Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Don't mention New Deal - again

Unemployment has fallen. But there's more evidence of the perceived irrelevance of New Deal, FND etc. Long-term unemployment has actually risen in some areas, and there has also been a significant rise in some places in those who are "economically inactive", i.e. not working or claiming benefit. On Monday a group called the Centre for Cities published a report looking at the varying fortunes of British cities in the recession. It has copious statistics on unemployment and on the skill levels in different areas. The cities with the largest increase in people claiming JSA are Swindon, Grimsby and Hull. Those with the highest youth unemployment are Birmingham, Grimsby and Hull. Those with the lowest percentage of high skills are Grimsby, Ipswich and Hull. (Poor old Hull and Grimsby, where unemployment has continued to rise.) The report sees the solution in a changed organisation of local government to attract business, and in funding FE colleges to provide skills training. This in part echoes the government's own recent report, "Building Britain's Recovery", which recognised the need for skills and qualifications if unemployed people are to find work. But, unlike the Centre for Cities report, the DWP can only think in terms of a one-size-fits-all approach.
BBC's PM Programme on Tuesday was talking to NEETs. There are almost a million NEETs, the majority of them male. The lads the programme is following have been unemployed for upwards of 6 months, and are doing everything they can to find work. There was no mention of any training programme, but perhaps they had not been out of work long enough. PM is going to follow these lads, so it will be interesting to see what happens to them. However, BBC2's "Working Lunch" today reported on a "scheme" to help the unemployed in Sheffield, run by Working Links (yes, that surprised me, too). This was undoubtedly FND, but the words "New Deal" were not uttered. The impression was given that this was a local scheme, and if mention was made of its national coverage, I missed it. We were not told how FND is financed and run. The emphasis was indeed on skills training, but it was very much the sort of training we saw under the old contracts. A woman was enthusing over the one-day courses such as Basic Food Hygiene which may well improve her CV but are unlikely to get her a job. We were told about SIA and construction training - worthy but not applicable to many unemployed people. The item was too short to be informative.
FND may well be doing some good in some places. But clearly what is needed now is proper, wide-ranging skills training, with qualifications to suit the capabilities of the job-seekers as well as the needs of employers. A lot of money and effort is being put in by councils and voluntary groups. If private companies can help, fine. But they should be under the direction of JCP on a regional basis; in other words, we should revert to what happened before the system was privatised.

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