Rayleigh Call Centre Closure Confirmed

(BBC) – ENERGY COMPANY E.On has confirmed its call centre in Essex will close in June with the loss of 600 jobs.

A 90-day consultation period with workers and unions has finished and the company said the site in London Road, Rayleigh, would shut on 25 June.

Another 200 jobs will go in IT support and energy services across the UK.

The company said it wanted to “streamline” its customer service operations by creating centres of excellence elsewhere in the UK.

The union Unison said this was the third announcement to close a call centre in the area this year.

Regional organiser Phil Green said: “We are asking our lawyers to look at whether E.On have properly consulted with a view to avoiding these redundancies.”

Mr Green said the union had put forward counter-proposals to keep the call centre in Rayleigh on a smaller scale but he said the company seemed determined to close the site.

A spokesperson for E.On said: “The decision to close the Rayleigh site was not a move that we’ve taken lightly and we absolutely understand the effect that this decision will have on our colleagues who have been affected.

“We’ll be continuing to be as supportive as we can during this difficult time and provide help and advice to all colleagues.”

E.On has said it will offer relocation packages and hopes some people will take voluntary redundancy.

Unison said only a handful of employees, between 20 and 40, would be able to relocate.

The company currently employs 16,000 people in the UK.

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Neets ‘Should Not Get Benefits’ Say MPs

(BBC) – YOUNG PEOPLE in England should not receive state benefits unless they are working, training or in education, a committee of MPs says.

MPs are suggesting adopting a system used in Holland to reduce the number of 16 to 25-year-olds not in education, employment or training – “Neets”.

They said the Dutch equivalent of jobseeker’s allowance was dependent on being in work, education or training.

At the end of 2009, nearly 15% of 16 to 24-year-olds were classed as Neets.

And 9.3% of Neets were aged 16 to 18. The government looks set to miss its target to reduce that figure of an average of 7.6% for 2010.

Indeed, little progress has been made in reducing the number of Neets over the years – in 1995, 9.2% of 16-to-18 year olds were in this category and at the end of 2008, 10.3% were classified as Neets.

Publishing a report on Neets, the cross-party Children, Schools and Families Committee said “radical change” was needed if the number of these young people was to be reduced.

The committee of MPs had visited the Netherlands to assess why it had consistently low rates of youth unemployment.

The MPs said a combination of support up to the age of 27 and a “holistic approach” to this age group, where young people had access to careers, health or housing advice in a “one-stop shop” format, was highly effective.

The report said: “It is crucial that young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged, should not be deterred by the benefits system from accessing opportunities in education and training.

“We urge the government to give consideration to the approach taken in the Netherlands, in which relatively generous levels of benefits and other support are offered to young people in exchange for greater compulsion to take up education, training or work.”

Committee chair Barry Sheerman said: “It seems to me that the worst thing that can happen to any young person is to be on benefits, at home, doing nothing, festering at home with nothing to do.

“The best thing you can do is to try and ensure that they are doing something, whether it’s training, learning a language, a trade.”

Mr Sheerman said reducing the numbers of young people falling through the gap would be a key challenge for the next government.

“It is time to take a more radical approach and to look at the example of the Netherlands, where rates of youth unemployment are consistently low and where young people up to the age of 27 have a more unified support structure.”

The MPs also raised concerns about the term Neets, saying it was a negative term that risked “stigmatising the young people to whom it is applied”.

They said it was a “residual statistical category” that encompassed a wide range of young people with very different needs.

End Of Signing-On As Dole Moves Online

(Telegraph) – SIGNING ON – the duty performed by the jobless to qualify for unemployment benefit down the ages – is to be consigned to history under Government plans to save billions of pounds.

Ministers are preparing to move the system of paying Jobseekers’ Allowance (JSA), currently claimed by 1.58 million people, largely online later this year in a major cost-cutting drive.

The aim is to make 80 per cent of JSA payments online within months, with a view to boosting the figure over time to 100 per cent.

Parallel drives will see all employer tax returns for VAT being made online by the end of next year, and all child tax credits being paid online by the middle of the next parliament (around the start of 2013).

The biggest challenge, however, is understood to be Jobseekers’ Allowance because of the complicated nature of the current system, which depends upon regular attendances in person at Jobcentres.

Ministers are considering the best way of making sure someone is available for work if they no longer need to attend Jobcentres.

To qualify for the JSA an individual must be “available for and actively seeking work”, between 18 and State Pension age, and working less than 16 hours per week on average.

Maximum weekly rates are £64.30 for single people aged over 25 and £100.95 for couples and civil partnerships.

