Fat cat pay for jobless

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UNEMPLOYED single mothers and people with alcohol and drug problems may be given the chance to earn fat City salaries under an extension of the Government's New Deal for the jobless.

Leading City of London figures met ministers and officials last week to discuss ways of hiring jobless people, particularly those with social problems, to work in banks and finance houses. Stephen Timms, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, told them he was impressed by an American scheme where the socially disadvantaged get intensive training to help them secure work in big corporations.

Such a project would be a further extension of the New Deal programme to get unemployed 18- to 25-year-olds into work.

Under the American initiative, agencies such as Wildcat Corp and America Works have provided several months of intensive training, including business English, maths, accounting and software applications, to the disadvantaged.

Successful "graduates" have the opportunity to be interviewed for a full- time paid work assignment for up to 16 weeks at leading firms such as Morgan Stanley and McCann Erickson.

At the investment bankers Salomon Smith Barney, two-thirds of the Wildcat graduates have been given permanent jobs, some at salaries that they might not previously have dreamt of.

Wildcat was established as a private, not-for-profit organisation 28 years ago by socially minded businessmen keen to help former drug addicts in the job market. It extended its work to helping ex-offenders and welfare recipients. Just over five years ago, it began to work with financial institutions and has now secured jobs for about 275 people in that way.

Jeff Jublow, of Wildcat, and Barbara Silvan, a senior vice-president in New York for Salomon Smith Barney, had talks with the New Deal task force in London this week to exchange ideas. "We are seeing if the UK can learn from the American experience," Mr Jublow said.

Ms Silvan said a common thread among the interns was willingness and enthusiasm. "They are looking for someone to give them a real chance," she said. "An important part of the success of these individuals, and the programme itself, is the way in which our employees and managers have welcomed them to the firm and made them feel an important part of the workforce. They are treated with respect and dignity and are challenged by the work."

Mr Timms told the meeting, which was also attended by Tessa Jowell, the minister for the New Deal, that it was clear that the UK needed organisations to perform the intermediary role provided by companies like Wildcat.

But Britain needed to decide whether to work with existing organisations or encourage new types of companies to take on the work, he said.