Old Mother Hubbard Again?

James Purnell, Work and Pensions Secretary, is being increasingly forced to look as though he is Old Mother Hubbard going to the cupboard and finding it bare. His latest initiative to help unemployed professional workers find work is well meaning but pretty fatuous.

For the next month, professionals who sign on will get one-to-one meetings with a personal advisor; attend group sessions for similarly jobless people at new style “job clubs”, be given help to brush up their job-hunting skills and receive advice on changing careers.

The Government will also pay specialist recruitment agencies, such as Reed, to help people seeking executive posts.

But many of the people made newly unemployed are not just professionals but highly skilled people whose jobs have gone up in smoke thanks to the banking crisis.

As I have said before, these people have got work stamped through their DNA. While being treated well at Jobcentre Plus, not having to mill around for too long with young lads who have remained unemployed despite 3 million new jobs being created since 1997, today’s statement smacks of yet another New Labour initiative. It sounds good but . . .

There is one move the Government could take immediately to increase significantly the job chances of unemployed skilled workers. Making this move won’t look as though they are fiddling as people’s economic prospects burn.

Last year the Government allowed in over 150,000 skilled workers under its work permit scheme. These workers came from outside the European Union.

50,000 plus were allowed in on the basis that they had a degree qualification, even if they had no job to come to. And it is unknown what job they gained, if any.

100,000 or more are brought in under the Government’s skill shortage scheme. The test of a shortage here is whether Professor David Metcalfe and his colleagues calculate a shortage occurring.

All this activity should be confined to the dustbin of the boom. The one sure test of whether there are skills shortages in this country is to have all jobs advertised in Jobcentre Plus throughout the country. If a job hasn’t been filled in, say, a month, employers would then, and only then, gain permission to import a skilled worker from outside the EU.

When old Mother Hubbard went to the cupboard and found it bare, she didn’t simply build another cupboard. Had she been Work and Pensions Secretary it is unlikely she would have cooked up another recipe for nonexistent ingredients, i.e. yet another new deal.

She would have sought ways of filling the cupboard. James Purnell urgently needs to fill the empty job cupboards, by disallowing work permits for any job which has not been advertised at Jobcentre Plus. The Government is still, sadly, fighting the last welfare war, and not the one that has now engulfed us.

For what the Government might do, see my recent piece in last Friday’s Daily Telegraph and other posts here on the blog.

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