‘We need firms to move in to create jobs’

A Job Centre

A Job Centre

George Hollingbery MP

MP defends decision to vote against bill amendment

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Every month, on the third Wednesday, the Office for National Statistics publishes what’s known as the claimant count.

It is a list of all those people who are claiming out of work benefits, and has been measuring data since 1971.

The numbers are supplied by JobCentre Plus, and relate to those who get Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA) while they’re not in work.

The figures aren’t an entirely accurate reflection on how many people do not have a job, as there is a limit to the amount of savings a person can have before they can qualify for the legal benefit.

But the figures, which are published in The News for the wider Portsmouth region, give some guide as to how the economy in the area is faring.

And the picture is telling.

In the last decade, the figures for most local authorities in the region have roughly doubled.

In Gosport the figures have tripled over 10 years.

But while the numbers of JSA rose every year, the biggest hike in the numbers came between 2008 and 2009 – at the time of the credit crunch and the beginning of Britain sliding inexorably into a double-dip recession.

House prices crashed, banks went bust and, inevitably, people lost their jobs as companies peered into the future and realised they were going to have to become more ‘efficient’.

The easiest way to compare the figures is to give a starting figure for 2003, the figure for 2009, and what the figures were in February 2013 – the latest data available until the figures for March are released tomorrow.

They break down into local authority area so people can see exactly how their city, district or borough is doing.

In Portsmouth those figures are 2,818, 4,797 and 5,394.

Havant’s figures have gone from 1,476 in 2003 to 2,602 in 2009, and then down to 2,562 in February this year.

Fareham’s have gone from 657, jumping to 1,357 and then down to 1,272.

Gosport’s have gone from 656 to 1,499 and now to 1,582.

Casting the net wider, Winchester City Council’s figures have gone from 598 up to 1,073 and then to 984 in February.

The figures for East Hampshire District Council area, which includes Petersfield, have gone from 704, to 1,357 and then to 1,272.

Chichester’s numbers have risen from 734 up to 1,525 in 2009 and then to 1,500 in February this year.

Those figures mean that, as a percentage of population, Portsmouth has the highest claimant count, followed by Havant, Gosport, Chichester, Fareham, East Hampshire and then Winchester.

Mike Hancock, who is cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development, says the only thing the city can do is try to tempt new businesses to move to the region.

He said: ‘We have had to deal with job losses over the years, but the main reason for this spike in unemployment is purely the recession.

‘Companies have closed down and jobs have been lost.

‘There have also been redundancies within the city council – we’ve got 140 going this year, and have already lost between 300 and 400.

‘We simply don’t have the money to create more jobs.

‘Jobs are also being lost in the NHS, too.

‘The only thing we can do, and which we are doing, is to make Portsmouth an attractive place for businesses to come to and to work with them when they are here.

‘Pall Europe for example. We had to fight to keep Pall in the city as there was a real risk that when it closed down its operation in The Hard we’d lose it.

‘But the council helped find it a suitable building within the city, in North Harbour, so that’s those jobs saved.’

In the wider Hampshire area, organisations such as the Solent Local Enterprise Partnership and the Hampshire Chamber of Commerce are working on ways to help create jobs and invest in skills.

Minister for Employment and Fareham MP, Mark Hoban, attended an event in the Lysses Hotel in Fareham to meet business leaders.

Chamber members also raised questions about pensions, wages and career guidance in schools.

Hampshire Chamber chief executive Jimmy Chestnutt said: ‘Despite some encouraging labour market figures recently, we continue to see weak employment growth, especially in service and manufacturing, so we were very grateful to Mark Hoban for coming along to hear our questions and concerns face to face.’

He insisted jobs were being created despite slow economic growth.

He was keen to highlight the package of support available to employers through the government’s Youth Contract launched a year ago in April 2012.

The initiative is intended to help unemployed people aged 18 to 24 find work through apprenticeships and work experience placements.

Mr Hoban said employers could receive up to £2,275 when they take on a young person who has been out of work for six months or more.

He added: ‘The business case for taking on people who have been out of work for a long time is that they do return that investment. It’s good for the economy.’

But Mr Hoban has said there are still challenges facing employment, despite the private sector creating 1.25m jobs nationally since May 2010.

He said: ‘Thanks to the private sector creating these jobs people who are looking for work are on the whole getting work.’

But he added: ‘The claimant count has fallen since May 2010 but there are still challenges out there.’

Tackling the problem

IN THE past decade Gosport’s unemployment figures have almost tripled, from 656 in February 2003 to 1,582 in February 2013.

Gosport MP Caroline Dinenage has been a vocal supporter of attracting firms to Gosport to try and ease the situation.

She said: ‘The numbers are turning around, we are seeing results.

‘Gosport for centuries has been very heavily reliant on the Royal Navy and the Ministry of Defence more widely for employment, and we’ve had very high public sector employment.

‘In recent decades the Royal Navy has got smaller and in recent years we’ve been trying to reduce the number of people employed by the state.

‘The closure of Haslar Hospital has also had a huge impact – not just for the doctors and nurses but also the other staff, like the cooks, the cleaners, the porters.’

Ms Dinenage said it’s not just the squeeze on public sector and defence spending that’s the problem, but also the fact that many people have to commute out of the town in order to get to work at private companies which have their bases elsewhere.

She said: ‘In Gosport we have half a job per working adult on the peninsula so we have around 20,000 people commuting every day, sometimes quite far, in order to stay in work.

‘That’s why I have been behind setting up the Enterprise Zone at Daedalus because we want businesses to come here and create jobs.’

Benefits changes

CHANGES are being made to the benefits system which will come into force in the summer.

The government has introduced a cap on the total amount of benefit that working-age people can receive so that, broadly, households on out-of-work benefits will no longer receive more in welfare payments than the average weekly wage for working households.

The new benefit cap was rolled out yesterday to people living in the Bromley, Croydon, Enfield and Haringey Local Authority areas.

And the rest of the country will follow suit on July 15 and all caps will be in place by September.

Ministers say welfare spending needs to be reduced and they claim that the threat of the introduction of the cap has already spurred 8,000 claimants who would have lost out to find jobs.

Mark Hoban, Fareham MP and employment minister, said: ‘What people want to see is a benefit system that’s fair, that’s affordable, that encourages people into work and these reforms help deliver that.’

The Department for Work

and Pensions says about £90bn was paid out in benefit payments to people of working age and their families in 2009-10.

It hopes the cap will save about £110m a year.

Gingerbread, a charity which campaigns on behalf of single parents, said it was ‘deeply concerned’ about the impact the cap would have on families and communities.

Statistics

STATISTICS have revealed that both employment and unemployment have fallen at the same time.

But how can that happen?

It’s all down to how big the labour force is.

The labour force is made up of the number of people aged between 16 and 64 who are actively looking for work.

Since changes to the benefits system were made by the coalition government, more people are deemed eligible to work.

Changes to pension ages for women have also had an impact.

That has meant the labour force has increased by 118,000 nationally between November last year and January this year.

In the same time frame, 7,000 more people became unemployed nationally, meaning 2.52m people in the UK were out of work.

But on the flip side, 131,000 more people were in work, putting employment at 71.5 per cent with 29.73m people having a job.

But the ONS said the total number of hours worked fell over the period, reflecting the labour market shift to part-time roles and self-employment.

Other worrying signs that the labour market is far from recovery are reflected in long-term unemployment figures.

Those out of work for two years or more rose by 2,000 between November and January, to reach 451,000; almost a fifth of the total number of people who are unemployed.

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