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Time is ripe to devolve Job Centre Plus

04/07/2022

By Hywel Williams, MP for Arfon.

One of the biggest challenges we currently face in Wales is how to get people back into work.

There are areas of chronic unemployment in Wales and a huge effort needs to be made to tackle these long-standing problems. The fact that 77,000 people in Wales have been out of work for 10 years or more speaks volumes about the current lack of support for those at the bottom of the employment ladder.

One way in which I believe we could begin to strengthen our ability to tackle unemployment is to be able to tailor job search and creation services to the needs of Wales.

I recently presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill to the Commons calling for the devolution of Job Centre Plus in Wales. These job search and creation services play a crucial role in developing long-term strategies for jobs, training and employability. It is a function already devolved in Northern Ireland and which has been met with considerable success.

There is a common sense case for transferring the responsibilities of the Job Centre Plus network. The Assembly in Cardiff is already in charge of education and training under the Education and Skills portfolio, as well as for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science. Job Centre Plus falls naturally into these areas.

Not only this, but JCP is part of a wider programme to tackle social inclusion, particularly in deprived areas of Wales.

Devolving job search and creation services would in fact strengthen these portfolios.

The current Work Programme has long been associated with claiming benefits and the negative connotations that it brings. Plaid want to change that.

I see it time and time again, the majority of unemployed people in Wales do not want to rely on benefits - they want to work. Not just for economic reasons but to be able to contribute to the community and to boost self-value.

Devolving this responsibility would also increase the efficiency, accountability and effectiveness of Job Centre Plus.

I have a huge admiration for the difficult work that they are doing in Wales, none more so than in the current climate.

The most difficult task facing JCP staff especially is finding work for those long-term unemployed, those with disabilities, lack of qualifications, or previous substance abuse problems, and so on, and these are problems across Wales.

In the Commons debate, Tory MP Guto Bebb suggested that devolving these powers would raise questions about an ‘equal playing field between England and Wales’. Does he seriously think that the current situation is in any way equal? It was encouraging news for us all when we heard that unemployment in Wales had fallen in the last quarter but much more needs to be done.

Wales still has a higher unemployment rate, a higher proportion of older people who are out of work than the UK average, and an increasing number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants. These are urgent problems that we need to address.

This is not merely ‘bureaucratic change’, as the Conservatives would have you believe. It is clear, structured reorganisation. By integrating these services into the Welsh Government’s remit, we can find a holistic solution to learning, skills and employment, and increase accountability.

With Labour quite obviously shirking responsibility on the matter, they are making their lack of commitment to finding employment solutions for Wales clear. But Plaid will continue to make the case for devolving responsibility for Job Centre Plus in Wales; it is an essential step to solving our unemployment issues.