The Budget: 'Derisory' employment aid: Job Creation

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THE Government's pounds 230m package of employment measures was denounced as derisory by unions and a 'drop in the ocean' by managers.

The Chancellor acknowledged that the dole queue would continue to lengthen even after economic growth resumed, but the best way of helping unemployed people was by boosting business, he said.

Potentially the most innovative element was the announcement of four 'workstart' pilot schemes in which employers will be paid about pounds 60 a week for each person taken on from the ranks of the long-term unemployed. Unions argued yesterday that companies would accept the jobless instead of offering employment at the going rate. Gillian Shephard, the Employment Secretary, said that contracts would be drawn up to minimise that effect.

More conventional measures included the offer of 60,000 places on a new Community Action scheme whereby people would perform voluntary work for the community on a part-time basis combined with the active search for a job. Participants on the programme, to be launched 'as soon as possible', would receive their benefit plus pounds 10. The programme seems to be a revamped version of the unsuccessful Employment Action scheme, except that the work will be part-time.

The Chancellor announced a new education allowance under the Learning for Work banner to enable 30,000 long- term unemployed people to study for a year on full-time vocational courses. The job-related courses, mainly at further education colleges, would aim to provide students with marketable skills and nationally recognised qualifications.

Before the Budget announcement, people receiving unemployment benefit were excluded from full-time education courses or could lose benefit if they studied.

An extra 10,000 places are to be offered on the Business Start-up scheme, bringing the total to 50,000 this year. Under this programme potential business people are offered support and counselling and a weekly allowance for up to 15 months.

A fund of pounds 25m has been set aside for 'TEC Challenge' in which employer-led Training and Enterprise Councils will bid for funds to come up with innovative ways of tackling unemployment and encouranging job creation. Successful applicants will need to emphasise the degree of involvement of the private sector and will be assessed on whether they can deliver practical projects quickly.

Mr Lamont's speech showed that Mrs Shephard had temporarily won the battle against Cabinet hawks who argued for a 'workfare' system in which unemployed people are made to work for their benefit. Later, however, Mrs Shephard indicated that the battle with Cabinet colleagues might not be over.

Opposition politicians yesterday compared the announcement of an extra 100,000 opportunities for the unemployed with the three million people officially registered as out of work. Mrs Shephard contended that the intitiatives were 'very far from being piddling'.

She said that the emphasis in all the initiatives would be placed on the long- term unemployed and disabled people. The measures gave unemployed people more ways to use their time constructively, she said.

Unions attacked the Government for failing to tackle the jobs crisis, which will worsen tomorrow when figures for February will show another big jump in unemployment. Norman Willis, TUC general secretary, said the Budget would not stop unemployment increasing by half a million this year.

'All he (the Chancellor) offers the unemployed are derisory schemes that will give small help to 100,000 people. He is ignoring nine-tenths of the million long- term unemployed.'

Employers gave a lukewarm response to the jobs proposals. Roger Young, director-general of the Institute of Management, said allowing 30,000 long-term jobless to take up vocational courses without losing their benefits was a 'drop in the ocean'.