Youth Services

Part of Kew Gardens (Leases) (No. 3) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:29 pm on 24th July 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education) 5:29 pm, 24th July 2019

I entirely accept that, and I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman, who was an extraordinarily good Children’s Minister. He is absolutely right to make the point about the wave effects, if I can put it that way. I am not saying that the NCS has not done good work; I am saying that it is not to be regarded as a substitute for the sort of statutory process we will need in the future.

I am very proud to be a Scout ambassador in Blackpool. I pay tribute to the Scout district commissioner, Victoria DaSilva, and to the president, an extremely formidable lady and councillor from the Minister’s own party, Councillor Lily Henderson. They, and everyone in Blackpool, have expanded the Scouts in recent years. It is not all doom and gloom, therefore, but we know about the number of youth and community workers who have lost their jobs since 2008.

The situation in the careers services runs in parallel to the way in which Government have generally treated the youth service. The argument is the same. No one disputes that individual initiatives, properly carried out, can make a great difference, but they are no substitute for a long-term process, which is what we need. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood on the Front Bench talked about the fall in the number of degrees, including graduate certificates and postgraduate diplomas, in youth work programmes. That is inevitable when people cannot find decent jobs and are not given a structure.

I entirely agree with Ben Bradley that not every space has to be a five-star building and that it is what goes on inside that matters. Nevertheless, it is a tragedy that many of the last Labour Government’s investments in decent buildings have not flourished because of post-2010 austerity. Many of those buildings could not be used for their original purpose. Before I came to this debate, I checked the dates. One of the last of those buildings was erected in Blackpool. The Oracle youth hub is a fantastic, new, modernistic building not far from my offices. Building started in November 2010. I have looked up in my local newspaper the date it was opened. It is a fantastic, dynamic building. We were told by the Blackpool Gazette in 2012 that the building was going to do wonderful things, but of course it has not because it has not had the money or the staff. That is a great shame, and similar situations should be avoided in future.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood paid tribute to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport for taking on the project. As a former Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Department, however, I gently say to the Minister—to whom I mean no disrespect—that I know that DCMS has to cover a huge range of issues. I do not think things have changed that much since my day—they are probably worse, if anything—so I am sure the Minister will agree that DCMS civil servants are called on to undertake a considerable amount of work compared with those in other Departments. While DCMS takes this forward, it is important that every other Government Department, including the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Justice, does not see it as an opportunity to say, “Oh well, DCMS is doing that.” I am sure the Minister does not need any lessons from me or, indeed, the new Secretary of State, if there is going to be a new Secretary of State, on lobbying in that regard. I gently say, however, that it is very important that DCMS should not be seen as being solely responsible for this particular area.

I want to turn briefly to the report’s recommendations. They have been covered extensively, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown will want to talk about them in due course. I want to pluck out two quotations from the report. The first is from the British Youth Council, whose executive I was a member of many years ago. It says:

“We believe properly funded youth services and agencies aid young people in their personal development and their ability to function in society.”

That is a huge issue in terms of citizenship.

The second quotation is from Gillian Keegan, who is the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on youth affairs. In comments that echo those made by others, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Fleetwood, she said:

“we lack a coherent approach to secure and sustain youth work, and a proper understanding of the levels and extent of youth work needed to achieve the best outcomes for young people.”

I want to close with two or three examples of what has been done on the ground in Blackpool in recent years. Last year I met a group of HeadStart apprentices; that is a Big Lottery-funded agency programme providing resilience for young people across Blackpool, particularly in mental health areas, and it does a fantastic job. It gives the apprentices themselves a varied and creative programme to qualify in, while helping empower hundreds of young people in Blackpool schools and also on a one-to-one basis and in conjunction with local charities such as mine. It has been doing things just in the last month. Blackpool’s Talbot road has been made into the country’s first resilience pathway. That pathway illustrates 42 different moves in life that might help young people and their families and friends to find a sense of belonging, and it was put together by young people in Blackpool themselves. Each paving stone is designed to represent an idea or suggestion that helps young people and their families and friends find a sense of belonging, and I am glad to say that that has received some funding from the Lancashire enterprise partnership.

I also want to touch on the fantastic work done by young carers in Blackpool; they need to be highlighted because they too are acquiring skills at a time when they are having also to attend school. I also want to highlight the Blackpool Youth Council and the body that organises the annual elections for it, URPotential, and to praise particularly Debbie Terras, the previous chief executive, who did a fantastic job and brought people from Blackpool on two occasions to this place to participate in activities here.

I mentioned at the beginning of my speech the number of young people who come to Blackpool and find themselves in disarray not just with housing but with other issues as well, and I also want to mention our local charity the Streetlife Trust, whose chief executive Jane Hugo is now one of my councillors in a ward in the centre of town.

Finally, I want to talk about the work of the Blackpool Boys and Girls Club and its youth worker, Dave Blacker, who has worked for 43 years with the club. Its most recent initiative is an exhibition. We have had some problems with vandalism in our key park, Stanley Park, and those young people have put together an exhibition of their thoughts and images about that. Elaine Smith, doyenne and chair of Stanley Park, said it is all too easy to look at young people in the park and wonder if they are up to no good and that the exhibition

“shows that so many of our children really do care.”

We have a lot to be thankful for from initiatives in Blackpool started by individuals, and I am reminded of the old song “Sisters are doin’ it for themselves”; young people are doing it for themselves, but they should not have to do it all on their own, and there should be a proper statutory youth service to go with this.