Tom Richmond: Offering hope instead of cynicism is right answer

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FAIR play to Esther McVey, the Employment Minister, who had the political gumption to take the fight to Labour after an Opposition backbencher from Scotland raised the case of a young man who had not been able to find work for 18 months.

Despite Labour taunting “he needs a job”, Ms McVey resisted the temptation of Norman Tebbit to tell the person concerned “to get on their bike” and provided this considered response to the House of Commons.

“Well I would like to have a word with the young chap you’re talking about because what I would like to give him is hope and optimism, something you’re distinctly not giving,” she said.

“And if he sticks with it and gives it a go he will get there in the end and that is the best news I can give him, because it’s far better under this Government than it was under the Labour government where youth unemployment went up by 45 per cent.”

I liked the Minister’s approach. While each and every case of unemployment is regrettable, there needs to be an appreciation of the Government’s role in such matters – and that it is not fault of people like Ms McVey if people are unemployable because they lack the requisite skills, possess a criminal record or are addicted to drugs.

Labour needs to be aware of this if Ed Miliband’s policy void ahead of the next election is to be filled by sob stories like the one raised by Glasgow MP William Bain. After all, Tony Blair’s “education, education, education” mantra was supposed to provide today’s teenagers and twenty-somethings with all the skills in the world.

Yet, even though Labour demonstrated its economic limitations this week by criticising the Government over tuition fees and Royal Mail without offering a costed alternative, Ms McVey and her fellow Tories must not become too smug.

Youth unemployment is still stubbornly high – and there is a perception, rightly or wrong, that many staff in Jobcentre Plus offices are form-fillers and box-tickers rather than inspiring individuals.

This is why I issue this direct challenge to the Minister. Next to the Jobcentre Plus office in Guiseley, Leeds, is a row of boarded up shops, including an old Clinton Cards store. How about seeing what can be done to let these premises – and whether priority can be given to out-of-work people from the vicinity?

If this conundrum could be reconciled, Esther McVey would be even more jusitifed to use words like “hope” and “optimism” when talking about unemployment. For there can be nothing worse than walking to a JobCentre surrounded by the enduring symbol of the last recession – closed shops.

PERHAPS the most pertinent political intervention this week came from National Trust chairman Sir Simon Jenkins who spoke out against the Government’s “planning mafia” which is proving to be so insensitive to the needs of countryside communities.

In criticising Planning Minister Nick Boles, Sir Simon was actually far more cogent on the regeneration of urban areas than any politician.

This was his argument ahead of claims that Yorkshire’s ‘Golden Triangle’ of Leeds, York and Harrogate will have to accommodate another 150,000 homes over the next 20 years: “You can drive through the West Midlands, north of Manchester, South Yorkshire. You see acre upon acre upon acre of brownfield sites undeveloped – while the developers are pressing endlessly to build in the countryside outside. It is stupid.

“Travel down the Don Valley in South Yorkshire. You just travel for mile upon mile of unused, brownfield, infrastructures land. Everything is there. The schools are there, the hospitals are there – the people are there. What do you do? You build housing estates in the Peak District.”

He’s right. Sir Simon also says the conversion of factories and old mills into flats should be exempt from VAT while a 20 per cent tax should be levied on new-build sites. It’s obvious when you think about it.

IRRESPECTIVE of one’s views on Europe, the two debates between Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg and Ukip boss Nigel Farage have highlighted – once again – the futility of Prime Minister’s Questions.

It is a point that Dick Taverne, the one-time Lincoln MP and now a Labour peer, makes in his autobiography. “Debates in the Lords are very different from those in the Commons,” he writes in his memoir Against The Tide.

“They are short on drama but long on detailed argument. There is no jeering and cheering as at Prime Minister’s Question Time. Courtesy prevails.”

The Commons does need to evolve. For, while the debates led by backbenchers are usually mature and helpful, the partisan nature of PMQs does not help the reputation of politics or politicians.

IF more people are to take up grassroots football, don’t bank on Sports Minister Helen Grant to assist.

“All sorts of ideas are being considered, one of which is encouraging the county football associations to work much more closely with local authorities to manage community sports budgets. Ultimately, however, that arrangement sounds perhaps a little ad hoc, so some new model of ownership of sports facilities may need to be looked at,” she said.

Why does everything have to be so complicated? How about imposing a tax on every football transfer in excess of £100,000, with that money being used to fund the sport at a community level?