Sir Tom Hunter started off selling trainers from a stall in The Barras, but he went on to become Scotland's first billionaire.

The Ayrshire entrepreneur is now backing a campaign to help slash youth unemployment – and is urging businesses across Scotland to do the same.

As revealed in the Evening Times on November 2, Glasgow refrigeration tycoon Sir Willie Haughey has launched a cost-neutral scheme, which will see people under the age of 24 employed to help cut down on utility bills.

Sir Tom, knighted in 2005, said: "I certainly hope businesses will get behind it.

"I'm very aware it's tough times for everyone out there and a lot of businesses are hoping to take costs down, not costs in, but Willie has come up with an idea that will actually save money."

The 51-year-old, from New Cumnock, said he was inspired to help people get in to work after seeing how the Ayrshire mining community was affected by unemployment.

He said: "I think unemployment is the absolute scourge of any society.

"If we can't give the young people a job and purpose, it can lead to health and criminal justice problems.

"Once the pits closed in New Cumnock, I saw what happened there: there were no jobs and the community went through difficult times.

"So when Willie came up with this idea I thought this was something worth backing."

Sir Tom, who made his fortune after building clothing empire, Sports Division then selling it on, now invests in various firms, including House Of Fraser, Cruise and Sports Direct.

He hopes to convince the bosses of these businesses to take part in Sir Willie's campaign.

He said: "I will be encouraging them to have a look at this.

"If people get into the habit of being unemployed, there can be three generations that have never worked and all the subsequent problems."

He says his biggest influence growing up was his dad Campbell, a grocer.

Sir Tom opened his first shop in Paisley, Shoe, when he was 22 .

He went on to open the first Sports Division store in Union Street, Glasgow, next to Central Station.

He said: "Everyone wore trainers at that time and then shell suits came along and everyone wanted them."

Sir Tom was once Scotland's richest man, but had about £250million wiped from his personal fortune during the economic crisis.

However, the businessman says he has no complaints.

He said: "Tough times is not being able to put a meal on the table for your kids or give them a Christmas present. What I have been through is just business.

"We should have been better at what we were doing.

"No complaining from me."

And he has friends in high places, including former American president Bill Clinton and musician-turned-charity campaigner Bob Geldof.

THE 51-year-old, who funds charity projects across the globe, said: "I was with Mr Clinton in Rwanda in July.

"We have a joint foundation (the Clinton Hunter Development Initiative)."

Sir Tom acknowledges that it is hard for young people today but urges them not to give up.

He said: "Just don't give up. Try everything you can, look at every angle to try to get a job or even start your own business.

"There is a lot of help out there so if you have an idea, share it."



ANY profit-making firm hiring an employee at about £15,000 would immediately save about £7500 in corporation tax and other costs.

So all the firm has to do is cut utility bills by as much again and it costs the company nothing to give a person a chance of proper employment and a new start in life.

Sir Willie Haughey believes a young person, a Green Champion, working in any building of more than 25,000 sq ft could pay for themselves just by making sure lights are switched off and the heating is working correctly.