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The new deals have already helped nearly 700,000 people into jobs nationwide1,700 in my hon. Friend's constituency. Action teams for jobs and employment zones continue to assist disadvantaged people in the most deprived areas of the country, so far helping more than 56,000 people into work. In addition, we are introducing 20 StepUp pilots to provide transitional jobs for long-term unemployed people. I am pleased to inform my hon. Friend that one of the pilots will start in his constituency this autumn.
Mr. Wright: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and say clearly that the difference is that under the Conservative Administration there was 20 per cent. unemployment in my constituency as opposed to 6.5 per cent. now. I concur that that is due to the new deal and the other schemes, so I welcome the new initiative, but we are faced with the dilemma that those who are left unemployed are largely those who are unskilled. What other initiatives can he introduce and what can we do to try to involve other employers in my constituency and encourage them to make a greater input to the new deal and other schemes?
Mr. Brown: I am pleased that our schemes are having the impact on unemployment in my hon. Friend's constituency that he describes, although I believe that more needs to be done, particularly in terms of the Department's relations with employers. Specialist advisers are being appointed to a number of jobcentres to liaise directly with employers on the services that the Department providesenhanced services through the new Jobcentre Plus arrangements, which are coming soon to my hon. Friend's constituency.
Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): Was the Prime Minister right when he said in the House on 12 June that the number of unemployed young people is 4,500, or is the Minister's Department right when it says that the number of unemployed young people is 244,000?
Paul Goggins (Wythenshawe and Sale, East): May I confirm that the Government are making a real difference to unemployed people in my constituency, not least the 219 long-term sick and unemployed who have been found work in the past few months by the Wythenshawe action team? When the new Jobcentre Plus offices are opened in my constituency next year, will the Minister ensure that
Mr. Brown: The success of action teams is primarily due to the flexibility in the schemes and the outreach work that they can undertake. If my hon. Friend cares to write to me, I shall consider the location of the new Jobcentre Plus office and see what can be done to ensure that it is appropriately sited.
Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire): The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright) is right to concentrate on working with employers to ensure that there are opportunities for people to take up at the end of these valuable schemes. The Minister rightly said that personal advisers are assisting in that direction, but is he satisfied that enough is being done with account holdersthe liaison people between Jobcentre Plus and the employersto ensure that there is a transition process and that there are real jobs for the hardest to help to go to at the end of the scheme?
Mr. Brown: The hon. Gentleman is on to an important point. We need to do more to build links between the service and the employers. After all, a substantial sum of public money has been invested in improving the service, and we need to explain ourselves not just to large companies, but to small and medium employers. We are appointing these new officials at a local level so that they can have that interface with the local labour market.
The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Andrew Smith): Last September, my predecessor asked Alan Pickering, former chairman of the National Association of Pension Funds, to carry out an independent review of private pensions legislation. His report will be published in the next few weeks.
Mr. Gardiner: Does my right hon. Friend accept that one of the biggest barriers to pension provision is the sheer complexity of the products on offer? Does he agree that that often makes it difficult for employees properly to assess and compare the products that are available? Does he also agree that, no matter what else Pickering may bring, one of the most vital things that should come from the report is simplification of the whole system?
Mr. Smith: Yes, my hon. Friend is right. Without wanting to anticipate Alan Pickering's report, I think that it is crucial that employees are in a much better position to make informed choices. That requires a simpler range of products and the roll-out of comprehensive pension forecasts. That is why Alan Pickering was asked to report to Ministers with proposals for simplifying pensions regulation while ensuring that pension scheme members are properly protected. That is the crucial balance to get right.
Mr. Smith: The hon. Gentleman's expertise in this matter is greatly and widely respected in the House. I hope that he will understand when I say that I will not be drawn into speculation about Alan Pickering's report.We will give careful consideration to all his recommendations, and we will listen carefully to the response from the public, the pensions industry, employers and trade unions.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Malcolm Wicks): In April this year, we created Jobcentre Plus to bring together the Employment Service and those parts of the Benefits Agency that deal with people of working age. Jobcentre Plus provides an integrated, work-focused service to people who are out of work.
Fifty-six new Jobcentre Plus offices are already up and running. We intend to roll those out across Great Britain over the next four years. We have already announced that we plan to open around 225 more offices by April 2003.
Roger Casale: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, which I welcome. Does he agree with my constituent, Charlene Kuye, who is a single parent engaged on a teacher training course, and with organisations such as Gingerbread, which speaks for lone parent families, that the complexity of the benefits system can be one of the major barriers to helping young people return to work? Will he continue to listen to benefit recipients and their representatives as we continue to improve the benefit system so that it is possible for people to make a seamless transition from taking maternity or paternity leave to going back to work or from training back to work?
Malcolm Wicks: Yes, we must learn from our constituents. Our advice surgeries are our most important seminars in this respect. Although large numbers of lone parents are being enabled to get back into work, a significant proportion are still not in work. The interface with skills and education is critical. From local office level through to ministerial level at Whitehall, we have good connections with those in the world of education and skills.
Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire): Can the hon. Gentleman clarify the enigmatic answer given by the Minister for Work a few minutes ago and say which of the statistics regarding young people is correct? Are 4,500 young people out of work or 244,000? Which is right?
Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): One frustration for some of my long-term unemployed constituents is that they seem to be precluded from entering courses to reskill and retrain them that are for longer than one day a week. Will my hon. Friend examine the situation, and will people who have been put on a course that they discover is not meeting their needs be able to change easily to another, more suitable, course?
Malcolm Wicks: Yes. As I have indicated, we need to learn from our constituents. I should be grateful if my hon. Friend would write to me with individual experiences. In all sorts of ways, not least with our basic skills initiative, which deals with the fact that too many adults struggle with literacy and numeracy, we have a very joined-up approach with the Department for Education and Skills. We are screening people in jobcentres to test their literacy and numeracy. We are trying in all sorts of other ways to put the rhetoric of lifelong learning into practice. I repeat that we need to learn, and I am happy to discuss the matter with my hon. Friend.
Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): The Minister will recall from earlier exchanges that not only do we not have a jobcentre in the Vale of York, there is no prospect of a Jobcentre Plus. Will he take up the case of Mr. Potter, who has been sent from pillar to post through a variety of offices? He lost his job in the farming industry in the autumn of last year and it has taken two months for a letter to be transferred to the Minister's Department from another. Will he try to help Mr. Potter to obtain unemployment benefit from the day that he lost his job?
Malcolm Wicks: I apologise for any delay. I will take up the case of the hon. Lady's constituent. We have not yet announced all our plans, but in those rural areas that may not have a Jobcentre Plus, we need to think hard about how to provide an adequate service. We can do that through the telephone and through the internet for some. We need to join up with other local agencies to provide the service and must be sensitive to the needs of rural areas. Although there will be a large number of Jobcentre Plus offices throughout the country, some areas will not have that facility as such, and we are thinking hard about how to ensure that the hon. Lady's constituents and those in similar areas receive the service that they deserve. Meanwhile, I will take up her constituent's case.