Prescott Steers Clear of Specifics on Employment

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JOHN PRESCOTT yesterday rowed back from an absolute commitment that unemployment should be cut to 2.5 per cent, saying instead that the task of defining full employment should be given to a commission on the subject which he would establish on becoming party leader.

The task of the Commission on Full Employment, he said, would be "to define full employment and achievable employment targets". That would allow Labour to go into the next election with "a hard-headed commitment to end mass employment".

On announcing his candidacy last month for the two Labour leadership posts, Mr Prescott said he would campaign for policies to reduce unemployment to 2.5 per cent. Yesterday, however, while saying on BBC radio that "I certainly want to see a reduction of unemployment in this country by 1 million", his election statement, Policies into Action, avoided such specifics. Keeping a commitment to full employment its centrepiece, it used the same definition as Tony Blair of seeking a "high and stable" level of employment.

The labour market had changed so much since Beveridge's definition of 2.5 per cent jobless that "we probably have to redefine what we mean by full employment," Mr Prescott said. That would be one of the first tasks of the commission, which would also be charged with establishing the policies needed.

The move by Labour's employment spokesman, who appears convinced he stands an increasingly good chance of becoming deputy leader, reduces the risk of any serious rift during the remainder of the contest between him and Mr Blair on how full employment should be achieved. None the less Mr Prescott remained firm that "Labour should set out targets for creating jobs and reducing unemployment at the time of the next general election.

Unemployment had put a "crippling burden of more than pounds 30bn a year on British taxpayers". That money could be invested in wealth- creating industry and public services so that Britain would be "investing in success, not taxing for failure".

Practical action to create jobs "will assist Labour to release billions of the nation's resources that are currently being spent keeping people idle and destroying their potential. Just think what that money could be used for. Investing in health, caring services in the community, nursery education, higher educat ion, vocational education, and backing Britain's wealth- creating enterprises". Putting full employment back at the top of the agenda had thrown the Tories into disarray, Mr Prescott said. After 15 years of mass unemployment, they too were talking of a return to full employment, although "no one in Britain is fooled by this deathbed conversion. It is their jobs they are worrying about."

Mr Prescott said he was particularly worried about those out of work for more than a year who should have some priority. "They are being forced on to a welfare dependency and there's one million of them."

Targets for creating jobs could be set, he said. …