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|"In Schedule 2, paragraph 2."|
|"Anti-terrorism, Crime andSecurity Act 2001 (c. 24)||Section 39(8)."|
|"Prevention of Terrorism Act2005 (c. 2)||Section 9(9)."|
|"section 133(4)||3 months"|
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, these new regulations use the power contained within Section 29 of the Jobseekers Act 1995 to test whether pilot proposals are likely to help people to obtain work, including the selection of participants on a sampling basis. Section 29 of the Jobseekers Act enables regulations to be made to pilot changes with a view to establishing whether they will work, but it limits the duration of such regulations to 12 months. At the end of that period, if appropriate, the regulations may be replaced by a similar provision for a further 12 months.
The regulations before the House tonight will, therefore, permit the second year of operating this pilot scheme with random allocation to contractors. That will enable us to collect the necessary volume of evidence that we require to conduct a robust evaluation of the performance and the success of the pilot. Subject to analysis of the results of the second pilot period, it may be necessary to submit further regulations in 12 months' time to enable the pilot to continue for sufficient time to complete the analysis.
These new regulations, therefore, replace the Employment Zones (Allocation to Contractors) Pilot Regulations 2004 with a further pilot scheme. The regulations are much the same as those approved in 2004, apart from a few minor amendments. The regulations will apply in the same geographical areas where the current pilot scheme operates, except, for example, there are two houses in the Birmingham zone which have been
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excluded and an extra postcode area has been added to the Southwark zone. Noble Lords can see that those are minor amendments.
I backtrack briefly to establish the context in which we are introducing these regulations. In April 2000, as noble Lords know, we established 15 employment zones to help jobseekers aged 25 and over to find and move into work. Employment zones exist in areas of high and stubborn levels of unemployment. In those areas we have sought to bring together the best of both the public and the private sectors to provide innovative ways of tackling the many problems of the long-term unemployed individuals who need particular help tailored to their needs.
So, in order to further test the value of employment zones, in 2003 in the smaller zones we introduced further legislation to widen the scope of the zones initiative to include jobseekers aged 18 to 24 and to allow jobseekers at significant disadvantage in the labour market to request early entry into the programme.
In 2004 we introduced legislation to make similar changes in the largest zones. At the same time we introduced pilot arrangements to test whether having more than one provider operating in each zone would indeed improve the assistance offered to jobseekers.
The legislation replaces the existing pilot schemes which allow those whose personal circumstances place them at significant disadvantage in finding employment to volunteer to participate in the employment zone at an earlier time than would usually be permitted. I draw noble Lords' attention to regulation 4 in that respect. Obviously, this is an important opportunity for those whose needs are the greatest. We want to ensure that they receive the help they require at an early stage. Some examples of the people who might benefit from this early entry are, for example, people with physical or mental impairment who require assistance with basic skills or language, or those who have been looked after as a child by a local authority. There are other examples.
Noble Lords also know that the employment zone programme is a mandatory programme for all eligible jobseekers. Our contract management arrangements ensure that the provision provided by all contractors is maintained at a satisfactory level. All eligible jobseekers will be allocated to a contractor. They receive a similar level of assistance from those contractors in their endeavours to find work. No eligible jobseeker will be denied assistance in the zones.
The random allocation to a particular contractor means that differing performance by contractors cannot be attributed to the labour market or to the client group. That means that both contractors and ourselves can see what really works.
We have consulted with the Social Security Advisory Committee regarding these draft regulations. The committee advised that it did not wish to have the proposed regulations formally referred.
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I hope that I have been able to explain, although briefly, the purpose and scope of the regulations and why we need them. We are seeking to provide additional support to those jobseekers who have the greatest problems in breaking out of poverty and moving into sustained employment. The flexibility of the employment zones programme will provide the individual assistance needed by these jobseekers. I hope that noble Lords feel that they can accept these regulations.
Lord Higgins: My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Baroness for that explanation delivered at high speed at a late hour. I do not propose to detain the House at any great length, for two reasons: first because the matter has been debated in the Commons. As has been pointed out in earlier proceedings, perhaps the hallmark of this Government has been how they have programmed primary legislation, to the extent that frequently it arrives in this House having been barely debated.
That is not true about secondary legislation. The debates which took place in the other place about these regulations covered most of the ground, although the noble Baroness seems to have thought up one or two points which were not in the brief for the Minister in the other place.
Secondly, because, as the noble Baroness pointed out, this is now something of an annual event and covers much the same ground as a similar order a year ago, one is bound to ask: how many more times do the Government expect this to be repeated? In that context, have the Government drawn any initial conclusions from the experience of the past year? One would have thought that after a year they would have had some idea as to what extent the proposals have been effective in getting people into jobs on a long-term basiswhich, of course, we on this side of the House want as much as the Government.
I am somewhat puzzled by the noble Baroness's remark about the random way in which candidates are to be selected. I think that she said that that means that the performance of the scheme will be unaffected by the region or individual. I should have thought that it will depend significantly on the selection between regions, even if it is made randomly within them. On human rights, I am a little concerned whether selecting people in a random way when they may subsequently be made subject to sanctions can be regarded as fair.
Effectively, this scheme runs alongside Jobseekers Plus, and I am not clear to what extent they will overlap: whether they will operate at the same time or, if a person is randomly selected to be part of this scheme, the Jobseekers Plus scheme will not continue to cover them.
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"Generally, across all the employment zones, we have a total of 11,620 joining the employment zones programme. Of those participants, 2,985or 26 per cent.have already moved into work and 1,09437 per cent. of that 26 per cent.have sustained their employment for 13 weeks or more. Those are the latest figures from January 2005".[Official Report, Commons, 13th Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 17/03/05; col. 11.]
Why the Minister went round that extraordinary way of citing a percentage and then a percentage of a percentage, I am not clear, but what is apparent is that out of a total of about 11,000, only about 8,000 have found jobs that last for more than 30 weeks. That raises the question of whether the scheme is cost-effective.
Curiously, the Government's statement says that no extra public money is involved, which can mean only either that they over-provided for it under the previous statutory instrument or that somehow a surplus has remained and spun-over. In all events, public money is involved in the scheme as a whole and we must ask: how does the cost to public money compare to the fact that apparently only 10 per cent of the people in the scheme, despite the fact that sanctions are being imposed, are getting jobs that last even 13 weeks or so. We do not know whether they last beyond 13 weeks; we do not appear to have any figures on that.
The other point that strikes me is that this is effectively a scheme that relies on the operation being conducted in zones. I wonder whether that is sensible. The schedule to the regulations sets out in great detail which those zones are to be in Birmingham and other parts of the countryGlasgow, for example and London. As the noble Baroness pointed out, the scheme is to be extended to one particular London borough: the Evelyn ward of the London Borough of Lewisham, which is now to be linked with the London Borough of Southwark.
It is relevant to ask in that context whether it is appropriate for the scheme to operate on a zone basis. Restricting allocations to a zone may well mean that people in the London borough of Southwark do not get offered opportunities at the other side of the river, for example, in Canary Wharf. Is the object to get more people into employment or simply to reduce unemployment in a zone?
It would be helpful to know to what extent contractors involved in the scheme are limited to operating within a zone. Can they seek to place randomly selected candidates in a nearby zone where perhaps the employment opportunities are better? The crucial question is whether the objective is simply to get more people into jobs or only to lower the level of unemployment in a zone? On which of those two bases is the scheme to be evaluated in a year's time? One must hope that by then the Governmentno doubt, an incoming Conservative governmentwill be in a position to evaluate exactly what the scheme is doing and to what extent it has been successful.
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