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The Business Committee has agreed to allow up to one hour and 30 minutes for the debate. The proposer of the motion will have 10 minutes to propose and 10 minutes for the winding-up speech. All other Members who are called to speak will have five minutes in which to speak.
One amendment has been selected and published on the Marshalled List. The proposer of the amendment will have 10 minutes to propose and five minutes to wind up.
I beg to move
That this Assembly expresses its concern at the eight per cent reduction of the Youth Services budget for the year 2008-09; calls on the Minister of Education to redirect resources from within her budget to make good the cuts; and believes that Youth Services would have greater long term security with local councils, after the Review of Public Administration.
I am pleased that this debate has come before the Assembly. I did not dare leave this place today in case I was caught up in a traffic jam — I knew that I would never survive a second occasion on which a motion did not reach the Floor.
I tabled the motion because, along with all other Members who deal with youth organisations, either in their constituencies or generally across the whole of Northern Ireland, I genuinely believe that the Youth Service does a sterling job, in all its various forms — voluntary groups, uniformed groups, unattached youth workers — right across the spectrum of youth provision. It does so not only with difficult youngsters — youngsters who have difficulties and are at risk, but with many other young people, by giving them leadership and character-building opportunities, helping them and diverting them into a wide range of activities.
In Northern Ireland, some 180,000 young people benefit from Youth Service provision and more than 20,000 people give of their time voluntarily, along with paid workers, to ensure that there is provision right across the Province. The Youth Service makes a vital contribution to society.
I am concerned for the immediate prospects of the Youth Service as a result of the budget that the Minister of Education has presented to the Assembly. Although she has restored some of the money that was originally cut, it is the only area in the Education budget where there was not just a cut in real terms, but a cut in the figure allocated over the next three years. The Minister has restored some of that money, so that there is no longer cut in the figure allocated. There is, nevertheless, a cut in real terms over the next three years. The increase for this year is 2·2%; for next year, 1·2%; and in the third year, 0·4% — all of which are cuts in real terms. The cut in real terms gets bigger every year, so the Youth Service faces a declining budget in real terms.
Despite her protestations, the Minister has shown that she and her Department do not value the Youth Service in the way in which many Members want it valued. The Minister, in her response to the draft Budget, and after she had made a cut in money, said that the Youth Service’s role in the personal and social development of young people was well-recognised. If that is good recognition, it is perfectly legitimate to ask what poor recognition would be like. The Youth Service has become the Cinderella of the Department of Education.
The amendment calls for more money to be put into the Youth Service budget, but there are several areas from which the Minister could have got that money. She will sigh at this, but we all know the amount of money that she has poured into opening schools, with 12 youngsters in them, in the Irish-medium and integrated sectors. That has cost millions of pounds.
The amount of money that the Department spends on consultancy must also be considered. Was any attempt made to reduce that? Was any attempt made to reduce the amount of money that the Department spends on public relations? There is a whole host of places in which the Minister could have found money. We are not talking about hundreds of millions of pounds; a few million pounds over the next three years would have at least restored the budget in real terms to what it was. That small amount of money could have been found; but was not.
I have a short-term concern that the Youth Service is not safe in the Department of Education. In the hands of the Minister, the Youth Service is not being given the provision that it ought to be given. I have a longer-term concern —
I do not want to get into that area: there have been enough comments about that. I will stick to talking about the Youth Service, but the Member’s question illustrates the problem that it has not been given priority.
In the longer term, as we move towards the possibility of having a single education and skills authority (ESA), the Youth Service is being thrown in with a mishmash of other functions. In fact, it seems that one of the eight sections, or directorates, of the ESA, will encapsulate around 16 different functions, few of them related; and it is into that section that the Youth Service is being thrown.
There are even graver concerns about the long-term future of the Youth Service, and that is the reason for the second part of my motion — that the Youth Service should become the responsibility of local councils. I have several reasons for that. First, the Youth Service is essentially a local service. I recognise that there are regional bodies.
Yes, there are. Indeed, I have met some that operate on a regional basis, and they have genuine concerns over how regional bodies would be serviced if money were to go to local councils. There is an easy answer to that: if the service were to transfer to councils, the Department could still keep a section of the Youth Service budget that would be distributed to regionally-based bodies. That part of the budget would not go to councils; it would be kept for central administration to fund regionally-based bodies.
