Pressure Grows on Regions to Create Jobs

Regional leaders failing to meet expectations on a federally funded program to create jobs will be summoned to Moscow, while those doing well may be treated to a visit from senior government officials, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Saturday.

Putin asked Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova to let him know "as soon as possible" whether any regional administrations "are either not handling this work or are approaching it in bad faith," according to comments from the meeting posted on the Cabinet web site.

The warning was at least the second from Putin, who asked Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin on Jan. 20 to make sure that funds from a 43.7 billion ruble ($1.2 billion) effort to create jobs were not misspent. The following day, President Dmitry Medvedev told top security and economic officials that the regions must get serious about the program, and he ordered his seven federal envoys to ensure that progress is made.

The carrot-and-stick approach laid out by Putin on Saturday appeared to be the clearest signal yet, however, that the government is losing patience over regional governments' lackluster preparation of local employment programs.

To receive the federal money, local leaders must revise their 2009 budgets to find 5 percent of the funds, and many missed a Jan. 15 deadline to submit the plans.

"I know that so far 72 regions have already done their analysis. We're planning to spend 21.8 billion rubles on them," Putin said, adding that 15 programs had been approved and three -- for Yaroslavl, Kirov and Krasnoyarsk -- had already been signed.

The sum, roughly half of the total, would only be the "first stage" of funding, Golikova said.

She said only 15 proposals had been approved because many regions had failed to come up with the minimum 5 percent co-financing. Not all of Russia's 83 regions are required to submit plans.

The Health and Social Development Ministry is overseeing the high-profile task of fighting unemployment, which hit 7.7 percent in December according to State Statistics Service figures, which include people who haven't registered with the Federal Labor Service.

During the one-on-one meeting, Putin and Golikova held up Yaroslavl as an example of how the program, created by the prime minister on Dec. 31, was succeeding. "In Yaroslavl ... 3,500 people will be sent to be retrained. Several hundred people might move to new residences and temporary jobs, but they should receive help. And 22,000 will take temporary jobs, which will be created for them," Putin said.

Golikova said the region has been forwarded a 40 percent advance on the 510 million rubles ($14.1 million) it has been allotted. Other regions will also receive the funds in tranches so their work can be evaluated, she said.

Yaroslavl and other industrial regions near Moscow have been among the hardest hit by the crisis, the Federal Labor Service said last month.

Putin and Golikova also discussed two slight increases of pension payments -- on March 1 and April 1 -- in part to help offset inflation.