Work and pensions secretary Peter Hain defends Jobcentre Plus in employment push

Work and pensions secretary Peter Hain has insisted that Jobcentre Plus is at the centre of a flagship scheme to get unemployed people into work in 2008.

Despite his recent insistence of the need to get specialist private companies involved in welfare-to-work schemes, Hain said the public sector employment agency was the “hub” of Local Employment Partnerships (LEPs).

More than 250 employers have signed up for these partnerships across the UK, pledging to give job interviews and work placements to unemployed people specially trained by Jobcentre Plus.

Hain told Personnel Today he would be hitting the road this year to get as many employers involved in the scheme as possible, and insisted Jobcentre Plus would retain a crucial role.

“Jobcentre Plus is the hub of the programme, its offices are the first port of call for anybody seeking to engage in the scheme. An enormous number of people walk into Jobcentre Plus every day,” he said.

But he added that if people remained unemployed after a year with the public sector body, they should be handed over to private sector or voluntary welfare-to-work specialists.

“These experts can offer specialist training that Jobcentre Plus is not in a position to do,” he said.

Hain also admitted that the government’s annual spend on private welfare-to-work contracts would only rise by 25% from £800m to £1bn. But he insisted that this would be enough to bring about the “radical” change the government has promised.

At the end of 2007, Hain backed a big increase in private welfare-to-work contracts, saying: “In the future, the bulk of payments to contractors must be based on sustainable job outcomes.

“This will give a real incentive to help people into jobs that provide the greatest career prospects.”

Push to hire long-term unemployed

A Japanese fashion retailer, which opened two flagship stores on Oxford Street with the help of Local Employment Partnerships, has backed the scheme.

HR manager Nick Bartlett said Uniqlo was able to fill 147 of its 500 new positions with unemployed people prepared by Jobcentre Plus.

“We are a small HR team and this scheme gave us access to Jobcentre Plus staff and resources, which led to a greater pool of potential candidates,” he said.

“We are aiming for 17 store openings in the UK over the next two years, and looking to recruit 70-100 people in each store. I am sure that Local Employment Partnerships will form a key part of that programme.”

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