Murnaghan 19.02.12 Chris Grayling, Employment Minister, on work experience schemes

February 19, 2012


DERMOT MURNAGHAN: The government’s work experience programme was supposed to help the long term unemployed get jobs but critics have said it amounts to a form of forced labour as people are made to take jobs that pay nothing. Well joining me now is Employment Minister, Chris Grayling, a very good morning to you Mr Grayling.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Hello there.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: The accusation here is that here is a government effectively subsidising large companies with these work experience schemes that could afford to pay proper wages.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I think the accusations about this scheme are absurd. Those who are particularly targeting the supermarkets who have been very helpful to us in supporting this scheme are frankly job snobs about the nature of the work those supermarkets are doing. What we are doing is very simple, we have far too many young unemployed people, it’s a big challenge for us and of course one of the biggest challenges those people face is the age old one – you can’t get a job unless you’ve got the experience but you can’t get experience unless you’ve got a job.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Okay, the old Catch-22 but Tesco has been in the paper, advertises a job saying you are getting no wages whatsoever, you get your benefits and we’ll pay you expenses. I don't know about job snobs, that’s about being paid a fair day’s money for a fair day’s work.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Look, the practicality is that Tesco is offering four weeks work experience to young people, 300 of the young people who have gone through that work experience have ended up being hired by Tesco which is a big international organisation, hundreds of thousands of employees, hugely diverse career opportunities, the manager of an individual Tesco branch could be managing a hundred million pound business. I praise Tesco for offering unpaid work experience short-term to young people because it helps them, in the same way as I praise the Guardian newspaper which offers unpaid work experience to young people. What slightly puzzles me is why then the Guardian newspaper, which has recognised the importance of unpaid work experience, short term, just enough to give a young person a foothold in the workplace, actually opposes what Tesco are offering for us and that just seems to be crazy. This scheme is working enormously well, we have employers large and small, up and down the country, in a whole variety of different sectors, who are basically offering the same opportunity, the first foothold into the workplace for young people. It is completely voluntary for those young people, they don’t have to do the work experience placements but something like half of them are coming off benefits as a result of those placements and surely that’s really good news.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: It’s in the papers today, isn’t it, that one of the companies that helped you out with these work schemes is being investigated for fraud at the moment with suggestions that it only provided one day’s work experience and things like that.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well the enquiry that appears to be taking place, and I only discovered about this last night, dates back two years to schemes run by the previous government. It would not be possible for our work programme scheme to have a fraud of this kind simply because the providers who work for us aren’t paid until somebody has been in work for six months so you can’t get payment for getting somebody into work for one day. The truth is that some of the schemes put in place under the previous government were I think contracted very badly and mismanaged, we tried to learn the lessons from their failure and to put in place schemes that work.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Okay, overall unemployment, there are so many worrying dimensions of it, I just wanted to pick up on one of them and this is the issue – and you’ve spoken about this before and the previous government spoke about it as well, of this, I suppose you can characterise it as British jobs for British workers. Within the unemployment figures, we see last year that 208,000 UK nations lost their job, 215,000 born outside the UK actually got jobs. The balance is changing isn’t it?

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I have to say that it is quite clear to me that the situation where we have people from overseas and from other countries coming into the UK and finding work and yet us having large numbers of unemployed young people is not one that I think is acceptable, not one that we should tolerate and it is one that we should work hard to try and change.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: But what can you do about it? A lot of them come from the EU, you’ve got to let them come in, you’ve got to let them have jobs.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well ironically you started the question about work experience, I think one of the big challenges that young person has in the labour market today is that they come out of school or college, they don’t have previous experience, they may be up against someone who has come to the UK from Eastern Europe, who is five or six years older, who has got work experience already and are quite an attractive recruitment option for the employer. By getting young people into the workplace, actually showing a potential employer what they can do, I think we give them more of a head start against that potential competition from somebody coming into the UK from overseas than they would otherwise have. And also …

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: But isn’t it the case, I mean EU regulations are preventing you from saying what you really want to say which is you’d like companies to consider employing someone from the UK before they considering someone from elsewhere but you can’t say that because of the EU employment laws.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I can say absolutely clearly it is my hope that every employer in the UK, in deciding if they are going to recruit in the next few months will put young UK unemployed people at the top of their priority list, I am absolutely clear on that.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Okay, but that’s discrimination then against EU nationals.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well I just simply hope that the choices that employers make in this country will be to give young unemployed British people a chance, so it would be bizarre if I didn’t say that and we’ll do everything we can to encourage them to do so, to support them to do so and through schemes like the work experience scheme, we’ll give them a chance to take a look at what young people can do and we know when we do that, very many of those young people go on into work, often with those same employers.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Okay, a couple of political matters, Conservative party matters and government matters. The Health Bill, Health and Social Care Bill, I mean you would all accept that it has run into an awful lot of flak, the Prime Minister has got a hastily cobbled together summit meeting tomorrow with some of the health professionals, not including a lot who seem to oppose the Bill. Isn’t it time to let it all go, it is doing you enormous political damage as a party?

CHRIS GRAYLING: I don't think that’s right. First of all the meeting tomorrow, the Prime Minister has had a whole series of meetings in Downing Street with people involved in the health world, this isn’t a one-off, it is one of the latest of a series of meetings. This time it is with some of the GP groups who are going to be commissioning and to be honest I think that patients up and down the country want to know that their own local doctors are in charge of what decisions are taken about treatment in their community. If I look at my own area, Epsom and Ewell, where I have spent a decade arguing for the safe future of Epsom Hospital, knowing that local doctors have decisions about what services are provided in the community seems to me altogether more attractive than having people somewhere off in the bowels of the NHS administration taking decisions that affect my constituents but actually my constituents have very little say over. That’s going to be different as a result of the Bill.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: And can I just ask you about tomorrow, we’re hearing that a coalition of groups are going to put across their point, that they believe the government is pushing forward with the idea of redefining marriage, allowing same sex marriage, is frankly wrong. You can have civil partnerships but you shouldn‘t allow same status for same sex couples as you do for married couples at the moment.

CHRIS GRAYLING: Well there is obviously going to be a lively debate about this because there are strong views on both sides of the argument and no doubt when it actually comes before parliament there will be a free vote. I am actually supportive of gay marriage, I think that we should champion and support long term relationships, we should all have that stability in our society and we should recognise relationships and support relationships that are long lasting. Actually society suffers when we are too short term in our relationships.

DERMOT MURNAGHAN: Okay, Mr Grayling, thank you very much indeed. Chris Grayling there, the Employment Minister.

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