Friday, 17 December 2010

Bring back the Future Jobs Fund!

Unemployment at 2.5m: running at 7.9%. Major job losses in the public sector. And unemployment among young people rising significantly. Women are doing worse than men. And the worst hit areas are Yorkshire and the North East(areas that also took the biggest hits in the Council cuts).

This is not good news.

Predictions are that another 100,000 jobs in the public sector will go over the next few months. Worrying is the fact that long term unemployment is rising, with all the damaging and scarring effects that has. The number of people out of work for a year or more has reached a 13 year high.

We don't know exactly how many jobs have been lost in the third sector. There will have been many. And many more to come. We are beginning to collect the statistics because we need to know. For those in the sector who have seen the damage that unemployment can do to individuals, families and communities this is deeply worrying. Members tell me there major concern is the rising levels of youth unemployment, which evidence shows has the potential to scar individuals for life.

That is why James Purnell (who I saw at breakfast yesterday) was so right to bring in the £1b Future Jobs Fund. And why the Government made a major mistake in abolishing it. It has very successfully created good full time jobs for youngsters - mainly delivered through the third sector. The work of 3SC in drawing together consortia of small community groups has shown real potential.

So let me make a prediction. FJF will be back. Not called that obviously, but there will need to be direct action to tackle youth unemployment if it continues to grow. A hands off, free market approach that suggests the private sector will provide more jobs is shaky in the extreme. And the prospect of rising homelessness coupled with high youth unemployment will get the sector on the campaigning trail again.

It's been a hectic week of breakfasts, Xmas parties and meetings. I leave the Institute of Government's carol party for dinner at the Athenaeum with the wondrous member, Andrew Barnett of the Gulbenkein Foundation, and headhunter, David Fielding. Well done me for making breakfast early the next day with Gareth Davies, the new Head of the OCS. Gareth is a Good Thing. A top class civil servant who also dresses well. And talking of top class people we bumped into Will Hutton on the way out and I had a good discussion with him on unemployment and how to tackle it through a strong role for the third sector.

I've been in the Lords three times already this week; the last time for a very useful session with Lord Rennard on our Big Society Commission - amusingly I bump into Nat Wei on the way out as I clutch my bags of Lords' whisky (intended for Xmas presents).

And talking of "Big Society" I was interested in the "row" that has broken out in the community sector over this. Apparently a meeting of the Community Sector Coalition led by Matthew Scott, who I admire greatly, ended in concluding that it may well be a cover for cuts. Cue Kevin Curley of NAVCA defending it. And the sector media loving it though storm in a teacup springs to mind!

Of course people and organisations in the sector have different views on BigSoc. I would hope that was the case. Perish the day we ever have the ONE view. I hate the "tidy brigade" who tell us that the sector needs one voice. This is a diverse sector. That is a strength. And so there will be many voices. And organisations to represent them. And debate. Sometimes vigorous. That is what our sector should promote; a plurality of views and opinions. It is the essence of a healthy thriving democracy. A civil society with one voice is not civil. It's Stalinist.

So as I remind people who try and tidy up the sector, merge us all and get us "speaking with one voice" do they tell the private sector to do that? Or the public sector? So don't patronise us.

And on the Curley view on BigSoc I'm hoping that the Commission we have set up (first meeting on January 11th) will help air different views but work towards a framework of what the third sector wants from BigSoc. We shall be hearing from NAVCA and the Community Sector Coalition amongst many others. We will be holding a series of evidence gathering sessions as well as consulting key organisations within the sector and outside. It's an impressive group of Commissioners and I think we will have some good discussions.

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