“Given the current economic situation, what practical steps would your party take to help graduates find work next year?”

1 October 2009

Conservative – Caroline Cummins

We are portrayed as a ‘lost generation’ of graduates, entering the market burdened with personal debt and without the employment prospects to match. The outcome of the next election will be crucial for us. It will determine whether we finally have a government willing to free the economy from the burdens of punitive tax and ill-planned regulation, so it can offer us the opportunities we need.

The Conservative Party is calling for immediate action to help graduates hit by the recession. ‘Job Clubs’ will provide human support for applicants where bureaucratic job centres are failing. Postgraduate education will receive all the funding government can afford. Tax breaks on new jobs and proposals to encourage loans to businesses through a temporary National Loans Guarantee Scheme should also be crucial in preventing further graduate unemployment.

Ultimately, such proposals are constructive but limited by the state of the economy under Labour. With the next government facing a public debt of over £800bn, it is impossible for any party to realistically suggest it can bank-roll an expansion of public sector graduate jobs. The comprehensive and realistic plans for economic recovery proposed by the Conservative Party are the real solution to helping graduate prospects.

Our economy can be rebuilt and strengthened through greater fiscal responsibility in government, and greater international competitiveness. The debt burden that the Labour government has imposed on our economy is acting as a dead weight on recovery and expansion. The Confederation of British Industry, which represents a third of private sector businesses, has highlighted a balanced budget as a critical factor in achieving future growth and stability. With studies showing cuts of up to £96bn are possible through targeting waste, the Conservatives will remove the burden of debt from the economy while maintaining all necessary services.

In a fiercely competitive global economy, our graduate opportunities also rely on the creation of an attractive market for employers.The Conservative Party will overhaul our complex and expensive tax system, where so much is wasted on bureaucracy. In its place, straightforward and lower corporate taxes will restore Britain’s international competitiveness to ensure the best companies settle here.

The employment opportunities we aspire to cannot flourish in an economy burdened by debt, regressive corporate tax and knee-jerk over-regulation. Nor can they be conjured up with short-term, expensive government schemes. Only a Conservative government will restore the stable and competitive economy that will bring real, productive jobs to Britain.

Labour – George Owers

Firstly, it needs to be stressed that without the far-sighted intervention taken by the Labour Government and co-ordinated internationally by Gordon Brown, the graduate job market would be far worse. If the Labour Government had taken the Tories’ complacent do-nothing approach and not implemented a fiscal stimulus plan that took urgent short-term action to prevent the world financial system from collapsing, then we would be in the midst of a 1930s-style Great Depression, and graduates would be even more hard-pressed to find any work whatsoever. It’s only because of Labour’s bold action that a functioning graduate jobs market still exists at all. Labour will continue to back the interventionist approach needed to prevent a double-dip recession that would make life even tougher for graduates.

On a more specific note, the Labour Government is putting into place a series of practical measures to help graduates find work.  Labour has launched the ‘Graduate Talent Pool’ over the summer, a scheme that will fund paid internships and match graduates to the places available via a dedicated website, working in partnership with a number of employers such as Marks and Spencer and Microsoft. The Graduate Talent Pool will support 5,000 internships, building on the 2,000 already achieved through the Higher Education Funding Council’s ‘Economic Challenge Investment Fund’, another Labour initiative. This is all in the context of the party’s ‘Backing Young Britain’ initiative, which is a £40 million program launched by ministers to ensure that young people, both graduates and non-graduates, receive opportunities such as internships and apprenticeships and are not callously condemned to a generation of mass unemployment, as happened under the heartless Tories during the last recession.

Furthermore, the government is helping fund 14,000 additional postgraduate places via 30, 000 Career Development Loans in the coming year. These places will allow graduates to continue their education until the worst of the economic downturn is over. The government is funding a rising number of Mini Knowledge Transfer partnerships (10 to 40 week placements in small and medium-sized enterprises for graduates and post-graduates). It is also fully supporting Teach First, a scheme recruiting high-achieving graduates to teach, providing extra funding that will allow the number of places to rise to 850 by 2013, a scheme particularly relevant to Cambridge graduates, since typically a third of its participants come from Oxbridge.

In short, this Labour government’s bold action has stabilized the graduate jobs market, then provided numerous opportunities for graduates to weather the worst of the recession.

Liberal Democrats – Dom Weldon

In July, about 350,000 students of Britain’s class of 2009 graduated from university. Three years earlier, when most of these graduates started their degrees, they did so with hopes of a well-paid career with good job prospects when they left. During their years of studying, reckless borrowing and trading in the city caused a global financial crisis; today, 40,000 of those graduates have joined the ranks of almost 1 million unemployed 16 to 24 year olds.

Britain can exit the recession stronger and greener than ever, with jobs for today, and assets for the future. In December 2008 the government attempted to ease the recession by shaving a few pence off the price of goods on the high-street with the cut in VAT from 17.5% to 15%. The Liberal Democrats believe the government should reinstate the 2.5% higher rate, this week, and use the £28 million pounds per day regained to tackle our runaway unemployment.

We would offer 800,000 paid internships to young people at no cost to their employer, people taking part in these internships would receive £55 per week towards training: building a skilled workforce for the future.

Under this government, young people are left to fester on benefits for up to 10 months before anyone takes notice. With our Liberal Democrat proposals, any 16 to 24 year old on benefits for more than 90 days would be given the right to work, education or training.

 The recession is hitting those starting their careers the hardest; our measures will benefit the whole spectrum of society: not just graduates, but anyone who wishes to work. This £1.1 billion package would support adult apprenticeships and foundation courses to provide all who need it with a route to work.

These are emergency measures. To tackle the problem decisively the Liberal Democrats will work to remove the enormous debt that burdens students upon leaving university. We will create jobs aiding the expansion of the “green” sector, saving our planet and strengthening our economy. We will give every individual the power to pursue their dreams and aspirations.

As Liberal Democrats, we implore the government to follow our action plan offering a lifeboat to unemployed young people, giving careers to graduates now and in the future, and to prevent this recession leaving the most toxic of legacies: a jobless generation.