Unemployment

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 27th March 2007.

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Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West 2:30 pm, 27th March 2007

If he will make a statement on recent changes in unemployment levels in Scotland.

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

It is almost as if my hon. Friend had prepared his supplementary question in advance, Mr. Speaker.

The stability generated by this Government's management of the economy has delivered the strongest labour market in decades. Scotland has a higher employment rate than the rest of the United Kingdom and nearly all other countries in Europe. There is, of course, no room for complacency. Last week's Budget shows that work continues towards the long-term goal of employment opportunity for all.

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Labour, Glasgow South West

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. These events are just so exciting that I got carried away.

Does the Minister agree that under the benevolent guidance of the comrade Chancellor, unemployment in my constituency has fallen by over 50 per cent. in the last 10 years, youth unemployment is down by over 80 per cent. and long-term unemployment is down by over 90 per cent.? Is he aware that the major employers in my area are the National Savings bank at Cowglen and the Govan shipyards, both of which depend on customers in England and the rest of the United Kingdom for the vast bulk of their business? Is he aware that if bad people wrench the United Kingdom apart, there will be enormous unemployment in my area?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I certainly am aware of the final point that my hon. Friend makes. I have campaigned on the issue of National Savings in Cowglen and on BAE Systems and the Govan yard and the Scotstoun yard, along with him. Independent research published by the Fraser of Allander Institute on 19 March concluded that the Clyde yards contribute more than £238 million to the Scottish economy and support almost 4,500 jobs across Scotland. The fact is that those yards—and the tradition of shipbuilding on the Clyde—have been sustained because of naval orders placed by the British Government. I leave it to the electors of my hon. Friend's constituency and across the west of Scotland to reach a judgment on whether, if there were not a United Kingdom, they would see those United Kingdom orders coming to the Clyde.

Photo of John Thurso John Thurso Liberal Democrat, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross

Is the Secretary of State aware of the impact on unemployment of Ministers' decisions, especially regarding the loss of jobs in the Department for Work and Pensions and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs because of relocation away from such current offices as Wick? Will he ensure that when Ministers take such decisions, they understand their impact on remote regions?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course, I am happy to examine the specific point that is of direct constituency interest to the hon. Gentleman. However, I can assure him that the DWP and other Departments are in the process of increasing the computerisation of systems that are inevitably and appropriately being upgraded in the light of continuing customer demand.

Photo of Rosemary McKenna Rosemary McKenna Labour, Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East

Would my right hon. Friend care to comment on, or respond to, the fact that HMRC employs 1,000-plus people in my constituency, which has a good employment record? What would happen in the event of Scotland being ripped away from the rest of the UK?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

My hon. Friend is entirely right to recognise the risks that would be caused to jobs coming through the DWP, Customs and Excise and other Government agencies that employ people in the United Kingdom. Both the public and private sectors have made a contribution to the uplift in employment that we have seen in recent years. While, of course, we have seen more doctors, nurses and teachers, the private sector too is growing. That is why I welcome the recent statement by Andrew McLaughlin, the Royal Bank of Scotland Group's chief economist, in which he said:

"Growth in private sector job creation hit a new high in February."

Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Secretary of State will be aware of the support employment projects run at Falkirk football club and at Dens and Tannadice in Dundee, which take small groups of people and build them up with confidence, motivation skills and the soft skills that employers need. He might also be aware of the community project in Leith called Working Rite, which takes young unemployed people and gives them, pre-apprenticeship, one-to-one mentoring with journeymen and experienced tradesmen. All those projects have a massive success rate, so does the Secretary of State agree that for that group of people, who have traditionally found it hard to get into employment, such a one-to-one, soft-skill, motivation, mentoring and coaching process might be more applicable than the traditional one-size-fits-all approach on finding employment that Governments have historically taken?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

Of course, the challenge that we face on worklessness has evolved. When we were first elected in 1997, there were many people who had found themselves unemployed as a consequence of two recessions in as many decades. Now we are addressing people with specific needs, such as those who are not job-ready because of numeracy or literacy problems, or drug dependency. That is why it is important that a range of providers is working to offer the necessary assistance. In my constituency an organisation called Working Links is undertaking such work, and I welcome the progress that it has made.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland

Perhaps there is one matter on which the Secretary of State and I can agree: Scotland's place in the Union has contributed greatly to employment levels in Scotland over the years. The commitment to the Union is absolute among Conservative Members, but does the Secretary of State really believe that bullying and scaremongering is the way to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom? Does he not agree that it is incumbent on all Unionists to make a positive case for the Union?

Photo of Douglas Alexander Douglas Alexander The Secretary of State for Scotland, The Secretary of State for Transport

I hope that there is common ground between us that the way not to make a case for the Union is to have a large group of students turning up with megaphones without batteries in them.