Germany signs on to learn from UK JobCentres

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The Independent Online

For millions of Britons, the humble JobCentre will be forever linked with the film The Full Monty. But yesterday it became instead the inspiration for the revival of the once-mighty German economy.

Wolfgang Clement, Germany's new labour and economy minister, took time out from a series of high-level political meetings to visit the 21st century-style JobCentre in Streatham, south London.

Germany is struggling to cope with unemployment of almost 4.5 million, its highest jobless total since reunification.

Mr Clement, who took on his job last October, is pursuing an agenda of labour market reforms similar to those the UK went through in the 1980s. He is looking closely at Britain, where claimant count unemployment has tumbled from a peak of over 3 million to 28-year lows of below a million. Germany plans to copy the UK experiment of housing benefit payments, job adverts and employment advice in one office - known as JobCentre Plus (JCP). After a trial of 56 centres - including Streatham - there are now 256 JCPs and by 2006 there will be a nationwide network of more than 1,000. Germany plans to have 650 combined offices by the end of this year.

Ludwig Linden, Mr Clement's spokesman, said: "What is dear to his heart is the move to JobCentre Plus."

Mr Clement spent two hours at the centre, talking with staff. "We are not taking everything from the UK but we are taking the general approach and we are taking the UK as a model," the minister said after his tour.

Analysts believe Germany must urgently embrace painful labour market reforms. The jobless rate has surged from below 9 per cent in 2000 to almost 11 per cent.

Alasdair Murray, an economist at the Centre for European Reform in London, said: "Mr Clement is certainly pressing all the right buttons by talking about cutting the extremely high non-wage costs, which are twice what they are in the UK."

The Department for Work and Pensions said governments from across the world had beaten a path to JobCentre Plus. A spokeswoman said: "We have got away from the image from The Full Monty of people queuing up in depressing offices to collect their benefit. Now you are greeted by the modern furniture you would see in the Big Brother household."

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