Youth Services

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 24th July 2019.

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Photo of Ben Bradley Ben Bradley Conservative, Mansfield 5:10 pm, 24th July 2019

Maybe now.

As vice-chair of the all-party group on youth affairs, I have looked at the role and sufficiency of youth services closely over the last year, alongside colleagues from across the House and the brilliant National Youth Agency. Access to quality youth work and services for young people is fundamental, particularly in areas of significant deprivation such as Mansfield and Warsop. The reduction in services in recent years is well documented.

The APPG on youth affairs led a year-long inquiry to understand the role that youth work plays and the impact of recent changes. We had a brilliant time visiting some fantastic services in different parts of the country. I enjoyed spending some quality time with Lloyd Russell-Moyle. Although we do not always find total consensus on every issue, not least the things that I just mentioned, this is probably one on which we broadly agree. We might articulate it in slightly different ways; we will find out a bit later.

It was plain to see that the quality and the existence of these services is variable at best. The fabulous multimillion-pound Myplace centres that we visited in Mansfield or the brilliant YMCA facilities that we visited in Lincolnshire contrast with tumbledown scout huts and even minibus-based youth centres in many cases. Even in my own county of Nottinghamshire, the service is hugely varied.

My takeaway, informally, has been that the accessibility and locality of these services is far more important than fancy buildings. If young people cannot reach them, they are wasted. The Garage, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown visited, is connected with the Garibaldi School in my constituency. Although it is literally a scout hut on the side of the road and has needed significant refurbishment recently, the fact that it is next to the school and is local, so that people can get there, makes it almost a more positive contributor to the area, which is a particularly deprived part of my constituency, than the big, fancy Myplace centre in the middle of town.

I urge the Government to consider the possibility of linking up school facilities with youth work organisations and qualified youth workers. They need to be separate from schools, but basing those services there or nearby makes them as accessible as possible. The Shed and Vibrant Warsop are brilliant examples of how those services can be brought closer to home and into the local community. Warsop, which is a small town on the edge of Mansfield, did not have any youth services whatsoever until the voluntary sector stepped in and brought those services to the local estate, which made them much more accessible. It is a really positive scheme.

In April, the all-party group set out clear recommendations on what needs to be done. The report is detailed, and I encourage colleagues who have not had a chance to read it to get hold of a copy. It found that too many young people do not have the family support or the social networks they need to adequately support them into adulthood. Youth services can provide an important safety net for young people at risk of going down the wrong path. For too many, they are the only secure place that offers them safety and continuity.

In the UK, we are lucky to have a proud history of charities and organisations working with young people—from uniformed groups, such as scouts and girl guides, to social enterprises and local charities. I have been pleased to see Government support particularly for uniformed services and the extra funding for those services, as well as the many positive elements that my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned in the National Citizen Service.

I have met so many brilliant volunteers and youth workers in Mansfield who make a hugely positive impact on young people. I know the importance of youth workers in particular, and the importance of such intervention was absolutely clear from the inquiry. It was brought home to me recently in a panel discussion with young people, organised by the British Youth Council. We talked about the proactive and preventive approach to youth services, which is so much more effective and cost-effective than the kind of crisis management we so often find ourselves doing.

Whether it is the trusted adult who steers a young person away from gangs and violence or who provides a safe space in the community for activities that forge friendships and skills for young people to get on in life, youth workers transform lives. Providing vital early intervention services keeps people out of trouble, frankly. We have so many discussions about some of the major societal challenges we face, such as knife crime, but youth services, particularly with trusted youth workers who forge connections with young people, can have a huge impact on those issues.

In many areas, such as Mansfield, we need to do more to support youth services and ensure that especially the most vulnerable young people have access to youth workers and services. Those services can help people feel supported and less isolated. They can improve mental health, tackle loneliness and, as I have said, steer children away from gangs and crime. It is a prevention service, and as we heard today in Prime Minister’s questions, prevention is better than cure. It is better for individuals, families and communities, and for the public purse as well.

The loss of youth services can lead to significant costs—social and economic—in later years if young people do not receive support early enough. Through my own role on the Education Committee, I know the statistics on how many young people who do not get access to those services or to early intervention end up excluded or in the criminal justice system. It is very clear across all these sectors that prevention is the key. Youth services can play a key role in filling the gap in a more effective and cost-efficient way than needing expensive crisis services later on.

A key recommendation from the all-party group report was that we need clear statutory guidance that defines a minimum and protected level of youth service. I am pleased that the Government have initiated a review of that statutory guidance, with the National Youth Agency joining forces with the Local Government Association to lead on the Government consultation. I know it is due to report later in the year, and it should inform our local choices and local youth partnerships to strengthen those services. That review of what is a sufficient youth offer is very welcome and much needed. I am grateful to the Minister for securing the overdue review and renewal of youth work qualifications, which we have discussed, led by the NYA. I appreciate her update in her opening remarks on the progress on the funding for that, which I inquired about during PMQs a few weeks ago. I understood, as of a few days ago, that it was still awaiting the final sign-off. I do not know whether she can confirm that it is entirely done and sorted.