Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Avoiding a new North South divide

Today's unemployment figures continue to make depressing reading for those of us living in Scotland.  It's worrying to see the trend of the last year or so continuing with Scotland's unemployment rising while it's falling in the UK overall. 34,000 more people are unemployed this year than in the same period last year. Those figures don't even include me because I'm not claiming benefit or looking for another job, as I'm fortunate enough to be able to stay at home with my daughter and my blog for a while.

The Holyrood and Westminster Governments are going to have to manage this disparity very carefully. I know that the Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition at Westminster is determined that the whole country should share in the economic recovery.

In the 1980s we saw how the south east of England prospered while jobs in the north and Scotland were decimated. That can't be allowed to happen again and I'm glad to see that the coalition has always been committed to ensuring that the benefits of economic recovery are shared out over the UK.

With such a high proportion of jobs in Scotland in the public sector, spending cuts could have a much bigger impact here than south of the border and will need to be matched with help in job creation opportunities.

One thing I was pleased to see, though, was Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Scotland acknowledge that the figures in Scotland are disappointing, and outline what the coalition government at Westminster is doing to help:
"The government's measures to achieve our priorities of tackling the record deficit and achieving balanced economic growth for all parts of the UK will encourage the necessary investment to create new jobs."
I wasn't chuffed to see in the Emergency Budget that VAT was going up while Corporation Tax was going down - but I said at the time that if you're going to cut public sector jobs, you need to make the conditions attractive and competitive for the private sector to create them.

I used to feel insulted month after month when Labour Ministers hailed the drops in unemployment across the UK but resolutely refused to tackle the rises up here. Predictably, today, Labour are putting the boot in, failing to acknowledge their part in creating the mess we're in or their inaction during the recession in Scotland. They may be lamenting the loss of the Future Jobs Fund but it didn't seem to be having much of an impact up here.

I'm concerned too, that young people are going to bear the brunt of this, especially as Mike Russell has failed to sufficiently increase college places  and not everywhere, meaning that there will be less opportunity both in education or employment for this year's school leavers.  Action by the Scottish Liberal Democrats ensured an extra 7500 places in training and skills in this year's budget, but even that isn't enough to meet the demand.

We have to think of the 223,000 households who are facing the impact on unemployment, and the 34,000 who have joined them this year. I know how it feels. When Bob was made redundant from British Coal, at the age of 43, in 1994, he wasn't expected to get another job. Imagine that - being thrown on the scrap heap at the age I'm at now.  It took him 10 months and literally hundreds of applications before he found something else - with two job offers coming in in the same week. It was a really difficult time for him.

What really helped him, though, was an organisation called British Coal Enterprise which was set up in Mansfield. They had trained staff on hand to help him with each application that he made, to give him coaching for the interviews, to debrief afterwards. They provided him with a desk and a computer and he essentially treated it like another job - he went in there every week day. By the time he went for his 6 monthly interview at the Job Centre he had two full lever arch files of applications which he took with him. The person who was interviewing him didn't even want to look at it, which was a bit soul destroying, especially given the tone of the letter summoning him, but he was't making the applications for her sake anyway.

I think these sorts of facilities are going to be essential in the years to come, along with a bit more flexibility in the training opportunities provided by the Department of Work and Pensions.  They are quite prescriptive in the sorts of training they will fund. I've seen people with job offers being turned down for funding for training courses they need to take them up which seems to me to be crazy. In one case, funding the training would have saved the Department a load of money, but instead, they ended up paying out more than double that amount in benefit.

The Westminster and Holyrood Governments both have their roles to play in reducing unemployment. Sometimes they will need to work together. Let's hope they don't let us down.


Voter said...

How easy is it to create jobs?

I remember YTS and YOP being mocked in a text adventure. Yet politicians talk as if it is easy.

I am big on evidence-based policy

cynicalHighlander said...

Since Scotland has 12.5% of UK population percentage wise we still have less unemployment per capita. More than 50% of the increase in jobs are part time and not sustainable in the long term.


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