Five training and enterprise councils are being established in the west midlands—at Birmingham, Walsall, Wolverhampton and Dudley, and in Staffordshire. Work is also well advanced in a number of other areas, and there is no doubt that there has been an excellent employer response from the west midlands.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. We are positively encouraged by the speedy response to the TECs in the heart of the manufacturing part of Britain. Will he give an assurance that when the Wolverhampton TEC is established there will be sufficient staff and adequate incentive funding fully to meet training needs and to give the response that we need in the area? Will he tell me, in general terms, whether he recognises the policy of resources for the enterprise element of the councils?
Yes, I think that I can give my hon. Friend an assurance on both counts. Certainly, we recognise the importance of enterprise. We have considered the position in Wolverhampton and we are satisfied that staffing will be adequate at that TEC.
Are any of the training and development councils running courses on democracy and the conduct of ballots? If so, will the Minister attend one and explain why trade unionists have to have postal ballots for the election of their leaders, but Tory Members have a workplace ballot for the election of their leader and—
Can my right hon. Friend tell the House what efforts his Department and the national training task force are making to ensure that best practice from those TECs already established, or in the process of being established, is being made available to those still in the process of formation in the west midlands and elsewhere?
One of the aims of the national training task force, under the brilliant chairmanship of Brian Wolfson, will be to spread good practice around Britain. The west midlands will benefit from experiences in other parts of the country. One of the aims of the TEC movement will be to share best experience.
In relation to the west midlands TECs, is it not the case that, as with other TECs, the pressure will be on numbers and reducing costs? Against that background, what steps and assurances will the Secretary of State take and give to make sure that disabled workers, particularly the blind, receive training opportunities of the quality that they previously enjoyed? Is the Secretary of State aware that organisations for the blind are concerned that training courses will be lost as a result of the introduction of TECs?
I hope that we can set their minds at rest, as there is absolutely no question of that. We want the provisions for disabled and blind people to continue. The purpose of the TECs is not to save money, or to be a cost-cutting exercise, but to provide good training and to ensure that the training is delivered locally. That is the point of the reforms that we are carrying out.
My right hon. Friend and I have had a number of meetings with TEC chairmen and other interested individuals. We are confident that TECs will be given the flexibility that they need to enable them to operate effectively in their local area.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is enthusiastic support for TECs on Tyneside and Wearside, where it is recognised that such institutions are vital to ensure an adequate and skilled work force for the region in the future? Can he assure us that there will continue to be adequate public funding for those bodies, that there will be sufficient flexibility in their operation to enable them to encourage local initiatives, and that they will not be subjected to undue central control, particularly financial control and regulation?
I can certainly give my hon. Friend those assurances. Perhaps I can tell those in the community that he represents, through him, that we recognise the widespread support that his local TEC enjoys. We trust that that will continue.
In response to four questions so far, Ministers have told the House how successful their employment policy is and how many training facilities there are. If that is so, can the Minister tell us how many years it will be before unemployment is brought down to what it was 10 years ago? There are now 1 million more unemployed people than there were in 1979. How many more years will it be before the Government can tell us of a success story in reducing unemployment?
Is my hon. Friend aware that the answer that our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State gave in respect of the blind will he much appreciated at the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford, where a keen interest is taken in these matters?
Is my hon. Friend further aware that in our part of the world we have a large number of comparatively small employers, all of whom are enthusiastic about TECs? Can he tell us what progress is being made with the TEC for Hereford and Worcester?
I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend in regard to the blind and the disabled. It is important that local organisations for the disabled work closely with local TECs so that the needs are fully understood by both sides. Good progress is being made in Hereford and Worcester. I take my hon. Friend's point about the number of small employers.