‘Lost generation’ fears as youth jobless rate reaches 49 per cent

ALMOST half of Borderers aged 16 to 24 were out of work in 2011, writes Kenny Paterson.

According to a Scottish Government employment report, only 51 per cent of the age bracket were employed during the last year, compared with 81.6 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 and 85.8 per cent of those aged 35 to 49.

Of Scotland’s 32 councils, 22 had a higher percentage of young people in jobs than the Borders.

John Lamont, Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire, fears the impact of high numbers of jobless youths for the Borders’ economy.

He told TheSouthern: “We now face the prospect of having a lost generation in the Borders with so many of our young people finding it hard to get into the world of work.

“If urgent action is not taken to help them then it will only get more difficult for many of them to eventually make it on to the employment ladder.”

In March this year, Scottish Borders Council missed out on Scottish Government funding worth £9 million to tackle youth unemployment.

The Holyrood administration allotted the cash to help create jobs and training opportunities in Glasgow, North and South Lanarkshire, North and East Ayrshire, and Renfrewshire, as the six council areas were identified as having particular challenges.

Former councillor John Paton-Day then SBC children’s and young people’s champion, said at the time that he was “extremely worried” about the future of young Borderers.

However, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore, a Borders MP, argued that the UK Government had committed £1 billion to a Youth Contract Fund at the end of last year to help the country’s young people find work.

Although questioning how many of the 16 to 24 age bracket not in work were in education, he admitted the lack of opportunities in the region was a problem he often encountered.

“I am regularly approached at surgeries about this subject and there are real concerns from parents who want to see their children get a chance to start working,” said Mr Moore, who hosted a 60-delegate seminar on the issue in Hawick last year.

Councillor Stuart Bell, executive member for economic development at SBC, said businesses in the Borders must play their part in improving job opportunities for 16-to-24-year-olds.

He said: “We must ensure that businesses maximise the wider and longer term economic benefits and complementary activity includes specific business development support through the Business Gateway, business funding, promotion of the area as a location for inward investment, development of the skills and people that current and future employers will need.

“We remain concerned about employment opportunities for people aged 16 to 24.”

There were a number of other grim Borders statistics in the Scottish Government employment report.

It noted a fall of around five per cent in those working in the Borders from 55,800 (78 per cent) in 2008 to 52,600 (73.1 per cent) in 2011, although last year’s figure is 1,400 more than 2010’s.

The percentage of people underemployed, such as those in part-time work who are seeking full-time hours, rose by 2,500 people from six per cent in 2008 to 11 per cent in 2011, the highest increase in Scotland. Borderers economically inactive but willing to work jumped by 1,700 in the same period.

The same paper highlighted the loss of 3,300 construction jobs in the region over three years, the second biggest decrease in Scotland behind Edinburgh.