Given that much of what goes on in youth services takes place at local level, there would be direct accessibility to the decision-makers at local council level. If I am wrong I will take an intervention from the Minister, but it is my understanding that during the time of the budget cuts, and despite the fact that parts of the Youth Service sought meetings with the Minister, they could not get a meeting with her. I cannot conceive that youth organisations would not have access to local councillors and the local council to make their case in such a situation.
That is one reason why I believe that accessibility is important.
Secondly, the local dimension is important. Local youth services are just that. Youth services are dynamic. They respond to circumstances and to issues in local areas, and they do so very well because they have flexibility. Therefore, the closer those services are to local areas, the better. Likewise, the more funding that is devolved to those local areas, the better. Therefore, when an issue is identified, the services would immediately have a body to approach for funding for a particular role.
There has been great concern — this point has been made to me — that if money is given to local councils, they would simply absorb it into their leisure-services budget or community-services budget. Of course, that does not have to be the case because the money could be ring-fenced. Indeed, I would like a Minister to tell councils that the money will be ring-fenced and that they will be given it only if they match the funding. Therefore, local groups would have access to an increased pot of money through the local council.
The proposal seems to be to move everything into the centre in the longer run and put it into a grand regional education and skills authority that will be remote, inaccessible and unaware of local concerns. However, rather than do that, responsibility for youth services could be devolved to local councils. That would provide better protection for local youth services and, at the same time, ensure that the Department maintains the central money so that regional organisations can be protected. The House should accept the motion for two reasons: first, because of the current short-term funding issue, and, secondly, because of the long-term organisational issue that will likely arise under ESA.
Go raibh míle maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Ba mhaith liom an leasú ar an rún a mholadh.
I beg to move the following amendment: Leave out all after the first “the” and insert:
“reduction of the Youth Services budget for the year 2008/09; regrets the absence from the budget of a cross-cutting fund for children and young people which could be topped up with in-year monitoring reallocations to support youth services and other projects; and calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel, the Minister of Education, and the Executive to give appropriate priority to the Youth Services budget in in-year monitoring rounds.”
A LeasCheann Comhairle, tá seanrá sa Ghaedhilg a ndéanann daoine tagairt dó go minic: mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Is minic an rá sin i mbéal na ndaoine, agus ní hionadh ar bith sin, nó caithfimid an mhuintir óg a chothú ar gach bealach ar féidir linn. Ní amháin iad a spreagadh agus a ghríosú le gach leas a bhaint as na buanna atá acu go pearsanta, ach, lena chois sin, páirt ghníomhach a ghlacadh ina bpobal féin agus sa tsochaí ar gach leibhéal.
There is an old saying in the Irish language: praise youth and it will flourish. It is oft-quoted, and that is not surprising. We must encourage our young people in every way that we can. We must inspire them and encourage them to use all their talents for their own personal good and to take an active part in their local communities, and society at every level.
“Ní bheathaíonn na briathra na bráithre”, a deir an t-amhrán, agus is fíor é. Bíonn níos mó ná briathra de dhíth ar an óige fosta: bíonn na hacmhainní cuí de dhíth orthu leis an ábaltacht fhisiciúil, intinne, mhorálta, spioradálta atá iontu a chothú agus a fhás.
The old song says that the brethren are not fed by words alone. Our young people need more than words. They need the suitable resources to enable them to develop physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. Our Youth Service enables them to do that and it should be properly funded.
The amendment focuses on the budgetary uncertainties that the Youth Service faces, and that is a real concern in our local communities. The motion states that:
“Youth Services would have greater long term security with local councils, after the Review of Public Administration.”
The motion covers two separate issues, and it should be brought before the House as two separate motions. That is why I have proposed the amendment, which focuses chiefly on the budgetary position of the Youth Service, which is currently its most pressing need.
Given its small amount of resources, the Youth Service in Northern Ireland provides excellent value for money. Members do not have to simply take my word on that; they can ask the young people who benefit from it in the ways that I mentioned earlier.
