Julian Smith: Reforms that are helping Yorkshire back to work

THE economic results achieved by the Government in Yorkshire are incredibly positive. Business confidence is growing: the number of business start-ups in North Yorkshire is now double the national average, and we have more private sector jobs than we have had for years.

However, as we get set to welcome the Tour de France to Yorkshire at the end of the week, the economies of Britain and Yorkshire are being been talked down by Labour, and that is a total disgrace.

The Government’s welfare policies are key to our long-term plan, and also to our economic recovery.

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There has been a 22 per cent drop in the number of Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants in Yorkshire, which is at a five-year low.

We have seen a bigger reduction in the number of claimants of employment and support allowance than the national average, and 920 new businesses have been set up under the new enterprise allowance (NEA).

In the House of Commons, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Rachel Reeves, failed to mention any of the 80 success stories in her Leeds West constituency: she did not refer to any of the businesses that have been set up under NEA over the past few years.

Just last week, I heard from a company called Lime Tree Europe in Halifax, which is a key marginal seat.

That company has been trading for three weeks. It is delighted by the benefits that the NEA has brought, and is greatly looking forward to building its business.

Even more odd and sinister is the fact that the Labour Party has kicked the men and women who work in our job centres and at the Department of Work and Pensions – and who are working hard to change the culture –firmly in the teeth.

Anyone who has been to a job centre and observed people working hard to return our fellow citizens to employment will know that there has been a complete revolution in the way in which those organisations operate.

When I visited a job centre in Skipton recently, I went from desk to desk and saw every woman and every man working flat out to get my constituents back into work.

Everyone knew their numbers; everyone was on top of what had to be done. It is not surprising that 300,000 people are now in sustainable jobs, thanks to the Ministers and other hard-working people in the DWP.

A surprising aspect of the Shadow Minister’s speech was the implication that she and her colleagues had not visited a job centre in recent months.

If they had done so, they would have heard from job centre staff that they want more of the Government’s reforms. They want people to have more work experience and zero-hours contracts, because those things will give them a foot on the ladder leading them back to employment.

They want universal credit to work, because it gives them an opportunity to motivate people who are not currently boarding the work bus.

If Ms Reeves will not listen to job centre staff – the people whom I have met – she should listen to the Yorkshire people, her constituents. What they want is a lower benefit cap. They want the Government to get on with introducing their National Insurance cut for young people, which will encourage employers to take on more of those young people, and they want the Government’s benefit reforms to include even tougher measures.

I hope that universal credit will be rolled out throughout the country as quickly, but as responsibly, as possible. Rather than hearing criticisms of the DWP and job centre staff, I want to see more incentives given to those staff, who are performing incredibly well. They currently have an opportunity to receive a bonus amounting to 0.25 per cent of their salaries. I want them to have more such opportunities.

Labour MPs have to admit that if they ever get their hands on the tiller again, they will never reverse the reforms that the Government have introduced. They have to come clean about their proposals for a National Insurance rise. Are they going to place a burden on British business as a result of which it will again fail to employ the necessary numbers?

We want the Secretary of State (Iain Duncan Smith) and other Ministers to press ahead with these reforms. I say to them: please turn up the volume.

Julian Smith is the Conservative MP for Skipton and Ripon who spoke in a Labour-led Commons debate on the Department of Work and Pensions. This is an edited version.