Former cabinet minister David Blunkett has defended the previous Labour government’s drive to create public sector jobs in South Yorkshire as new research exposed the vulnerability of the region to spending cuts.
The Brightside and Hillsborough MP was responding to an alarming survey which showed how areas of the country with the highest rates of benefit dependency also relied on the public sector for almost 80 per cent of jobs growth during the decade leading up to the financial crash.
It found the double reliance on benefits and public sector jobs has left the areas – including parts of South Yorkshire – more vulnerable to the impact of the current government’s spending cuts.
Mr Blunkett, who was a Labour cabinet minister for eight years, said: “The paradox of this survey is that, in an endeavour to spread public sector jobs across Britain and avoid the concentration in London, the last government made a real effort to target areas of high unemployment.”
He said: “Effective MPs campaigned to gain such jobs, building on the reputation, experience and value for money of existing public sector organisations.
“Sheffield is a case in point. Building on the historic Manpower Services Commission headquarters, Education, Work and Pensions and Home Office jobs were attracted to Sheffield.”
He blamed the current government for a “double whammy” of cancelling an £80m loan for Sheffield Forgemasters, while also scrapping the Yorkshire Forward development agency.
Research by academics at Sheffield Hallam University showed how in 100 local authorities outside London with the highest out-of-work benefit claimant rates, 460,000 out of the 590,000 jobs added between 1999 and 2008 were in public administration, defence, education and health, or 78 per cent.
In contrast, in the 142 authorities with the lowest benefit rates, 340,000 out of the 670,000 jobs added – or 51 per cent – were in the public sector.
It highlighted Barnsley, where the public sector accounts for around a third of the town’s 69,000 jobs and where more than a fifth of working age adults claimed benefits during the economic boom years.
One of the authors of the research, Prof Steve Fothergill, said the most deprived parts of the country “were hit hard by the recession, and will be hit hard again by the contraction in the public sector”.
Chris Grayling, the Employment Minister, has said he is an “optimist” that private sector jobs can be created in areas of high welfare dependency.