We need an enterprise revolution to tackle the scandal of youth unemployment

The coalition has failed to help would-be entrepreneurs innovate their way into work. Labour will show that we can do better.

Under this government, youth unemployment reached a staggering one million. Even more face the prospect of a low-skill, low-paid and insecure job. This has to change.

But we don’t just want to help people to get a job; we want to help those who want to create a job for themselves and for others. An enterprise revolution among our young people could help us tackle the scandal of youth unemployment – and help get our country back on its feet. And that’s what we’re setting as a Labour ambition today.

Today, Britain doesn’t do as well as it should in global enterprise league tables. In fact, if we had the same start-up rate as Germany or America, we could create another 200,000 new self-employment opportunities and businesses. That’s the conclusion of a brilliant new report written by Jamie Mitchell, former managing director of Innocent Drinks for Labour’s Youth Jobs Taskforce today.

The report is urgently needed. This week, we learned that the government’s much vaunted plan to help would-be entrepreneurs innovate their way into work is miles short of hitting its target. The New Enterprise Allowance was supposed to support 40,000 people set up shop. But it’s still 35% short of hitting its goal – and a measly 6% of young people have received help. We think we need to do better than that.

Jamie’s recommendations should be read and considered by anyone – and any party – who thinks that we can and should do better. Studying the pioneering work of Labour councils all over Britain, along with the great work of the Prince’s Trust and Young Enterprise, Jamie has handed us some big conclusions to think on.

First, we need to make sure enterprise isn’t just a bolt-on to careers advice. Enterprise needs to be recognised as a big option that’s open. There is no lack of talent, ideas or creativity among our young people. Our problem is that too much of this entrepreneurial energy is unrecognised or unsupported. Right now, JobCentres’ advice is mixed at best and what’s left of our careers service often gives enterprise only a fleeting mention.

Second, Jamie also encourages us to consider whether we could expand the Start Up Loan scheme, targeting young people aged 18-30, and how to put more emphasis on encouraging young unemployed people to consider the New Enterprise Allowance, which is on course to dramatically miss its targets. Local councils need to follow the example of trailblazers like Sheffield Council, which has built a team of school enterprise champions, academies like the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy offering enterprise qualifications, business networks offering advice, and universities offering incubator space, advice, training and even grants – all dedicated to boosting the ranks of local young entrepreneurs.

Next, we have to look at enterprise in schools. Young Enterprise for example, reckons that 42% of their alumni start a business during their career. That’s nearly twice the rate for those who join their programme. And finally, we need to think about how we measure outcomes a little better so that we know what works and what doesn’t.

This is a big ambition. It is to the next generation of entrepreneurs that we will look for the businesses that will help our nation thrive in a fast changing world, drive the innovation that will improve our lives, and create the decent jobs we need.

Jamie’s report is about putting entrepreneurship at the heart of our national story and builds on our ambition to make this happen - from our plans for a proper British Investment Bank with a network of regional banks to help businesses get the finance they need, to a revolution in skills giving firms the support, funding and responsibility to make this happen.

Our challenge is to open the floodgates of opportunity, giving our young people the chance to turn their good ideas into successful businesses.

Liam Byrne MP is a former technology entrepreneur and shadow work and pensions secretary

Chuka Umunna MP is shadow business secretary

Unemployed young people stand in line outside a job centre in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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George Osborne's mistakes are coming back to haunt him

George Osborne's next budget may be a zombie one, warns Chris Leslie.

Spending Reviews are supposed to set a strategic, stable course for at least a three year period. But just three months since the Chancellor claimed he no longer needed to cut as far or as fast this Parliament, his over-optimistic reliance on bullish forecasts looks misplaced.

There is a real risk that the Budget on March 16 will be a ‘zombie’ Budget, with the spectre of cuts everyone thought had been avoided rearing their ugly head again, unwelcome for both the public and for the Chancellor’s own ambitions.

In November George Osborne relied heavily on a surprise £27billion windfall from statistical reclassifications and forecasting optimism to bury expected police cuts and politically disastrous cuts to tax credits. We were assured these issues had been laid to rest.

But the Chancellor’s swagger may have been premature. Those higher income tax receipts he was banking on? It turns out wage growth may not be so buoyant, according to last week’s Bank of England Inflation Report. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggest the outlook for earnings growth will be revised down taking £5billion from revenues.

Improved capital gains tax receipts? Falling equity markets and sluggish housing sales may depress CGT and stamp duties. And the oil price shock could hit revenues from North Sea production.

Back in November, the OBR revised up revenues by an astonishing £50billion+ over this Parliament. This now looks a little over-optimistic.

But never let it be said that George Osborne misses an opportunity to scramble out of political danger. He immediately cashed in those higher projected receipts, but in doing so he’s landed himself with very little wriggle room for the forthcoming Budget.

Borrowing is just not falling as fast as forecast. The £78billion deficit should have been cut by £20billion by now but it’s down by just £11billion. So what? Well this is a Chancellor who has given a cast iron guarantee to deliver a surplus by 2019-20. So he cannot afford to turn a blind eye.

All this points towards a Chancellor forced to revisit cuts he thought he wouldn’t need to make. A zombie Budget where unpopular reductions to public services are still very much alive, even though they were supposed to be history. More aggressive cuts, stealthy tax rises, pension changes designed to benefit the Treasury more than the public – all of these are on the cards. 

Is this the Chancellor’s misfortune or was he chancing his luck? As the IFS pointed out at the time, there was only really a 50/50 chance these revenue windfalls were built on solid ground. With growth and productivity still lagging, gloomier market expectations, exports sluggish and both construction and manufacturing barely contributing to additional expansion, it looks as though the Chancellor was just too optimistic, or perhaps too desperate for a short-term political solution. It wouldn’t be the first time that George Osborne has prioritised his own political interests.

There’s no short cut here. Productivity-enhancing public services and infrastructure could and should have been front and centre in that Spending Review. Rebalancing the economy should also have been a feature of new policy in that Autumn Statement, but instead the Chancellor banked on forecast revisions and growth too reliant on the service sector alone. Infrastructure decisions are delayed for short-term politicking. Uncertainty about our EU membership holds back business investment. And while we ought to have a consensus about eradicating the deficit, the excessive rigidity of the Chancellor’s fiscal charter bears down on much-needed capital investment.

So for those who thought that extreme cuts to services, a harsh approach to in-work benefits or punitive tax rises might be a thing of the past, beware the Chancellor whose hubris may force him to revive them after all. 

Chris Leslie is chair of Labour's backbench Treasury committee.