Skill Shortages

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th June 1985.

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Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton 12:00 am, 5th June 1985

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what representations he has received from industrialists about pressures on output through difficulties in recruiting skilled or semi-skilled labour in recent months.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

My Department has received a number of such representations, notably but not exclusively in the area of information technology.

Photo of Mr Michael Latham Mr Michael Latham , Rutland and Melton

In view of the concern expressed by knitwear firms in Leicestershire recently, will my right hon. Friend undertake to have discussions urgently with the Department of Employment to see what can be done to deal with the problems and in particular to encourage recruitment and training?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I agree with my hon. Friend and I shall do that. I know that as a result of his questions to my right hon. Friends a special Manpower Services Commission investigation is taking place. My hon. Friend has raised a very important issue.

Photo of Mr Kenneth Eastham Mr Kenneth Eastham , Manchester, Blackley

May I remind the Minister that British industry does not compare with its foreign competitors in investment in training for skill shortages? Is he aware that France invests twice as much as Britain, and that in America six times as much is being spent on training? Is it not time that the Minister got in touch with industrialists, shook them and told them that they have responsibilities to provide trained personnel?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

I agree that industry has responsibilities. If the hon. Member is talking about Government expenditure on training, I am surprised to hear what he says. After all, total expenditure has risen from £380 million in 1979 to £1·2 billion in 1985–86. That does not seem to me to be a reduction but rather an enormous increase and something that the whole House will welcome.

Photo of Mr Eric Cockeram Mr Eric Cockeram , Ludlow

Is it not a criticism of schools and technical colleges that employers have so much difficulty in finding suitably qualified personnel? Has the Minister seen in the Daily Telegraph every Thursday 10 to 14 pages of advertisements for technically qualified staff? Is he aware that employers continually complain that they cannot get suitably qualified applicants?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

That is one of the reasons why my right hon. Friend has authorised a substantial contribution of £12·5 million from the budget of the Department of Trade and Industry towards the package that has been made available to provide additional places in higher education for students in engineering and technology.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown , Yeovil

Is it not the case that this autumn, as last autumn, there will be a significant number of unfilled vacancies in apprentice training establishments, both in the public and in the private sector, because firms cannot afford to fill those places? In that case, will the Government urge the Manpower Services Commission to fill those places at public expense so as to overcome the skill shortages that are affecting British industry?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The hon. Member has raised a number of very important points that are primarily the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment. I must reiterate that expenditure on training is high. Special steps have been taken in higher education as well. I am sure that my right hon. Friends, and the Secretary of State in particular, are doing everything in their power to increase the amount of expenditure on training.

Photo of Mr Richard Holt Mr Richard Holt , Langbaurgh

Does my right hon. Friend agree that while it is essential to train as many people as possible, there is a vast reservoir of trained and skilled people who are unemployed? Is he aware that the main reason why they are unable to find jobs is that they cannot find anywhere to live, however far they ride on their bicycles? Is he further aware that it would be a saving for the Government and the country if my right hon. Friend could ask the Secretary of State to suggest in Cabinet that, when a man has been unemployed for six months, the Government might give him an advance of another year's unemployment benefit as a deposit on a house in another part of the country, allowing him to fill a skilled job, thereby saving the unemployment costs and improving the efficiency of the country?

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

My hon. Friend has raised a very interesting point. I shall certainly make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is aware of it.

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West

Does the Minister agree that it is to be deplored that the Government, through the trebling of company liquidations and the destruction of manufacturing industry at double the rate of our European competitor countries, have created conditions in which, even if there were world growth, Britain could not obtain its fair share because we no longer have enough industrial capacity? Does he not recognise that even more grotesque is the fact that, even with the present limited level of growth, many sections of British industry cannot take full advantage of it because of skill starvation? That is the direct result of the Government's blind destruction of the skill training system that they inherited.

Photo of Mr Paul Channon Mr Paul Channon , Southend West

The right hon. Gentleman churns out that gush at every Question Time and it is no more valid today. The growth in the British economy this year is likely to be the highest in western Europe, and certainly the highest in the European Community. The economy is expanding. Training is a problem, but the Government, as the figures show, have done their utmost to try to provide more money. As has been said industry also has a responsibility for training.