Parliament: EMPLOYMENT: Blair praises New Deal as national jobs crusade

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TONY BLAIR hailed the Government's flagship New Deal policy as a "national crusade" yesterday despite new figures showing that more than half of its trainees ended back up on the dole.

The Prime Minister said he was "immensely proud" of the scheme as he revealed that it had passed the landmark figure of 100,000 participants.

Yet the statistics also showed that 53 per cent of leavers from the New Deal's full-time education and training option failed to secure unsubsidised work. The programme uses cash from the pounds 5.2bn windfall levy on privatised utilities to put 18 to 24-year-olds in jobs, training or work experience.

Labour pledged in its manifesto to use the New Deal to take 250,000 people under 25 off benefit and help them into work. But the Tories seized on the figures to claim that the policy had failed miserably and was a means of massaging the unemployment statistics.

Damian Green, the shadow Employment minister, said the cost per job of the New Deal was pounds 11,000, a rate much more expensive than any previous "job creation" scheme.

"The most disturbing fact is that more than half of those who sign up for education and training for the New Deal still do not go into unsubsidised jobs. This is a serious blow to Labour's flagship policy," he said.

"How can they claim this is a sensible use of taxpayers' money? With a job lost every 10 minutes and the New Deal increasingly showing itself as an expensive failure, this Goverment is betraying the young unemployed."

Earlier, Mr Blair said the New Deal had already halved the rate of youth unemployment since the Government came into office and offered real hope for youngsters facing long-term unemployment. The Prime Minister was joined by David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, as he revealed that 40,000 employers had signed up and 44,000 youngsters had gone into unsubisidised jobs.

"I believe it is a sort of quiet youth revolution in the making and is literally transforming the prospects of thousands of youngsters up and down the country," Mr Blair said.