Labour's youth jobs taskforce

As the Labour Party conference opens, the shadow Work and Pensions secretary explains the measures his party is taking to help Britain's young and unemployed.

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As Labour gathers in Manchester, we mark a terrible anniversary. It was exactly a year ago that the ranks of our young people out of work rose over a million. And it has stayed there every since.

Britain is now branded with a badge of shame amongst rich nations. Young people account for 40% of this country’s jobless – higher than anywhere else in the EU and double the European average.

That’s why Labour says youth unemployment needs urgent action.  So we won’t wait until 2015 to take on Britain’s youth jobs crisis. We will take action now.

Today I’m launching Labour’s Youth Jobs Taskforce to bring together Labour leaders from all over the UK in a new alliance with entrepreneurs, business leaders, trade unionists and the third sector to tackle this crisis of our times. It’s a taskforce that will galvanise action to give young people what they need most -  a chance.

All over Britain, it's now Labour’s local leaders blazing the trails in search of new ways to get young people into work. In Wales, Labour is creating 4,000 youth jobs by April 2013 with a bigger, better future jobs fund. The Glasgow Guarantee sets aside £25m to fight youth unemployment in the city including a 12 month job placement at the living wage for any young person unemployed for 12 weeks, plus the UK’s largest apprenticeship scheme. Liverpool City Council is guaranteeing every 16 or 17-year-old not in education, work or training, a training place or an apprenticeship.

In my home city of Birmingham, the new Labour administration has moved rapidly to create a Youth Employment Commission bringing together the council, JobCentrePlus, businesses and the third sector to coordinate a drive against youth unemployment. Manchester is widening the Youth Contract and backing employers who hire unemployed young people. Sheffield is creating an agency that supports SMEs taking on apprentices for the first time. In Cardiff, Leeds, Bradford, Wakefield, Newham and Barnsley, Labour is pioneering new ways to tackle the crisis.

Our job now is to draw on the best ideas anywhere – and turn them into action everywhere Labour is in power.

Sometimes, in party conference season there’s a lot more heat than light.

If there’s one thing I hope we’ll see this year, it’s this: the world in which Britain competes is changing fast. We have to prepare for a different kind of future. By the end of the next parliament, China may be the world’s largest economy. The balance of power of the world is tilting east. That’s a huge opportunity for Britain. But it’s a gigantic competitive challenge too. China is investing billions in new technology, in new science, in education. It produces more engineers than the US, South Korea, France, Germany and Britain - put together. We are not going to win in this new world by leaving a million of young people idle.

Iain Duncan Smith is fond of telling us that he found the inspiration for his work in Easterhouse in Glasgow’s East End. Well, yesterday I paid a visit of my own. To Joseph Wheatley College in the heart of the estate to meet a group of young people to talk about the future. They were very clear. Labour’s investment in education, in skills, in connecting young people to business and transforming horizons, ambitions – and hope. Yet Joseph Wheatley is being forced to lay off teachers as cuts kick in. These are the young people that Glasgow needs to succeed. And there’s a million more now out of work. Let us not be the generation that failed the future. The first bricks we lay to rebuild Britain are getting these young people into jobs.

Liam Byrne is shadow Work and Pensions Secretary