European Social Fund

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:15 pm on 28th April 1983.

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Photo of Mr James Craigen Mr James Craigen , Glasgow Maryhill 10:15 pm, 28th April 1983

The best friend or the worst enemy of the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) would never describe him as a Communist, so I can only conclude that he must answer to the other description that he gave to the House—a nutcase.

The Minister of State will be sorry that he told the House that he would take on board all the opinions offered to him tonight, because he is asking us only to note this document. I served for two years on the European Secondary Legislation Committee. The resources may be crumbs, as my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones) said, but one certainly gets a feast of papers from Brussels. I cannot see much Socialism in the papers that were provided with this document.

The Minister spoke about welding together a Community-wide approach, but will he tell the House what he means by that? The Commissioner for Social Affairs, Mr. Ivor Richard, paid tribute only this week to the youth training scheme that the Government will introduce in September, and I got the impression that the scheme will act as the lead ship for the European approach to youth training. However, the difficulty is that the Manpower Services Commission is still trying hard to stitch together a scheme for nearly 500,000 youngsters who have either left school or who will soon leave school and who cannot find full-time employment.

Little has been said this evening about the extent to which existing MSC programmes receive money from the European Community. They will receive about £160 million this year, and the MSC budget for the youth training scheme for 1983–84 is £873 million. Although the Government are blowing their trumpet about how much they are doing for school leavers, the fact is that they are investing fewer of our national resources in the scheme than is often made public. There appears to be a significant shift in thinking, because regional problems in the United Kingdom are basically urban, with our difficulties in manufacturing decline. On the continent, the regional problems are basically rural and concern the shift from the land and the need to provide alternative employment in the towns and cities. Relatively small sums of money are involved in the documentation.

More important is the way in which the Government are seeking to tackle the problem of youth unemployment. There is a remarkable degree of state intervention in this sphere. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) was correct when he said that the Government are making remarkable interventions in an attempt to provide training places for young people when they leave school.

I think the scheme will prove rather makeshift. The 12 month period consisting of 39 weeks of work practice and 13 weeks of college attendance or off the job training will not provide a sound basis for foundation training. The Manpower Services Commission hopes that by 1985 it will be able to provide a second year in the youth training scheme. The scheme has many implications as to the type of employment those young people shall move into. It is important that the employment that they move into should be closely related to the training that they underwent during the 12 months within the youth training scheme.

The basic problem that the Government face is that they cannot guarantee young people a job after the completion of their period on the youth training scheme. That problem makes a nonsense of YTS proposals that there will be a year's training after the youngsters leave school and probably another year's training before they reach the age of 25.

Are not the Government proposing that those young people who undergo a year's training in a college will be ineligible to enter the youth training scheme if they cannot find a job at the conclusion of their college training? The position will be hard for those young people caught up in that problem. Moreover, the Government are spendng considerable amounts of wasted money on their young workers scheme. Ministers have publicly stated that 90 per cent. of the youngsters who are assisted into jobs through the young workers scheme would have been engaged by employers anyway. The Manpower Services Commission wish to see that money diverted into more meaningful schemes which it is currently trying to operate. The reason for the employment subsidy to employers is to reduce youth earnings. A survey by the Department of Employment of youth earnings between 1975 and 1980 shows that average earnings for those under 18 fell from 41 per cent. to 39 per cent. of adult earnings. There is no upward trend in youth earnings. On the contrary, the trend is downwards.

Will the Minister comment on some aspects of the youth training scheme? As much has been made of the youth training scheme in Brussels, I suspect that the way in which the programme shapes up in the United Kingdom will largely colour the approach that subsequently eminates from the European Commission.

For example, there will be about 2,000 managing agencies looking after the Youth Training Scheme. This week, an article in The Times mentioned the way in which one organisation is moving in on a substantial scale to look after the interests of many thousands of young people, as a managing agency, through the youth training scheme. They will make quite a lot of money in the process. I understand that the Manpower Services Commission will give a lump sum at the commencement of sponsorship instead of reimbursing the costs incurred, as is done in so many other areas of public accounting. I hope that the Minister will deal with that point. The MSC is trying to wash its hands of as much of the day-to-day responsibility for the scheme as possible.

Furthermore, the Minister must be aware that about 550,000 16 and 17-year-olds would be unemployed at the end of the school holidays, were it not for the introduction of the youth training scheme. I am concerned about the extent to which there will be a differentiation between the so-called mode A work practice schemes, and the so-called mode B or community oriented schemes. The figures vary considerably up and down the country. I understand from the MSC that it has already identified about 83 per cent. of its target for mode A places. However, the figure for Wales is 58 per cent., for Scotland 67 per cent. and for London—presumably inner London —it is 58 per cent.

The number of mode B places will be increased in relative proportion to the hardest hit industrial areas. That is a matter of concern. Perhaps No. 10 Downing street is taking in a mode B trainee, but many areas are simply running out of employers. That is why the Government will find it quite difficult to operate the principle of additionality so that for every extra three trainees that an employer takes on, he must already employ two 16-year-olds or young people. Therefore, the scheme faces considerable difficulties.

We are getting into a terrible tangle over training. In addition to the launching of the youth training scheme, we have had yet another brochure from the MSC entitled, "Towards An Adult Training Strategy — a discussion paper". It is concerned with the plus-18 age group that we now have a problem with. Many of those who lost out on training opportunities after leaving school and who are now in their twenties or thirties, hope to acquire some form of training. The scale of the problem is formidable. The document talks about a substantial diminution in unskilled and semi-skilled operators. Indeed, it points out that in the past 10 years the number has fallen by 1 million and it is estimated that it will have fallen by a further 1 million by 1990. This is a measure of the retraining programme that will be necessary. The Government will not succeed by trying to do a second-best programme for the adults, when I am not convinced that they will provide a successful programme for school leavers through the introduction of the youth scheme.

With the abandonment of the industrial training boards, the changes that will take place with the introduction of the youth training scheme, and the latest documents seeking to review the provision made for adult training, there is a need for the House to have a proper debate on training generally. The latest epistle from Brussels will not make any significant difference to training. I suspect that it will add considerably to the number of bureaucrats who are operating in the development of manpower planning and policies in this country. It is nonsense that a Government that on the one hand are cutting back resources to local authorities are on the other dishing out money through the Community programme, the youth training scheme, and other schemes that are sometimes, at the end of the day, fairly ephemeral, contribute little or nothing to the well-being of the community, will leave many young people wondering whether they do not live in an upside-down world.