A BORDERS councillor fears that if swift action is not taken to provide more work for Britain’s growing army of young jobless, the sort of riots seen recently in English cities could spread across the rest of the UK.
Councillor John Paton-Day (LD, Leaderdale and Melrose) sounded his warning during a speech at last Thursday’s meeting of the full Scottish Borders Council (SBC), as he was lodging a motion calling on the local authority to increase the number of apprenticeships it offers to young people.
His motion, which was approved, urged SBC to build on the excellent apprenticeship training it provides by creating at least two more places for young people aged 18 and over.
Mr Paton-Day also called on the local authority to begin the process of at least doubling the placement opportunities that exist, for all work experience schemes within council departments.
Until about a month ago, SBC was giving work to three apprentice mechanics, one trainee solicitor, three trainee social workers, eight trainee technical services technicians and five graduate engineers.
There were also 16 people on placements with Skillseekers, Get Ready for Work (GRfW) and Borders Production Unit (PBU), and a further 16 youngsters on work experience placements from school.
Praising council departments involved in providing work experience for local young unemployed, he told councillors he made no apology for asking staff to do more.
“We have all seen and heard the cold statistics of youth unemployment. These statistics do not go anywhere near describing the loss of opportunity and, more important, the removal of hope,” he said. “As the largest employer, this council can and should set an example to all other employers in the Borders. It is not good enough to talk only of what we cannot do – it is time to talk of what we can do.”
Mr Paton-Day then suggested the local authority could form a partnership with a developer and a housing association to construct affordable homes, thus providing jobs and training.
“This is not a radical idea. Other councils in Scotland have done and are doing just this kind of project,” he said, adding that the “miniscule” costs of such a scheme could by covered by some of the £6.9million the council has in its reserves.
He continued: “I should add that this council has an enviable record of apprenticeship training. All this motion calls for is to continue that.
“There is a growing army of young unemployed across Britain – they will not stay quiet. What happened earlier this year in some of Britain’s cities may be only the start.
“We must be bold and radical before the revolutionaries take over. We should press both governments, at Westminster and Holyrood, to relax the rules on Job Seekers’ Allowance so that any young person can do more than 16 hours’ voluntary work a week, or undertake a college course without losing their benefit.
“It’s not really radical, just sensible in what I believe is becoming a critical situation for our country. At the end of the day words are cheap; understanding on its own is not enough.
“It is the creation of opportunities that will bring about hope and a chance for a stable society. I am not foolish enough to believe that this motion will change a great deal, but it will provide the chance for change for a few.”
Speaking to TheSouthern this week, Mr Paton-Day said he hoped the Borders would be able to access a slice of the £1billion in extra cash anounced recently by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for subsidising additional work and training placements for some of the more than one million unemployed young people in the UK.
The three-year youth contract scheme will give employers subsidies worth £2,275 to take on 160,000 people aged 18 to 24 for six months.
“I’m sure the 600-plus young people that are unemployed in the Borders would appreciate it,” said Mr Paton-Day.
He sounded a note of warning over the UK Government’s proposed reforms of the welfare and benefits system.
“I am waiting to hear in more detail the welfare reform proposals, but I have to say from what I have heard so far, I reject them totally – now is not the time for such dangerous reforms.”