It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Lyn Brown. She reminds us that in a digital world, where more and more young people spend time with their iPads or iPods and so on—as we all increasingly do—the need for them to have exposure to situations that those of us who were brought up in an analogue world took more for granted is extraordinarily important.
I want to make some remarks about the situation for youth services today, and I thank the Minister for her enthusiasm at the Dispatch Box. As shadow skills Minister, it was particularly interesting for me to hear her talk about the establishment of a new level 3 apprenticeship in this regard. I obviously welcome that, but we need to take into account the fact that many of the people who have previously qualified as youth workers have, for the reasons that we have discussed today, simply been unable to find jobs in that area. Another genuine point I make to her is that this needs to be taken forward very carefully because what happens at levels 1 and 2—I do not know whether the intention is to do anything preparatory in this area—is critical in getting the right sort of people to do this sort of thing.
I praise the very comprehensive speech by my hon. Friend Cat Smith, the shadow Minister for youth affairs. She put her finger on so many of the disappointments and failings of recent years. She gave statistics on the amount by which spending had gone down and everything else, and all this is in the context of councils having had some of the worst cuts in recent years. I think particularly of my council in Blackpool, where we have lost about £700 million of funding. I say to the Minister and her departmental colleagues—her Department also focuses significantly on seaside and coastal towns, because of tourism issues—that small unitary authorities, such as mine in Blackpool, have suffered the most from that. The heavy toll of those cuts on children’s services, on social care and children’s care and on the number of young people who come to towns such as Blackpool sometimes looking for the proverbial streets that are paved with gold, but finding that that is not the case, is an additional burden and challenge for my local authority. That is why I welcome what my hon. Friend said, not just today but on other occasions, about expansion.
The main purpose of youth services under a Labour Government will be to provide non-formal education through personal, social and political development. It will be absolutely clear that young people will be at the centre of determining a new statutory youth service, because the issue is the same as it is in education. Too often, young people feel and find that education is done to them, or sometimes for them, and not with them. That needs to be taken on board, whether we are talking about the National Citizen Service or any of the other initiatives that the Government have introduced.
It is also important that local councils partner locally with organisations to develop a diverse universal offer to establish and submit long-term plans for local delivery, but they can do that only if there is significant security from long-term funding. That has not been the case with Governments since 2010. There is a whole list of things, including rebuilding the workforce, long-term proportionate evaluation and so on, that we need to take forward. I hope not least that the impetus provided by the most excellent report from the all-party group on youth affairs, chaired by my hon. Friend Lloyd Russell-Moyle, will have made waves for this Government, and will do the same for the new Government. As many have said, we wait to see the colour of their money in this area.
There has been some discussion about the value of the NCS this afternoon. Clearly, it has done some useful work for lots of people. I would cite one of my former Blackpool apprentices who took part in two or three NCS initiatives that inspired in her an interest in public affairs and a confidence that allowed her to go to work in a pressurised office environment and has now taken her on to a university degree. There are such individual examples, but, given how much money the NCS has been getting, compared with the number of young people it has delivered for, it is not the ideal solution. This needs to be taken onboard.
Jeremy Lefroy, who is no longer in his place, and others have referred to the work that voluntary youth organisations have had to take on because of the lack of funding. I think of uniformed groups such as the Scouts, Girl Guides, Cadets, the Woodcraft Folk, and so on. I pay tribute to the Scouts Association. I pay tribute to Ann Limb, the first woman chair of the association, who is a long-standing friend of mine, and to Matt Hyde, the chief executive, for the way they have reinvigorated and energised the association for the 21st century. I particularly praise their skills for life programme. We have talked about informal learning and inspiration. Those skills for life are precisely the sorts of enabling skills that young people need not just in school but out of school.