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So Mr Blair, you really think techies can all get jobs?

Answers wanted over PMQs

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The Professional Contractors Group (PCG) is calling on Prime Minister Tony Blair to explain why he believes there is full employment in the IT sector.

During Prime Minister's Questions yesterday Tory backbencher, Andrew Selous asked: "Does the Prime Minister share the concern of a number of my constituents, who are well qualified IT professionals, with the relevant skills, that 21,000 IT work permits are granted every year while 56,000 British IT professionals are looking for work?

"Will he agree to investigate whether the granting of 200,000 work permits a year - that is a fivefold increase on last year - is in any way detrimental to the economically inactive in the UK?"

Replied the PM: "There has not been a fivefold increase in work permits. The number has been rising for a considerable time, however, which is, of course, partly because greatly increased activity in the economy means there is rising employment and falling unemployment.

"Those who get work permits are specifically audited for their ability to get work in this country - people want them to work for them - and I do not think that it is right to set those people against those who are looking for work.

"I simply point out to the hon. Gentleman that in his constituency, as in others, unemployment has fallen dramatically over the past few years and there are increasing employment opportunities for people in IT and other sectors as well," he said.

This reply has angered new PCG chairman, Simon Griffiths, who said: "It is the PCG's belief that tens of thousands of skilled IT freelancers are currently without work in the UK while many companies continue to bring in non EU workers to fill these vacancies."

"It is alarming if the Prime Minister is unaware of the fact that so many highly skilled IT freelancers are currently without work and we believe the long term consequences of this will blunt the UK's competitive edge," he said.

The PCG has written to the PM asking him to comment on the situation.

Separately, the All Party Parliamentary Small Business Group is to hold an enquiry into the problems facing the UK's 500,000 freelancers.

Said Kerry Pollard, chairman of the All Party group: "Freelancers provide a power-house that can drive the flexible economy but insufficient attention has been paid to the problems and opportunities they face."

Freelancers - including IT professionals - and other interested parties are being asked to contribute directly through a online consultation process on the Group's website at www.smallbusinessgroup.org.uk. ®

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