Although we are led to believe that funding for the Youth Service has been restored for the next three years, there will, in fact, be no increase in its budget. It will remain at the same level as in 2007-08, with no inflationary rise over the next three years. Although that is a significant improvement on the 7% decrease that was in the draft Budget, the situation is still difficult for youth organisations for a number of reasons, such as decreases in peace funding and, due to the Olympics, lottery funding, and increasing demands from young people for services.
The Youth Service provides good value for money. Every £1 invested can attract up to £10 from other investors. As Sammy Wilson said, 20,000 staff work free of charge on a regular basis. That creates a saving of £50 million every year in labour costs, which is double the total annual investment. Furthermore, over 180,000 young people benefit from access to its services each year.
The 2004-06 report by the chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate stated that:
“The youth service makes an important contribution to the personal and social development of many young people … youth work makes a distinctive and valuable contribution to helping young people overcome barriers to learning and achievement”.
And yet we have to come to this House to fight hard for an adequate budget for the Youth Service.
My calculations show that the proposed increase from 2007-08 to 2008-09 is 2·2% — which is in accord with the figure that Sammy Wilson mentioned — for the Youth Service and the Youth Council. That will represent a slight reduction after inflation, assuming that inflation is approximately 2·5%.
That will not have a significantly adverse effect on the Youth Service operation in 2008-09. However, the percentage increases for the following two years are 1·2% and 0·4% respectively. Therefore, the total Youth Service budget will suffer a real reduction, allowing for inflation, in 2009-10 and 2010-11. If inflation continues at 2·5%, the Youth Service budget will decrease by 1·3% in 2009-10 and 2·1% in 2010-11. The current level of funding for the Youth Service is equivalent to £1 a week per young person in the Youth Service age range, which is from 4 to 25.
As someone who formerly worked with young people, I know that the Youth Service represents excellent value for money, which is coupled with the annual input of 22,000 volunteers.
The Youth Council is under pressure to extend its funding to regional voluntary youth organisations in order to meet increasing demand for public grants. As I said earlier, that is due, in large part, to reduced funding from other sources.
In addition, more sophisticated services are required to meet the needs of our young people, especially those from disadvantaged areas or groups. With that in mind, I am astounding by the absence from the Budget of a cross-cutting fund for children and young people. The SDLP welcomed the cross-cutting themes in the public service agreements of the Programme for Government. However, we were disappointed that those themes were not backed up or reflected in the Budget that was presented the next day.
The children’s fund, a cross-cutting fund aimed at helping vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people, has been abandoned.
My party is on record as highlighting the issue in the Chamber. Indeed, that is one of the reasons that SDLP Members cited when they voted against the Budget.
(Mr Deputy Speaker [Mr McClarty] in the Chair)
A cross-cutting fund for children, which can be topped up with in-year monitoring reallocations to support youth services and other projects, is needed. That is why the amendment calls on the Minister of Finance and Personnel, the Minister of Education and the Executive to work together to give appropriate priority during in-year monitoring to the Youth Service budget.
I appreciate the Member’s giving way. Although I understand the point that he has made for trying to find as much money as possible for youth services, does he accept that by the time that money is reallocated as a result of in-year monitoring, it is halfway through the year; it is a one-off payment; and organisations cannot plan how they will spend the money in advance? At present, youth services complain that they must survive on short-term finance, and apply for a grant here and a grant there. Funding becomes available, but then it stops. Plans cannot be made for the future. The Member’s proposal will, therefore, not be of any long-term help to the development of youth services in Northern Ireland.
I thank the Member for his intervention. The present deficit in youth services funding can be made good through in-year monitoring. Of course, if there were other means by which that can be done more speedily, I would certainly support the Member in proposing those particular methods.
As I mentioned earlier, what is required is a cross-cutting fund for children that can be topped up through in-year monitoring. That is why I have proposed the amendment, which calls for the Minister of Finance and Personnel, the Minister of Education and the Executive to give appropriate priority to youth services during in-year monitoring. I ask Members to concentrate on what is the most pressing need for youth services at present — budgetary need.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I welcome the opportunity that the motion has presented to debate the provision of youth services. For too long, youth workers have not had the same profile or attention paid to them as education-sector workers. Youth services play an important role in the delivery of a full education service to all young people. The Assembly recognises the important role — often a hidden and unpublicised role — that youth services play in the community. The Education Committee has discussed youth services in the community and the work that is done by the voluntary sector in particular.
