Hewson On ... Subsidies offer help to sign young talent

News that youth unemployment has rocketed beyond one million is as shocking as it is disturbing and unwelcome.

The jobs market is difficult to say the least and talk of a "lost generation" is not wide of the mark.

The coalition's withdrawal of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, a trusty piggy bank for those in need and seeking to better themselves, has hardly helped matters. Likewise, some might argue, the abolition of Labour's Future Jobs Fund, a well-intentioned but perhaps ill-conceived scheme aimed largely at the public sector.

As the Treasury downgrades its growth forecasts (again) and the eurozone implodes, things may get worse. And for those unwilling to take jobs on offer, welfare reform is starting to bite. Life on the dole is set to become a little less comfortable than some might like and now is not the time to be watching daytime television - not unless your number comes up on the Lotto. But how do you get a job requiring experience when you cannot get started in the first place?

Recently announced Government plans to address this and through which it hopes to create more than 400,000 work and training placements in the private sector over the next three years are, I suggest, a step in the right direction, despite sniping from the opposition front benches - if ever an issue demanded cross-party consensus, it is surely this one.

The basic idea is that various subsidies will be available to employers to encourage them to take on and train staff. Funding details have yet to be worked out, but it cannot be new money because there isn't any. More likely, it seems - and I do hope - some form of (serious) bank levy and a much needed clampdown on tax avoidance. Certainly, it should not come from freezing family tax credits for those whose need is greatest, as has been suggested.

I do wonder whether this "youth contract", as it is called - worth, incidentally, around £1bn - may provide a timely opportunity for UK Horticulture PLC to recruit new staff, as employment costs rise and margins are squeezed like a lemon. We are, after all, desperately short of new blood and would clearly benefit from the ideas, energy and enthusiasm of young talent. Every industry needs fresh faces and ours is no different. Don't let them go to waste.

Andrew Hewson is a freelance writer and columnist

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