Coal Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:53 pm on 25th May 1995.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Kevin Hughes Mr Kevin Hughes , Doncaster North 4:53 pm, 25th May 1995

I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am talking about the order in terms of training and helping to reskill the work force in Doncaster in assisting it to find new jobs.

Doncaster has been lucky to have the benefit of British Coal Enterprise Ltd., which is mentioned in the order. The House will know that BCE has worked alongside the industry to help it reskill and to place former mining employees in new work with new opportunities.

I am concerned about BCE's future, which is still in the balance. The Government have not decided specifically what they intend to do with BCE in the long term. If the Minister is able to do so, he should tell the House of his intentions.

The Government made an allocation of £3 million for retraining when the Bentley and Hatfield collieries closed. The moneys were allocated to the Barnsley and Doncaster training and enterprise council. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the TEC spent the money in a different area of Doncaster. The areas most directly affected by the closures, which should have received the money that the Government brought forward and which should receive the money that will be made available by the order, did not receive their fair share.

The TEC is well aware of my concerns because I have talked about them to its representatives on many occasions. My latest information is that the area covered by the constituency of Doncaster, North received only a third of the £3 million that was made available.

I have corresponded with Ministers about the designation of other moneys that have been allocated to try to ease the difficulties caused by pit closures, including the economic difficulties that have been faced by Doncaster generally. Of the £8 million allocated to English Partnerships, most of the funding has been directed to projects on the other side of Doncaster from my constituency. The areas in which pits have closed, which should be receiving moneys from the order, as well as from other sources, have seen funding go elsewhere. A derelict land grant has been made available to clean up the Askern site, but the majority of the funding has been spent elsewhere. Some of the money should have been used to help areas north of Doncaster in my constituency where mines have closed and where unemployment is especially bad.

April figures show that in one ward in my constituency there is almost 18 per cent. Unemployment. Other wards have unemployment of 13 and 14 per cent. Within these wards are pockets where unemployment is as high as 20 per cent. and over. The moneys that will be made available by the order should be used to help unemployed people reskill and retrain for other work that the council is trying to bring into the town.

Against that background, the Government have cut the training-for-work budget by over £100 million for the next financial year. That is difficult to understand. By 1997, the budget will have been cut by as much as 12 per cent. That is madness when 11 per cent. of firms nationally are reporting that it is difficult to fill job vacancies. I understand that in Doncaster we have already lost 1,200 places. Indeed, more are likely to be lost. Without training, how are towns such as Doncaster expected to make the best use of the human resources that are available to them?

The Government admit that the cost to the economy of keeping someone unemployed is £9,000 a year. In Doncaster, North alone, that means that £50.5 million will be spent on subsistence for the unemployed this year. It is criminal to spend thousands of millions of pounds each year to keep people unemployed while at the same time reducing the opportunities for them to earn money for themselves in employment. The Government's approach creates a huge burden for the taxpayer instead of using Government money to encourage success. The Government should not be financing economic failure. We should be giving people a hand up, not a hand out. That is what they want and that is what they need if they are to equip themselves with the skills that they require to ensure that they get back into work.