The first part of the two-part motion is outdated. The proposers of the motion, Sammy Wilson and Michelle McIlveen, will be aware of that because concerns were raised in the Education Committee that, under the draft Budget, cuts had been made in funding for youth services. Having listened to the Committee’s concerns, Caitríona Ruane later confirmed that in the final Budget, £4·6 million would be allocated to youth services for the next three years. Everyone in the Chamber is well aware of the great work that is done by many in the community and, therefore, they welcome the Minister’s confirmation of the allocation of that money.
In these modern times, it is not easy for young people as they mature through their teenage years. They are under much more pressure than many of us experienced when we were teenagers. Therefore, it must be made a priority that the maximum possible amount of financial resources and number of personnel are directed towards youth services in order to ensure that young adults are given the best possible assistance.
It is worth repeating that one of the Education Department’s key objectives is to facilitate the personal and social development of children and young people and to assist them to gain knowledge, skills and experience to reach their full potential as valued citizens. It goes without saying that if investment is made in young people’s education and development as citizens of their communities, they will make a valuable contribution to society.
The programme provided by the Youth Service is admirable: it casts a wide educational net and tries to provide the widest possible spectrum of activities for those participating in youth services.
As some members have mentioned, there are 165 youth clubs and 14 residential centres under the control of the education and library boards, which employ around 960 paid workers and 543 voluntary workers. In the voluntary sector, there are nearly 20,000 workers. That is an impressive record.
What has been missing from the debate is the view of those who work in the voluntary and statutory sectors. Representatives of those sectors submitted evidence to the Committee and said that they wanted youth services to remain under the Department’s control. They said that youth work should remain in the Department’s control to allow for joined-up approaches to citizenship, employability, preparation for working life, personal and social education, and vocational development. We must listen to those who deliver youth services on this issue.
We will not decide, in a debate of one hour and 30 minutes, whether to transfer the entire youth budget to local government. I am a local district councillor and know that local district councils make cuts to budgets. There is no guarantee that, if local district councils controlled youth services, there would not be cuts. We must have a wider debate on whether youth services remain under the Department’s control. The review of public administration (RPA) did state that there was a role for local district councils; however, it also proposed that the education and skills authority and the Department should be in control of youth services. We do not know what capacity, roles, responsibilities or powers the new councils will have. I caution against having any debate on whether youth services should go —
The key issue is the Youth Service budget. In the Minister’s hands, the Youth Service is as safe as our education service and our schools. Therefore, I understand the frustration felt by the proposers of the motion, who clearly believe that the only way to save the Youth Service is to remove it from the Education Minister’s grip.
The Youth Service plays a vital role in the daily war to save our youth from the perils that await them in a deteriorating society. On many occasions, I have spoken out against the knife culture that stalks our streets, and, after speaking out on that peril for four years, I can claim some small success in persuading the direct rule administration to introduce tougher knife laws. Knife culture was claiming many young lives and devastating many of our homes. Since then, I have broadened my focus to opposing the growing gang culture, because it is the gang mentality that wields the knife.
The Youth Service is a bastion of normality and reaches out to our young people in the midst of a sea of bad influences that threaten to engulf them and waste their young lives. It supports and encourages young people to mature and reach their potential as valued individuals and responsible citizens. The policy aim of the Youth Service is:
“to ensure the provision of opportunities for children, young people and young adults to gain for themselves knowledge, skills and experience to reach their full potential as valued individuals; to encourage the development of mutual understanding and promote recognition of and respect for cultural diversity.”
Is that not the essence of what we are trying to achieve?
The Youth Service is composed of both the statutory and voluntary sectors. The statutory sector is under control of the education and library boards and has 165 youth clubs, 14 residential centres, employs almost 1,000 paid workers and benefits from the input of some 540 volunteers. The voluntary sector, which is much larger, is made up of a variety of organisations: some uniformed and some non-uniformed; some church-related and some secular; the headquarters and the umbrella organisations. There are over 2,000 voluntary groups with over 1,000 paid workers and almost 20,000 volunteers who are registered with the education and library boards for the receipt of grant aid. The Youth Service, therefore, is a major bulwark in society.