Signing on at the dole office, immortalised in films and television dramas such as Boys From the Black Stuff and The Full Monty, is still seen as an unpleasant, dehumanising experience although ministers claim most Jobcentres are now modernised welcoming venues equipped with computer terminals and advertisements for posts offering up to £100,000.

The practice will soon be history – although a Government source admitted that the eventual goal of paying all JSA online will not be achieved “until we get 100 per cent broadband coverage.”

Martha Lane Fox, the internet entrepreneur, currently heads a government task force aiming to get everyone online by 2012.

Currently 10 millions Britons have never used the internet – and four million of these are from the most deprived backgrounds in the country.

It has been calculated that achieving the target will save the public purse £1 billion a year in “customer service costs” and boost the overall economy by more than £20 billion.

Gordon Brown will underline the Government’s desire to move faster towards providing more public services online in a major speech on Monday – although he is not expected to set out specific targets.

In figures released last week, unemployment dropped to 2.45 million in the three months to January, according to the Office for National Statistics.

About 1.58 million people claimed the JSA in February, down from 1.63 million in October last year.

However, the rate of employment, measuring the number of people in work, also fell to a 13-year low of 72.2 per cent.

The number of people in work dropped by 54,000 to 38.8 million in the three months to January.

Unemployment Falls As ‘Economic Inactive’ Hits Record

(Telegraph) – THE NUMBER OF UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE in Britain dropped to 2.45 million, however the good news was dampened by the number of people out of the workplace hitting a record high.

Unemployment fell for the third month in a row, dropping by 33,000 between November last year and January. It has yet to breach the symbolic 2.5 million mark, let alone the 3 million barrier that haunted the recessions of the early 1990s and 1980s.

However, economists immediately expressed caution about the monthly figures from the Office for National Statistics.

Though there were 33,000 fewer people out of work, they were trumped by a significant jump in the number of so-called “economically inactive” adults – those that have either chosen not to or given up looking for a job. They include students, parents staying at home to look after children, long-term sick, and the “discouraged”, a euphemistic term used by the ONS to describe those that have given up the struggle to find a job.

In all, those economic inactive jumped by 149,000 over the last three months to hit 8.16 million, the highest since the ONS started recording this measure in 1971.

The biggest rise is down to the increase in students, with nearly 100,000 deciding to study in the last three months.

John Philpott, the leading employment economist, at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development said: “Unemployment is sharply down, however you measure it. Yet there are also 54,000 fewer people in work, with full-time jobs particularly hard hit. The apparent paradox is explained by a very sharp rise of 149,000 in the number of economically inactive people, with the number of students surging by 98,000. Jobless young people are thus turning to study in their thousands to avoid the dole.”

Added to the economically inactive, were a further 1.04 million part-time workers that were on reduced hours because they could not find a full-time job.

Experts also pointed out that the only jobs being created were in the public sector, with 22,000 created by central government, mostly in the NHS. Ironically, one of the biggest institutions hiring new workers are Jobcentres, which took on 2,250 new workers in the last three months.

In contrast, employment in the public sector fell by 61,000.

Mr Philpott added: “Whether or not benign headline jobless figures limit the potency of unemployment as a vote clinching issue in the forthcoming General Election campaign, whoever forms the next Government will face a Herculean task in its efforts to return the UK economy to full employment within this decade.“

Yvette Cooper, the Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “The fall in unemployment for the third month in a row is very welcome, but we should remain cautious.

“We’re not out of the woods yet and we are still determined to do more to support jobs and help the unemployed this year.”

Unemployment Claimant Count Rises Again

(Guardian) – GORDON BROWN’S EFFORTS to win the next general election received a blow today after official figures showed that the number of Britons claiming unemployment benefit rose unexpectedly in January to the highest level since Labour came to power.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the number of people claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) rose by 23,500 in January, compared with a fall of 9,600 in December. This is the largest monthly rise in the claimant count since last July, and takes the total number of people receiving unemployment benefit to 1.64 million, the highest figure since April 1997.

Economists had expected the claimant count to fall by 10,000 in January as the UK economy struggled out of recession, after falling in November and December.

The ILO – the wider measure of unemployment – fell by 3,000 in the three months to December to 2.457 million. The jobless rate now stands at 7.8%.

Howard Archer, economist at IHS Global Insight, said the rise in the claimant count was a “reality check” that dashed any hopes that unemployment had peaked.

“The economy is just not strong enough at this stage to prevent further job losses and the fall in unemployment late in 2009 had masked the fact that full-time employment was still falling appreciably,” said Archer.

Ross Walker, an economist at RBS Financial Markets, agreed.

