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Coal-mining Areas (Labour Market)

12. Mr. Jon Trickett (Hemsworth): What steps his Department is taking to broaden participation in the labour market in former coal-mining areas. [114609]

The Minister for Employment, Welfare to Work and Equal Opportunities (Ms Tessa Jowell): We recognise that serious problems are faced by communities in former coal-mining areas, in many of which, despite the growth in jobs nationally, unemployment rates are below the average for England as a whole. We are adopting two strategies. The first is to build capacity through the single regeneration budget and the European social fund specifically to improve labour market participation and get people back to work through a range of national programmes adapted flexibly to local circumstances. The second is the new deal for 50-plus, which is already available in two former coal-mining areas. It offers a tax-free employment credit of £60 a week, guaranteeing a minimum income for the first year back at work of £170 a week.

My right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced in the Budget £40 million to fund special action teams to help people in the worst unemployment blackspots. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will shortly announce further details of the action teams and of their locations, but my hon. Friend will wish to know that six will be established in former coal-mining areas.

In Doncaster, the new employment zone will offer tailored support for former mineworkers in addition to the £10 million made available through the Coalfield Regeneration Trust.

Mr. Trickett: I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I pay tribute to the Government for the active way in which they are providing support for the former coal-mining areas such as my constituency, which were left devastated by the Conservative Government. Is my right hon. Friend aware that two schemes in my constituency--two intermediate labour markets, one at Havercroft and one at Sesku Ringway--are due to have their funding terminated next week? They are excellent schemes. Twenty long-term unemployed people now feel some enthusiasm for life, but the funding is about to expire, with the loss of experience that will result.

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What advice can my right hon. Friend offer to those of my constituents who feel somewhat dismayed about the future?

Ms Jowell: The point that my hon. Friend makes about the two specific initiatives underlines the importance of implementing national programmes with sufficient flexibility to recognise important local innovations. I know that efforts are being made locally to replace the funding that will come to an end, but I shall be happy to meet my hon. Friend as a matter of urgency to see whether further action can be taken.

Mr. John Healey (Wentworth): Does my right hon. Friend recognise the high rates of labour market inactivity in the former coalfield areas, especially among men over 50? Our experience in Rotherham of piloting the adult new deal suggests that the roll out of the new deal for 50-plus, the employment credit and the new transition support announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor in the Budget this week will all help. However, does she accept that there remains a problem with the attitude of employers, who too often will not accept the benefits that older workers can bring to their companies?

Ms Jowell: I accept that there is a problem with some employers, but fortunately others are leading the way in demonstrating the benefits of diversity, as the number of vacancies increases and the number of people unemployed and seeking work falls. As part of the national implementation of the new deal for 50-plus, we shall redouble our efforts to build on the good experience of many employers of the stability, motivation and loyalty that come from having older people in their work force. That will be linked to the code of practice supported by employers that directly tackles age discrimination in the workplace.

National Numeracy Strategy

13. Mr. Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Hall Green): What support his Department has given to the national numeracy strategy; and if he will make a statement. [114610]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Michael Wills): We are providing annual funding of £55 million to support the numeracy strategy. In January, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State announced an extra £9 million in 2000-01 to enable more teachers to attend intensive training courses. Ofsted confirmed in a report published today that the strategy is already having a positive impact on schools.

Mr. McCabe: Is not the support of parents crucial to the success of the measure? That is also true for many of the Government's initiatives. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult for parents--especially working parents--always to play as full a role as they would like in supporting such measures. What steps are the Department taking to ensure that parents and the wider community are able to support the national numeracy strategy?

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Mr. Wills: I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that we realise the importance both of parents and of the wider community in helping children to participate in the numeracy strategy and to achieve success through it. As my hon. Friend is aware, Maths Year 2000 was launched earlier this year; it has a key role for teachers and parents. I am delighted that there has been a tremendous response to the recent television campaign. Since 19 January, there have been about 500,000 requests through the freephone order line for the free pamphlet of tips for parents to help their children with maths.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Given that it is excellent teaching and leadership that will have the greatest impact on numeracy, why has the Secretary of State appointed a bureaucrat from his own Department rather than an excellent classroom teacher or head teacher to head the new institute responsible for promoting excellence among head teachers?

Mr. Wills: I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is mistaken; we have not appointed a bureaucrat from our Department. I shall be happy to send him full details of everything that we are doing. I remind him of one salient fact about what we have already achieved in the numeracy strategy. We should all be grateful for the enormous effort that teachers have put into the strategy and note that, in one year, the number of children achieving level 4 and above at key stage 2 has improved by 10 percentage points.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): We support much of the initiative. However, does the Minister accept that, despite the sums of money allocated centrally from the Government, what schools need is a consistent planning system so that they can fund year on year? In view of the Secretary of State's comments on the "Today" programme this morning, when he indicated that we shall have a nationally funded education system--if not within the lifetime of this Parliament, certainly within the lifetime of the next--will the Minister tell us whether he agrees with that way forward and that local education authorities are now redundant?

Mr. Wills: Again, I am afraid the hon. Gentleman is mistaken. We should be happy to send him a transcript of the "Today" programme to point out exactly what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait until the publication of the Green Paper for the details.

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Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): Bringing us back to numeracy, is my hon. Friend aware that one of the problems in delivering the numeracy strategy is the number of primary teachers who are not themselves particularly numerate? Although we are taking action in teacher education to ensure that there is testing of new teachers, what action is he taking to ensure that primary teachers in the classroom become more confident with numbers than they are at present? That is one of the reasons why we are not doing as well as we should in mathematics internationally.

Mr. Wills: I am happy to reassure my hon. Friend that every primary school teacher is being trained in numeracy strategy, and will continue to be so trained.

Secondary School Places (South-west London)

14. Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): If he will make a statement on the impact of school selection policies on the availability of secondary school places in south-west London. [114611]

The Minister for School Standards (Ms Estelle Morris): This information is not available centrally. Section 14 of the Education Act 1996 places a duty on individual local education authorities to ensure that there are sufficient school places for all children of compulsory school age in their area.

Mr. Brake: I suppose I thank the Minister for her response, although it is not entirely helpful. Is she able to give my constituents any reassurances that next year their children will not be waiting in agony to find out whether they have a school place locally, when many of their friends will have already been allocated a place? Can she assure us that she believes that local children should have priority in local schools?

Ms Morris: I know that it is a policy of the Liberal Democrats that the Greenwich judgment should be reversed, but that is not a view that we share. We think that parents should have the option of expressing a preference for a school that is outside their LEA boundary. Children often live closer to a school that is in a neighbouring LEA than to a school in their own LEA. I accept that the waiting game for knowing which place a child will get is difficult for parents and pupils, but I am afraid that it was ever thus. I assure the hon. Gentleman that every child will have a place.

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