The reaction to the announcement in the draft Budget of an £8 million cut in the Youth Service’s budget merits examination. A Sinn Féin spokesman said that those from disadvantaged backgrounds would suffer most from the lack of mainstream funding. Sinn Féin had serious concerns about the proposed cuts to the Youth Service’s allocation in the draft Budget. However, when the final Budget confirmed a cut of £3·4 million to that sector, a Sinn Féin Minister accepted it. A cut is a cut is a cut, and Sinn Féin’s actions in Government do not equate with what it champions outside Government. The funding gap remains and, as is heard in the London Underground, “mind the gap”.
The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, our former colleague Patricia Lewsley, outlined her views on the situation:
“Those services have been underfunded for too long, and I hope that this budget will start to redress the balance.”
Perhaps we have made a start, but we are far from finished.
However, there are alternative models for the delivery of youth services. For instance, in England, the structures for youth services have usually been part of local government. The Office for Standards in Education (OFSTED) carries out inspections to monitor the quality and provision of youth services. Recently, a minority of local authorities failed to ensure the proper integration of youth services. However, that is an indictment of the English system rather than of council-run provision per se.
Therefore, although there are issues to consider, it is essential that the Youth Service be fully integrated into any plans that the proposed new councils may introduce to improve the lives of citizens. The Youth Service should be viewed as an arm of community welfare and support. As all other arms of community support lie within local government, the same should apply to the Youth Service. In advocating a new role for local government in the provision of youth services, I accept that the policy, training, standards and moderation of the service should be a regional function of the Department of Education or any such body that may be assigned that role.
The Ulster Unionist Party supports the transfer of the Youth Service, and, indeed, community relations, to local government. Under community planning, the councils should be tasked to develop programmes for community development, youth provision and community relations. Councils should co-ordinate the required programmes and projects and be responsible for ensuring their delivery. For councils to be the engines of change in the community, it is essential that the community planning function is enhanced as much as possible. Young people have a critical role to play in community development, and the disengagement of the Youth Service from the Department of Education might boost its status.
The service providers, the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, felt that several prerequisites would have to be met before councils should be put in charge of the Youth Service.
I will come to that. We support the motion, because the provision of youth services is imperative. Of all the budgets that require reappraisal, this one deserves protection more than most.
Having said that, and having praised Sammy Wilson for raising the matter, I cannot resist taking the opportunity to highlight the inconsistency in the attitudes of the main parties in Government — again. Mr Wilson criticises a budgetary decision that his party and the Executive, led by his party, endorsed.
The Youth Service does a vital job by providing extra-curricular activities for children and young people. Many of those activities form a fundamental part of their overall education and help them to mature and realise their full potential as individuals and citizens. Therefore, it should be a funding priority for the Minister.
In the Programme for Government, the Executive pledged to increase the level of participation in youth services to 42%. No one opposed the pledge, and although it may not be sufficiently ambitious, it requires financial support, not a cut in its funding allocation.
The second part of the motion relates to the long-term security of the Youth Service should it be transferred to local councils. Subject to a sensible outcome from the review of public administration, the Alliance Party and its NILGA (Northern Ireland Local Government Association) representatives favour the transfer of the provision of youth services to the control of the enlarged local councils.
Much of what the Youth Service does is educational, but that does not mean that all its functions should be transferred. Rather, the local authorities should accord it a lead role in community planning and in allocating and prioritising resources for general youth services. Local representatives, by virtue of their closeness to communities, should, in most cases, provide the most efficient means of service delivery.
The Alliance Party cannot support the SDLP amendment, because it removes the reference to local council involvement. However, at least it mentions the Minister of Finance and Personnel, and I will talk about his role in a moment. The Alliance Party also believes that that funding is best left in the area of mainstream departmental funding.
I query whether the motion should refer to the Minister of Education, rather than the Minister of Finance and Personnel, who holds the purse strings. The education budget is tight, and there are many demands on it from all sides of the House. I notice that Sammy Wilson seemed to suggest that a cut in the budget for integrated education and Irish-medium schools could provide the necessary resources. However, those are both the subject of Government commitments, where there is parental demand. It is obvious that children will still need to be educated. Where is the saving?
