Last week I was told I had ten minutes with Nick Clegg. The Deputy Prime Minister. I suppose by now you’re thinking it couldn’t have been that major an issue, after being grilled by Alastair Campbell and talking to Ed Miliband you’d think I’d be over confident? This definitely wasn't the case. I suppose the fact that it was my first and last chance to get a politician to listen really piled the pressure on. I knew what I wanted to say, I wanted to get across that the Youth Contract isn't enough. The cash injection of £1billion was a great start but the Youth Contract, which is a scheme the government put in place in April offering apprenticeships and voluntary work experience, only goes so far. The government provides an incentive for businesses to take on a young person as they offer a wage subsidy of £2,275 per person which is great for the image and reputation of the business but where are the long-term jobs?
I wanted to talk about travel and how it's financially prohibitive for young people trying to find and get jobs and I really wanted to explain that face-to-face interaction instead of the phone line and web link the National Careers Service provides is much more beneficial for young people needing guidance.
The taxi driver who took us to our meeting managed to keep me slightly amused by telling me about his love of cat-fish; breeding, selling, buying, breeding (you get the picture) but my thoughts just kept swimming back to Nick Clegg (see what I did there). I was a bit gutted I didn’t get my meeting with David Cameron but in fact, I was meeting the guy who in effect came up with the Youth Contract, the very initiative I wanted to talk about, so it was hardly a fail. After a bit of waiting around and feeling nauseous, Mr Clegg stepped into the room where he started to talk to some employers.
“Oooooh your tie matches my dress!?” is the first thing I said to our Deputy PM.
Then, it was time to get on with it, time to deliver all the questions I had, all the statistics I’d memorised and all the views of fellow young people I’d spoken to. I asked him why the youth unemployment figures are so high, I asked him who’s to blame? To which he replied no-one and that blame doesn’t create a single job. He touched on the Youth Contract which brought me nicely to my next point which highlighted the fact that all the goodwill behind work experience doesn’t create jobs and at a grass roots level, young people just wanted more jobs to apply to, not more opportunity to work for free. I also touched on the point that many employers don’t even know what the Youth Contract IS?!
I mentioned the Netherlands and how their youth unemployment rates aren’t nearly as bad as ours and that’s where the Deputy PM agreed with me. He said I’m completely right and that far too many people don’t know about his schemes. He mentioned starting up Local Enterprise Partnerships and, like the Netherlands, these partnerships would provide pots of money locally for small businesses to instil confidence in hiring young people. Basically what they do in the Netherlands is local municipalities are obliged to offer workless youths a job, some form of education or both and when a young person accepts a job, they get a wage. It makes sure all young people get qualifications or work experience before leaving education if they're to receive welfare. This means unemployed young people are re-engaged in studying or training within 3 months of being unemployed. And this minimises the risk of long detachment from the labour market which of course, means no nasty scarring effects.
Again that nicely brought me to my next point where I said in the same way employers need to be confident in us, we need to be confident in the opportunities available to us! I talked about the vast cuts to youth advisory services and how the National Careers Service is only a phone line and web link. I said many studies have shown face-to-face interaction works the best when providing guidance for young people and asked if he had thought about investing more into that. The Deputy PM said services like Connexions didn’t work as well in some parts of the country as others and said more responsibility was being put into schools to provide career guidance.
I asked about transport and in the same way millionaire pensioners get bus passes, is there a system the Deputy PM can put in place to provide free or cheaper travel to those young people wanting to get to interviews if they’re lucky enough to get them or for those who would like to indeed do more work experience but can’t afford it. The short answer was no but the “millionaire pensioners” did raise a smile.
After asking for a target for next year Nick Clegg said he was unable to provide a target and didn’t think it would help and so I ended by wishing him the best of luck as our futures were riding on the decisions the decision-makers made.
I suppose I was waiting for that glimmer of hope where Mr Clegg may have said, "Ok, I'll do...this this and this." That moment didn't come, and he didn't tell me youth unemployment figures would be lower next year which made me feel a little disappointed. Was everything I had just said a waste of time? I guess I got to say everything I wanted to and I got a chance to pass on a short but real description of how long term youth unemployment makes people feel. The mission was complete, ok I didn’t get David Cameron but I got the Deputy PM, what more could I ask for?
And you wanna know what Nick said before leaving?
“You're good?! Jeremy Paxman eat your heart out!”