long-term unemployed take the new deal seriously if the Government, when acting as employer, regard it as completely irrelevant?

Mr. Blunkett: I am grateful for the reminder to all Departments--we have issued exactly such a reminder ourselves--of the importance of their role in such schemes. [Laughter.] Well, we are almost at the end of term when we usually get reports that say, "Doing extraordinarily well, but some classmates could do better." That assessment would probably be appropriate. We are, however, making fantastic progress. We are about to reach the 50,000 mark in terms of the number of employers who have signed up. Not only are a range of Departments taking on new dealers, but their agencies and the bodies that they fund are doing so as well. It ill becomes anyone to chide the Lord Chancellor for whom he takes on, given the difficulty that he has experienced in appointing a special adviser.

Former Grant-maintained Schools

5. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): If he will make a statement about progress in implementing his funding policy in respect of former grant-maintained schools. [85397]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): The Government's aim is to establish a unified funding system for all state schools involving higher delegation by local education authorities and funding for all schools on an equal basis. We have put transitional arrangements in place to ensure that the changes required of grant-maintained schools are manageable.

Mr. Swayne: One of my more distasteful duties is to answer letters sent to me by parents who were unable to secure a place for their children at the Arnewood secondary school in New Milton, despite the fact that they live in the catchment area. Similar problems attend the Burgate school in Fordingbridge and Ringwood school. Although those are three of the most successful comprehensive schools in the country, they now face cutting courses and staff and even charging for some lessons. In total, grant-maintained schools have lost £100 million. The former Minister for School Standards, now the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, said that it was not the Government's intention

Is that loss the meaning of levelling up?

Ms Morris: If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence that any school in his constituency is charging pupils for attending lessons, I trust that he will bring it to our attention immediately. It is illegal, and I should be totally surprised if it were going on. I hope that he will help us in upholding the law in that regard.

The hon. Gentleman has written to me about what has happened to Arnewood school's budget this year. I, too, have duties--distasteful or otherwise--in replying to

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letters from Members of Parliament, so he will be aware that the school's budget has been protected in cash terms. Much of the change for Arnewood school has been the result of changes in pupil numbers. The hon. Gentleman will know that last year, against the advice of the local authority, the projected numbers for Arnewood school were based on a wrong calculation. That must be put right this year.

The hon. Gentleman speaks with some passion about the needs of children in his constituency. I am sure that he will welcome the fact that all the pupils in his constituency area will benefit from the extra £25 million that the Government have allocated to the local authority--a 5.9 per cent. increase in funding compared to last year.

Mr. David Willetts (Havant): Will the Minister confirm that approximately two thirds of grant-maintained schools face such severe funding cuts that they have to receive transitional protection? Will she also confirm that her Department forecast that approximately only one third of grant-maintained schools would be in that severe position? This year, many grant-maintained schools are struggling on last year's cash budget; there is no extra money to meet inflation and for teachers' pay. Does the Minister not realise that the Government's attack on grant-maintained schools has created nothing short of a crisis in the funding of the GM sector? What is she going do to about it?

Ms Morris: The hon. Gentleman must realise that those GM schools that are receiving transitional protection are receiving more money than local authority schools in similar circumstances. I would not pretend for one minute that it is easy, in a relatively short time, to move from the funding system that we inherited from the Conservative Government--in which school funding was based not on need, but on category. We will have no truck with that system. We shall move to a system in which every child is valued, whether they go to a community school or a foundation school. We shall ensure that that transition is carried out as easily as possible for GM schools.

The hon. Gentleman has a bit of a cheek to huff and puff at the Dispatch Box, talking about the difficulty for schools as they move from one funding system to another. Under the previous Conservative Government, how many times did he tell the House about the difficulties suffered by 23,000 schools as pupil funding was cut by £40 per pupil during the last three years of that Government? What is true is that every school is benefiting from the increase in money, whether capital or revenue funding, that the Government have given. We are able to celebrate the fact that, throughout the education service, there is an extra £200 per pupil of Government funding this year and over the next two years.

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