Nick Clegg champions youth jobs drive


Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg appealed to businesses today to sign up to the coalition's drive to tackle youth unemployment.

The £1 billion Youth Contract is intended to create at least 410,000 new work places for 18 to 24-year-olds over the next three years.

Under the scheme, from April firms who take on youths will get help with their wages worth £2,275.

"Getting young people earning or learning is my top priority, and that's what the Youth Contract is going to do," the Liberal Democrat leader said.

"This is a long-term boost to help business get young people into jobs before lasting damage is done.

"Employers have a huge part to play in this and the subsidy we're announcing today benefits business and young people.

"Today I'm writing out to thousands of employers of all sizes - from global corporations to small local firms - calling on them to look at what we're offering through the Youth Contract and sign up to offer jobs from April.

"This is a significant moment and a call to arms for businesses to offer long-term opportunities to young people who are out of work."

Mr Clegg made his comments as he met young apprentices at K&M McLoughlin Decorating Ltd in Islington, north London, which has its own school where youngsters learn their trade.

The firm was started in 1988 by Kevin McLoughlin, who worked his way up from being an apprentice to owning the company, which has a turnover of more than £6 million a year.

It has been involved in some of the capital's biggest building projects, such as the Olympics sites, St Pancras station and the Savoy Hotel's redevelopment.

The firm opened its decorating school in October 2010 and now has 22 apprentices.

Mr McLoughlin, 54, said the last 25 years have seen 90% of companies stop training youngsters.

"It is mainly due to the major contractors," he said.

"They have systematically driven down prices, causing a downward spiral where, to claw back profit, many sub-contractors have been forced to cut costs to the bone.

"Training has been seen as 'expensive' and apprenticeships have been the casualty.

"But the sums are wrong. Believe me, I'm not a charity.

"I wouldn't do this if apprentices did not make me money and, in return, they get the opportunity to learn a trade with a guarantee of a job at the end of it."

But he warned the Government needed to close legal loopholes which allowed companies to sub-contract their workforce.

He added: "If the Government was truly committed to apprentices, they would close the legal loopholes that allow companies to sub-contract their workforce on a long-term basis, whether that is through an agency or the traditional labour-only sub-contract route.

"This allows them to avoid PAYE and all the associated employment costs.

"Without PAYE staff, you cannot take on apprentices because there is no infrastructure there to mentor and train them."