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Talks promised on New Deal

A wide-ranging programme of regional and local meetings with training and enterprise councils, voluntary groups, business people and trade unionists has been ordered by the Government to discuss how Labour's New Deal for youth should be delivered.

Under the New Deal, people between 18 and 24 who have been unemployed for more than six months will be given opportunities to move into jobs or education or training.

Ministers want to test the views of those on the ground, to build on existing partnerships and encourage new ones, particularly with the 457 further education colleges.

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all have advisory task forces charged with bringing to the New Deal an external non-Government perspective. It will report through David Blunkett, Education and Employment Secretary, and employment minister Andrew Smith to the Cabinet committee set up to oversee the whole Welfare to Work initiative.

Ministers see the co-operation of colleges as vital to stop the New Deal from being another scheme cooked up by Whitehall and rushed through without regard to participants' views.

Mr Smith said: "We are not in the business of introducing yet another Government scheme. Indeed, we have failed if the New Deal is seen as a product of central government at all. The business sector, the voluntary sector, local government and the trade unions will all need to play their part if we are to succeed."

Meanwhile, advice for the minister is coming from every direction. David Compston, chairman of Manchester TEC, told Mr Smith: "In some parts of the country a quarter of the population or more are unemployed. We must not have short-term solutions."

Chris Humphries, chief executive of the TEC National Council, said it was time to reform partnerships to deliver what the Government wanted.

"We need evidence that six months from the end of the programme we find a significantly greater number of people in sustainable employment. There is a real need to ensure that the jobs that are filled are related to local skills shortages."

The Local Government Association has been exploring its role with the Government. David Sparks, chair of their economic regeneration committee, said: "People have been looking at the the question of long-term unemployment for as long as there has been industrialisation. If we do not have locally determined solutions with the local community then we will pressurise people into schemes, rather than provide real and lasting jobs."

Bill Callaghan, the TUC's chief economist, said schemes should be high quality and effective on the ground. Unions had a key role to play in monitoring schemes. He also stressed child care provision to enable people to take part in programmes and the need to pay people the equivalent rate for the job.

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