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    16 July, 2005

    Getting people back to work

    This week I raised the question of economic inactivity in our Valleys in questions to First Minister Rhodri Morgan. Though unemplyment in the Rhondda has more or less halved sinece the Labour Government was elected in 1997, to about 4.5%, we still have high levels of economic inactivity because people are on long-term sickness, or because employers have given them the impression that they are too sick to work. There has been a scheme run by the Department for Work and Pensions, RCT Local Health Board and the Assembly, which enables people to go back to work while still getting a portion of their benefits for a time:

    Leighton Andrews: There are several important schemes to help deal with economic inactivity, such as the Department for Work and Pensions scheme being run jointly with Rhondda Cynon Taf Local Health Board, which is running a pilot programme as part of a UK-wide scheme. There is also a scheme to which the Assembly Government is starting to give additional support through additional regional selective assistance grants to companies that qualify for RSA. Do you agree that, given that the scheme is intended to take people who are currently economically inactive, it is important that the scheme is properly marketed to those companies that qualify for RSA?

    The First Minster: Indeed, and, although I cannot quote an example from Rhondda Cynon Taf, I can give one from an adjoining area that is also taking part in the Pathways to Work pilot scheme, which, you were right to say, we are running, as junior partners, with the Department for Work and Pensions. I heard passionate advocacy of the successful potential of that scheme from the personnel manager of a particular company—I think it was Cooper Standard Automotive Ltd in Maesteg—who said that he was amazed and that, having participated in the scheme, he was initially a sceptic as to whether it was possible to get reasonable productivity from people coming off a special list held by the Department for Work and Pensions. However, he found that the productivity of those people was in fact above average, and not below average, and that he would recommend that every HR manager go along to the DWP to see whether they could have access to that special list, because you get extra motivation from people who have perhaps not been in the conventional labour market for quite a while.

    The Assembly is also trialling another scheme whereby companies who get Regional Selective Assistance from the Assembly to get jobs can also get additional money if they employ people who have been long-term economically inactive. I pressed the Assembly Government in the Economic Development Committee to make sure that companies who qualify are aware of this and it is marketed effectively to them:

    The reason that I am concerned about this, Minister, is because the Valleys communities have a high proportion of the economically inactive population of Wales. In asking about the marketing, I am reassured that you say that the major focus will be companies. Jobcentre Plus is fine as a route. However, I have not heard anything coherent that suggests that this scheme will be clarified to companies or introduced to them in a way that is going to make it attractive for them to take it up and make a significant difference in removing people from the list of the economically inactive. It is important to get this right at this stage, when you are refocusing and trying to learn the lessons of Scotland. I would just like to feel that there was a marketing plan there, and I do not, I am afraid.

    I am pleased to say that the marketing initiatives for this now seem to be in place.

    Rhondda TV
    The Labour Party

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

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