I agree with Mr MacShane that the world did not start in May 2010. There are 30 million people in the work force, and when they were educated, what they were educated in, and how they have skilled themselves throughout their lives makes a very big difference to their employment prospects today. Therefore, whoever the Government are, they are, to some extent, presiding over the legacy of previous Governments.
We all know that, as a country, there are some things we have done well and some things we have done badly. Being out of work is a tragedy for anybody, but over the past 10 or 20 years, this country has not done too badly in keeping unemployment levels below that of many countries in Europe. In Spain, for example, unemployment is at horrific levels. Where we have got it wrong is in having, for understandable reasons, a welfare system that has sometimes become a disincentive for people to take jobs. In the Government’s reform of the welfare system—I hope that it turns out on time and to plan—they are trying to take away the cliff edge from those who are out of work and perhaps not well skilled enough to get a high-paid job so that they can take a job because it is worth their while to do so. That is a very important part of the future of our nation. Over the past 18 months, we have still had people with skills coming in from abroad and taking jobs. Under the last Labour Government, about 2 million jobs were taken by people coming in from abroad. That meant that we have not been able to motivate our own people to take those jobs. Welfare reform must be part of that.
We must look at our education system and put a lot more effort into technical education. Since Beveridge and the Education Act 1944, this country has not done as well as many of those on the continent, particularly the Germans, in technical education, which was never properly developed. When I look at Germany, I am impressed by how well respected people are who have a good technical education and by how workers are trained to provide a highly skilled work force. The success of the German economy has a lot to do with that.
What the Government are doing about training and in trying to recreate the apprenticeships that fell into disrepair is very valuable. When I go around companies in Poole, including many successful companies, the managing directors are often not degree candidates, but people who started on the shop floor with an apprenticeship in engineering and have skilled themselves up throughout their lives. Unless we get back to having good technical education, I fear we will not produce a generation of decent managers and keep the standard of living that we want.
Welfare, training and education therefore need to be part of the picture. However, we need to have a stable economic environment for people to invest. We inherited a big deficit and it will take some years to sort things out. Things do not happen in a straight line. There will be good years and bad years, and good Budgets and bad Budgets. Clearly, this is one of the years when things are going a bit slower, and I suspect that over the next four or five years, there will be years when things go a bit better. I hope that, over that time, we can create enough jobs to take up the slack of the public sector and that we can provide people in this country with a decent living, but it is going to be hard.
Nobody in this Government underestimates the task. We have a coalition of two parties that agree that we need to sort the country out and to provide more opportunities. It is a moderate coalition of sensible people and I think that it will succeed in the end, but it may take all five years before people make a sensible judgment about whether we have succeeded.