“The fact that the claimant count was falling in recent months was the huge surprise. The fact that we have got a rise is not particularly surprising. It seems to fit more with the underlying reality,” Walker said.

Yvette Cooper, the work and pensions secretary, said that the government’s actions have helped to keep the unemployment total almost half a million lower than the National Audit Office predicted last year.

“We always knew it would be difficult in the new year, and said that we expected unemployment to keep rising,” Cooper told the BBC.

Separately, the ONS said yesterday that underemployment has risen sharply during the recession, according to separate ONS figures.

About 2.8 million people were officially underemployed – defined as working fewer hours than they want to – between July and September 2009, which equates to nearly 10% of those in employment. The number went up by 700,000 from a year earlier. This is in addition to the 2.6 million out of a job.

1.3M NHI Numbers Given To Foreign Workers Since PM’s ‘British jobs for British workers’ Pledge

(Telegraph) – MORE THAN 1.3 million national insurance numbers have been given to foreign workers in the two years since Gordon Brown’s controversial “British Jobs for British Workers” pledge.

Between July 2007 and June 2009, 1,370,820 NI numbers were allocated to foreign workers , the Department of Work and Pensions figures disclosed.

This was despite the country being mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Critics said the figures, obtained by the Tories, were part of mounting evidence that Mr Brown had failed to protect the jobs of British workers over foreign nationals.

Shortly before taking office in the summer of 2007, Mr Brown made the commitment, which was then repeated during his first party conference speech in September that year.

“This is yet another example of the chaos within the immigration system,” Baroness Warsi, the Tory communities spokeswoman, said.

“These figures show that all the tough talk about protecting British jobs was just hot air.

“We can’t go on like this. We must bring immigration under control, and improve the education and training of British workers.”

National Insurance numbers can be issued for a number of reasons.

They are needed to work legally in the UK – but are also required to claim benefits.

Whitehall figures show the number of foreign-born workers has risen by 22,000 while at the same time, the number of British-born employees has slumped by 625,000.

Immigration Minister Phil Woolas told the Daily Express: “We recognise the benefit to our economy and culture from immigration.

“We’re also very clear that it needs to be controlled.”

Work and Pensions Minister Angela Eagle added: “These national insurance numbers include people coming to study and to do part-time work, and many have subsequently returned home.”

College Courses Axed In £200m Spending Cuts

(Telegraph) – COURSES IN BRICKLAYING, joinery, painting and plumbing are being cut as £200m is slashed from college budgets, according to research.

Thousands of courses for adults will be axed this year following a dramatic reduction in funding for further education, it was disclosed.

College principals warned that the cuts risked jeopardising the country’s financial recovery as mature students are denied the chance to improve their skills during the economic downturn.

The cuts are also threatening evening classes in subjects such as French, Spanish, woodwork and gardening, which have traditionally been enjoyed by thousands of middle-class adults, it was claimed.

The disclosure comes just 24 hours after it emerged almost £500m was being cut from university budgets this year – potentially leaving thousands of students without degree places in the autumn.

Martin Doel, chief executive of the Association of Colleges (AoC), said: “At a time when colleges are helping Britain beat the recession they are facing the prospect of having to cut courses for adults.

“They understand how tough public finances are, but they don’t want to lose high quality courses that are essential to our economic recovery and make a great deal of difference to people and businesses across Britain.”

The AoC said £200m was being cut from a special £1.8 billion cash pot set aside for courses aimed at over-19s.

A survey of 144 colleges found that each institution was losing between 10 and 25 per cent of funding. More than two-fifths face cuts of more than a fifth. The AoC said that if these cuts were representative of all colleges, including those who did not respond to the survey, the total cash reduction for adult learning would be £191 million in 2010/11.

According to principals, thousands of places on courses will be cut.

Those facing the biggest cuts include bricklaying, electrical installation, joinery, plastering, plumbing, painting and tiling, which are normally more expensive to run. A-levels and GCSEs for adults will also be reduced, it was disclosed.

The AoC suggested that evening classes would also be affected, although many courses have already been cut over the last five years.

Some 1.3 million places – which are subsidised by colleges and normally require students to pay a nominal fee – have been removed since 2004 because many evening classes failed to lead directly to qualifications. Money has instead been ploughed into courses leading directly to a job.

The latest cuts by the Skills Funding Agency, which pays for adult education, do not affect classes for school-leavers.

But the University and College Union warned that reductions could hit teenagers as institutions are forced to make staff redundant.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “The government has rightly identified education as a key driver of social mobility. However, making swingeing cuts to adult learning now would be an outrageous affront to the millions of people it has promised it would not let down.”