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Minister 'impressed' by the way town is tackling unemployment

Thursday, 17th May 2012.

Employment minister Chris Grayling was impressed during his visit to the town this morning by the strength of community partnerships in Haverhill battling to reduce unemployment.

The minister toured the town's Jobcentre and then met local employers and business people in a question and answer session at the Arts Centre.

The town's MP Matthew Hancock, who accompanied Mr Grayling said Haverhill had again showed its strong community spirit and given the minister some new ideas to encourage in other places.

Mr Grayling told employers that, as well as trying to deal with unemployment, he was also the minister responsible for health and safety, and engaged in myth-busting in a big way.

Many of the stories which went around about health and safety regulations turned out not to be about things which were actually required at all.

"Much of it is due, I think, to over-zealous enforcement by inadequate enforcers at a local level," he said.

He also detailed how the Government was trying to strip away a lot of unnecessary regulation.

This pleased the head of Samuel Ward Academy Howard Lay how described how health and safety requirements could hamstring efforts in education, even in basic areas like forcing schools to close durinmg snow or not allowing children to play conkers.

He urged the minister to carry on the good work of reducing regulation.

Richard Herbert of Herberts, which employs 200 people in Haverhill making equipment for supermarkets, said a fixed retirement age would help unemployment.

He said it caused real problems when they could not retire people. "It means every career ends in failure," he said. "It ends up with me being told the person is not doing a good job and we have to be negative to them."

Mr Grayling said he had heard this from other employers and understood. The change had been made because some people were being forced to retire who still had plenty of expertise to give, but he promised the Government would have a serious discussion about it.

In answer to a question from the head of Castle Manor College Madeleine Vigar, Mr Grayling urged even closer partnership between schools and employers in dealing with the hard core of young people who dropped out of education and training and went straight onto benefits.

"You may have spotted them a year or two before they get to that stage," he said, and Ms Vigar suggested they could often be spotted from the age of three.

Mr Grayling agreed early intervention was very important, but for those who had gone beyond that groups in communities working to help them would have their hand strengthened by Government in a new 50million initiative.

Asked about unemployment among the over 50s, Mr Grayling agreed it was another major issue and suggested the answer lay in close work with Jobcentres and work programmes, but also mentoring for people aiming to start their own businesses.

The chairman of Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Sarah Howard said a common problem was the perception by employers of the employability of students, although Haverhill was lucky because the schoolsworked so closely with employers to overcome the issue.

In other places this was not the case and employers were put off by appliucants who couldn't write a letter or put together a CV because these things were not on the curriculum.

"We're lucky because our schools do it," she said, "but not many do."

Mr Grayling said he did not feel this was an area for Government to become involved.

"It is up to people and communities to do what you guys have been doing here," he said.

After the meeting, Mr Hancock said Haverhill had once again demonstrated its strong community spirit.

"Tackling unemployment is about schooks, businesses, Jobcentres and Government all working together," he said.

"We have made great strides in Haverhill and we showed off what we do and gave him ideas about what more could be done elsewhere.

"The strngth of community partnerships here has impressed him, I think, and we have tried to persuade him devolve more responsibility to allow that to go further."

Haverhill Online News

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