THE FORMER executive chairman of Marks & Spencer has defended the Government’s controversial work experience scheme, accusing protesters of attempting to “sabotage” it.
Sir Stuart Rose said it was “baffling” that anyone would complain about jobless youngsters being given work opportunities at a time of high youth unemployment and called on firms to support the programme.
“We’re offering young people the opportunity to really understand what the workplace is about and it appears there is some plan to sabotage this, which I think is nonsense,” he said.
Activist groups have been pressuring firms to quit the scheme amid accusations that it was “slave labour” because youngsters worked for nothing, while keeping their benefits.
But the former head of M&S said parents should tell their jobless children to “get stuck in” and grasp the opportunity being offered.
Sir Stuart added: “If you are drawing unemployment benefit and you are looking to get into the workplace and somebody says to you, ‘We’ll give you some experience’ and you have got a week apparently to withdraw from it if it doesn’t suit you, why would you not do it?
“If I was the parent of one of these people I’d say, ‘Go on to it, lad, get in there, get stuck in.’”
The British businessman said he stacked shelves and swept warehouses when he began his retail career as a M&S management trainee 40 years ago, describing the duties as part of working life.
There has been growing controversy over the work experience programme in recent weeks with a series of protests by campaigners.
Supermarket giant Tesco has offered to pay youngsters on the scheme and asked ministers to remove the threat of benefit sanctions against those not completing their work experience, while a number of other companies have been reviewing their involvement.