We should not underestimate the scale of the challenge that companies such as Nissan face. It is incredibly productive and has a wonderful work force, and the Qashqai, which is produced on Wearside, was recently voted car of the year. There is so much good news in terms of Nissan and other big companies in the north-east. However, companies such as Nissan require long-term stability and the ability to make decisions about where investment will come from in the years ahead. The prospect of an in/out referendum hanging over our heads until 2017 and the constant discussion about it are simply not helpful when it comes to jobs and investment in the north-east.
The most recent unemployment figures reveal that the north-east still has the highest unemployment rate in the country, standing at 9.5%. It is clear that the recovery has yet to deliver fully for my area. The picture of youth unemployment is even more troubling. Across the three parliamentary constituencies covering Sunderland, nearly 2,500 young people aged 18 to 24 have been out of work for more than 12 months. In my constituency, that represents an increase of 1,650% in four years.
Our region has seen in the past the economic and social damage caused by long-term unemployment, destroying communities and draining hope from countless good people and their families. Ministers, however, appear to be complacent about the scale of the problem. They should act now and implement Labour’s plan for a jobs guarantee for all young people who have been out of work for more than a year, because it is clear that the Youth Contract and the Work programme are failing. This Bill is another missed opportunity to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment and long-term unemployment in constituencies such as mine.
I speak to many people in my constituency who are desperate to work and who are applying for job after job and getting nowhere. They do not even hear anything or get an interview—they make no progress. It is hard to underestimate the despair that that causes among young people who are without hope for the future and not sure where things will take them. One man who came to my constituency surgery last week told me that he faces the prospect of getting up and looking for work every day, but he has been doing it for too many years now. He is desperate to work and has a lot to offer, but it is a highly competitive jobs market in which lots of highly skilled people who have lost their jobs in the public sector are able to compete and are chasing too few jobs. The Government must address the matter urgently.