TUC Conference: Blunkett unveils pounds 39m package for training

EMPLOYMENT
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The Independent Online
DAVID BLUNKETT, Secretary of State for Education and Employment, pledged yesterday that the Government would not "wash its hands" of job losses in manufacturing, but told unions they should play their part by ending their "old battles" with employers.

Announcing a pounds 38m package aimed at boosting skills in economic blackspots, Mr Blunkett rejected the idea of some economists that there was a "natural" rate of unemployment.

"I know about the hopelessness, misery and despair of men and women up and down this country when they face unemployment in their communities and families and the worthlessness of not having a job.

"This is why the Government will find a different way forward between the belief that government can do everything and those who believe that government can do absolutely nothing."

Several unions continued yesterday to claim the Government was ignoring its responsibilities while a strong pound and the Bank of England's high rates were crippling manufacturing. However, Mr Blunkett said the new cash for Regional Development Agencies, with a pounds 5m "rapid response" fund to retrain those made redundant, proved the Government was taking urgent action in the face of world-wide economic turbulence.

The Prime Minister is to visit the North-east today, the site of recent large-scale redundancies by the electronics giant Fujitsu, to outline details of the rapid-response "flying squads" that will help workers to obtain the fast retraining they need to meet local skill shortages.

Mr Blunkett said: "There is no economic policy that justifies higher unemployment. There is no economic policy that seeks to waste the lives and talents of men and women or to increase public expenditure on keeping them unemployed. There is every justification for what we have been doing."

He also gave a stern warning to union leaders that they should cease blaming others for the problems facing the economy and should instead work in partnership with government and employers. "There is every reason to celebrate what we have achieved, to face the difficulties of the months ahead together, to see the old battles behind us, to develop that new partnership, not for scoring points, not for blaming someone else, but for working together to tackle the changing environment we work in and the uncertainty we face." He said 250,000 vacancies were available in the UK and only a concerted effort to overhaul the nation's training and skills base would allow the unemployed to take up the new opportunities.

Mr Blunkett welcomed the first report of the National Skills Taskforce, published yesterday, which called for better co-ordination of training bodies such as Training and Enterprise Councils, schemes to help the jobless move around to find work and support for small and medium-sized companies on recruitment.

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