Steve Brine is the Member of Parliament for Winchester & Chandler’s Ford.
This week, we have seen yet more hot air and unfunded promises from Ed Miliband.
This is the tenth time Labour have promised to use a tax on banks and bankers to pay for an election promise, and this time, they are talking about a compulsory jobs scheme. It seems, in the world of the post-Blair Labour Party, money literally does grow on trees.
Could it be that a Labour, losing the public battle over the economy and welfare reform, is suddenly trying to talk tough on youth employment or is it that a policy-free zone was desperate for something to say on the eve of George Osborne’s penultimate budget?
Readers can make their own judgement, but Labour have provided no detail as to where these jobs will come from. In fact, there is seemingly little private sector appetite for this plan which suggests these will be public sector jobs – and therefore a massive unfunded spending commitment.
In an uncomfortable interview on Daily Politics last week, Stephen Timms, a Shadow Work and Pensions Minister, was forced to admit that NO firms (not one) have signed up to the party’s jobs guarantee scheme. There are also questions to answer over whether the policy would mean that Labour are spending the same money ten times over…or are admitting they can’t keep their other promises.
Interestingly – and this point was backed by the Institute of Directors – businesses, in my experience, are not interested in schemes such as this. In short, they want people, the supply, when the consumer demand is there. Crucially, businesses are also by far the best people to make this judgement, rather than an Ed in a suit sat at a desk in Whitehall.
Most worrying of all, this sounds an awful lot like the Future Jobs Fund. Those with good memories will recall that this scheme was expensive, and actually ended up subsidising short-term jobs in the public sector. Each placement cost £6,500, and sadly, half of the participants were back on benefits as soon as the six months were up. Recently-produced figures show that the Treasury may never actually recoup the costs.
For those with even longer memories, StepUp may ring a bell. It guaranteed jobs for Labour’s New Deal failures, but it was never rolled out nationally. In fact, in a 2006 evaluation, it was found to cost £10,000 per person in today’s prices, and was thus discredited. It seems the party has learned nothing from past failures.
Attack is of course, the easy part and it’s fair enough to ask what the Coalition Government is doing in this area. The number of young people in work has increased by 49,000 in the last three months, and the number claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance have fallen for the last 20 months.
Excluding people in full-time education, there were 637,000 unemployed 16 to 24 year olds for October to December 2013, down 27,000 from July to September 2013. It’s still too many, but after years of rigidly high, unmoving numbers, it’s a strong record and above all, it’s given hope to 27,000 young people.
The Government’s Youth Contract, which blends work experience, wage incentives, sector-based work academies and apprenticeships, is seeing real success also. The Youth Contract has already provided over 200,000 opportunities for young people since its inception in January 2011, including employers who have committed to take on over 65,000 long-term unemployed young people through the wage incentive.
In addition, a further 100,000 opportunities are available next year to help young people improve their skills and on-the-job experience so they can move into work.
This Government is working hard to make a real difference to young peoples’ lives by building on solid and tangible foundations using the resources provided by the private sector. Rather than just look for a cheap headline bashing bankers again, my advice to Labour would be to learn from previous mistakes and see what works.
As always, Labour’s sums just don’t add up. In the end they would have to borrow more and tax more to pay for their policies. This is just another short-term political fix that’s more about positioning than helping to solve the problem of youth unemployment.
After 13 years of a Labour Government, it is shocking that the coalition started out at such a low water-mark but, through pragmatism and the sheer hard work of the British people we are the ones securing this country’s future with a long-term economic plan and creating more jobs – in the real world – is absolutely central to that.