Improving employment levels in Dundee

Yesterday, I took part in the latest meeting of the City Council’s Local Economy Monitoring Group, at which there was an excellent presentation by Chris Brodie of Brodie Economic Research.   Chris gave an very detailed and useful resume of the effect of the economic downturn after 2008 and, in particular, how it has affected Dundee.

The key message from Chris’s presentation is that, although the economic situation has been challenging, Dundee is well-placed for the future, particularly given the Waterfront development, V&A at Dundee, life sciences, digital media and so much more.

There was also discussion about the success of the Dundee Economic Summit last month, that I had the pleasure of attending.   Another Summit, focusing on employment and job creation, is planned for September.

Dundee Liberal Democrats have a manifesto commitment to enhance the role of the City Council’s Local Economy Monitoring Group.   Employment for Dundee people is vital and is our Number 1 priority.
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National Convention on Youth Employment

The Principal of Dundee College opens
the National Convention on Youth Employment
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending part of the National Convention on Youth Employment at Dundee College’s Gardyne Campus, along with a large gathering of national and local politicians, major employers, JobCentre Plus, the further & higher education sectors and many others.   The event was organised by the Scotland Office.

Tackling youth unemployment is a major challenge for both the Westminster and Scottish Governments and it was refreshing to see Ministers from both governments speaking on the same platform and emphasising the close working relationship between the two governments on this vital issue.    

I heard three of the Ministerial presentations – by Mike Moore MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and John Swinney MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth – and all spoke in a positive way about what their government is doing to create youth employment and their willingness to co-operate to ensure that public expenditure on this vital area is best-spent by each government.

The Youth Contract gives a package of support worth almost £1 billion to help young unemployed  people prepare for work and find a job.   Yesterday’s event underlined the need to do all we can to support young people find good employment opportunities.

Jobcentre Plus “outreach” proposal

The suggestion by Danny Alexander MP that public buildings such as libraries should be considered for use as outreach services for Jobcentre Plus appears to me to make a whole lot of sense. (See http://news.scotsman.com/scotland/Library-39outreach39-proposal-for-Jobcentres.4840598.jp to read the story in today’s Scotsman).

 

He points out that there is no reason that Jobcentre Plus services cannot be provided in places such as community centres and council buildings.

 

The 2004 Government Spending Review announced an efficiency savings programme which planned to reduce the numbers of Jobcentre Plus staff by around 14 per cent and lead to dramatic changes in the way Jobcentre Plus delivered its services

The new standard operating model for claiming benefits introduced the telephone as the main route for applying for and contacting Jobcentre Plus about benefit claims. Benefit processing was centralised into a smaller number of large processing centres, resulting in reduced face to face service for claimants in local offices. Citizens Advice’s evidence on the new system for claiming benefits from Jobcentre Plus said,

 

“The most vulnerable claimants, homeless people and those with mental health, learning or other disabilities have suffered the worst as local office support has decreased and alternatives to phone contact have been refused.” (See http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/policy_campaign_publications/evidence_reports/er_benefitsandtaxcredits/er_not_getting_through to view the full report).

 

Although, in November, the government decided to abandon plans to close more Jobcentre Plus offices, the “outreach” proposal would help to plug gaps in the Jobcentre Plus network – it should be remembered that the ‘rationalisation programme’ was handled in a haphazard ill-conceived fashion.

 

In my view, consideration should also be given to having some Jobcentre Plus services and advice surgeries at suitable local Post Offices. During the unsuccessful campaign to try to save four Dundee Post Offices last year, many of us made the point that having additional services at local Post Offices would help secure their future. Having some Jobcentre Plus services at sub post offices would not only achieve this, but would also make job centre services more readily available and plug some of the gaps in the service.