ANDREW STEPHENSON MP: Finding work for the unemployed is top of my agenda

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IN Westminster, everything remains dominated by the state of the economy, jobs and the Eurozone crisis.

This was graphically illustrated earlier this month by the credit worthiness of France and eight other Eurozone nations being downgraded by a leading ratings agency.

It was a dramatic new blow to the struggling single currency, which still looks in real danger of collapse.

All because many European countries continue to fail to take the action necessary to sort out their public finances and reduce their debts.

At the same time, British borrowing costs have fallen to record lows, showing that THE UK is seen as a safe haven in the global debt storm and saving money for taxpayers, businesses and families. The worst thing the Coalition Government could do now is deviate from our financial plans, which are keeping down the cost of borrowing for our businesses and the amount of interest people have to pay on their mortgages.

Sadly, with the global uncertainty and our dependence on exports to the EU, there has been an unwelcome increase in unemployment since the summer.

The most recent figures put the number of unemployed claimants in Pendle at 2,140. This represents a rate of 5.3% of the economically active population aged 16 to 64, which is thankfully lower than the national average but is far too high.

The national unemployment figures are a reflection of the impact the economic problems in the eurozone and slower growth in the wider global economy are having on the UK.

The overall level of unemployment is, and will remain, a major concern. The latest figures reflect the current challenging economic climate but also show more women entering the workforce and more students looking to supplement their income through work.

When you take into account that the Government’s welfare reforms that have reassessed many of those claiming Disability Living Allowance and transferred them onto Jobseekers Allowance, the number of Jobseeker Allowance claimants has actually fallen.

Despite the exceptionally difficult economic circumstances, finding work for the unemployed will remain top of my agenda. Big investment over the coming months from local firms like Silentnight will undoubtedly help, as will the continuing strong performance of many of our local manufacturing firms who continue to buck the economic trend.

There is also the £8.8m. scheme to reopen the Todmorden Curve, as well as the £7.5m. Accelerating Business Growth in Lancashire scheme which is designed to help local advanced manufacturing SMEs expand. In addition to this the plans by the Visions Learning Trust to open a new £18m. university technical college in Burnley, bodes well for manufacturing and engineering in the area.

It is clear 2012 will continue to be tough for many local families. However, many of our local firms are showing there is still real potential for growth and the 70% increase in apprenticeships in Pendle is encouraging news.

Britain has a difficult journey to make from its debt-fuelled past, made more difficult by things like the problems in the eurozone. But we are taking steps down a road that will lead to a better future.