Blair puts emphasis on quality of jobs

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR yesterday emphasised the importance of the quality as well as the quantity of jobs which a Labour government would create in order to achieve full employment.

Mr Blair expanded his own pledge to work for the goal of full employment as the three main candidates appeared on a BBC Panorama debate last night aimed at the nearly 5 million trade union levy payers and indvidual party members who will decide the Labour leadership.

Mr Prescott had earlier told delegates at the annual congress of the GMB general union, in Blackpool, that Labour should aim for an unemployment rate of 2.5 per cent.

Mr Blair insisted that specific policies for fulfilling that aim - 'the goal of full employment' - were more credible than detailed numerical targets.

He said such policies would include an emergency jobs and training programme which would provide not just 'work but work to a purpose'.

It would also include release of local capital receipts, a nation-wide energy efficiency scheme, a new programme for the young unemployed and 'reduction in the cost' to employers taking on the long term unemployed, and a new public-private sector task force to raise finance for infrastructure projects.

Insisting that Tory tax rises could have been avoided if UK growth had equalled that of its European competitors, Mr Blair said: 'We are a high tax economy because we are a low success economy.' And he pledged to fulfil European standards for those in work - full- and part-time.

Both men had earlier appeared on the same platform at the GMB union conference.

Margaret Beckett, who spoke separately to the conference, also gave her pledge to aim for full employment without committing herself to a figure. She said the policy remained at the heart of Labour's vision for Britain.

Mr Blair, who gave every appearance of a Labour leader-in-waiting rather than a contender, declared that there was a need for a 'national renewal' to give everyone a chance to 'prosper and succeed'.

He declared: 'We must do more than attack the scourge of unemployment. We should also get rid of dead-end, low-paid work with no prospects. We want jobs of quality.'

Mr Blairadded: 'It is important everyone gets the chance, not just to work, but to have ambition and to get out and improve themselves.'

Mr Prescott, the party's employment spokesman, said he was aware that he was being controversial in attaching a numerical target to his policies for bringing down unemployment.

Although it would be necessary to adopt the objective of 2.5 per cent unemployment set out in a 1994 White Paper, the electorate would not believe the party if it claimed that it could be achieved within one session of Parliament.

Mr Prescott said it was necessary, however, to give the public some idea of how much would be achieved within a five- year parliamentary session. A Labour government would release pounds 2.5bn now held by local authorities to embark on housing projects to create 100,000 jobs.