I was glad that Mr Wilson mentioned the fact that a traffic jam caused this debate to be postponed a few weeks ago. I will certainly take his word for that, as he is an honourable man. It removes any doubt, or the feeling that might have been abroad in the House, that that was a contrived situation at a delicate time.
I am giving the Member the benefit of the doubt. I accept his explanation absolutely. At least we are having the debate now — after the Budget and the Programme for Government have been agreed to.
The Member may have misunderstood me in respect of integrated education. I said that many people felt that giving the priority to opening schools with as few as 12 pupils in them was a waste of resources; not that money directed towards integrated education or Irish education, per se, was a waste of resources.
I am sure that the Member means what he says, but it sounds — as it frequently does — as though he does not favour integrated education or Irish-medium education in any form whatsoever, and would like to see the end if it. I took that to mean that he saw that as a way of raising some money, which could be put to a very good cause. However, I am not arguing about that. We are debating the Youth Service today, and it is an important subject.
Last week, the Minister of Education’s new minder, John O’Dowd, leapt to her defence. He said:
When he said that, I immediately thought of a boat stranded on the rocks — like the Minister’s policies. She is travelling without charts, a compass or sextant. She does not communicate with her crew, she has run the boat aground, and it is taking on water. Now she is looking for everyone else in the Chamber to help her refloat it. It is time that the admiralty at Sinn Féin took a long, hard look at the captain that it has appointed, and remove her command.
Today, we are debating her policy on the Youth Service, and the DUP is suggesting that the Youth Service should seek alternative transportation. No one should underestimate the positive impact that the Youth Service has had on society in Northern Ireland. Thousands of people in statutory and voluntary agencies are offering young people opportunities for social, intellectual, cultural and physical development.
The Youth Service deals with 180,000 young people, outside the formal education process. A failure to provide those services effectively will result in those young people not availing of what is on offer, feeling disenfranchised, and failing to achieve their potential to contribute meaningfully to society. The Youth Service is not just about our traditional concepts of educating; it can also be about learning through social interaction, which can ensure that young people feel that they belong to their community. It takes our young people off the streets and gives them focus without the necessity of feeling obliged to be there, as they would under formal processes. Indeed, if there are local disturbances or antisocial behaviour in an area, the first place that the local authorities will go to get a handle on the situation is the Youth Service.
In my area, I have seen evidence of Church-based schemes working in collaboration with the statutory agencies to provide activities such as midnight football and intergenerational schemes, which have proven to be highly successful.
The Minister initially proposed an 8% cut in the Youth Service budget, through the draft Budget. When the Minister is faced with a tight budget, the only area in which she looks to make real savings is the Youth Service. The Minister did not look anywhere else — she homed in on it, as she regards it as a minor part of the education budget. It has since been announced that a further £4·6 million will be allocated to education, and only then did the Minister see fit to allocate funding to youth services over the next three years. Unfortunately, that does not make up for the 8% cut, nor does it deal with the perception of those working in youth services that the area is underfunded and is not allowed to maximise its potential.
Furthermore, we are still unaware of how those moneys will be allocated or how they have been prioritised within youth services. The House should also recognise that the additional funding was allocated to youth services as a result of the pressure applied by the Education Committee and youth service providers.
Not only is the future of the Youth Service threatened by lack of funding, it is also under threat from the new ESA structure. When Gavin Boyd spoke to the Education Committee, there was hardly any mention of youth services, and certainly no attention has been given to a Northern Ireland-wide service.
Youth services would have greater long-term security if they were administered by local councils. I am not suggesting that that should happen tomorrow, but we must picture the scenario where we have the ESA and 11 or 15 councils — it would be a completely different framework. We must ask ourselves whether youth services would be better served under potentially the largest education body in Europe. Would that reflect the current situation, in which the Youth Service is labelled the Cinderella service of the Department of Education? Cuts will inevitably come out of the Youth Service budget first, rather than its ugly sister, Irish-medium education.
The needs of communities are different throughout Northern Ireland. Therefore, it is necessary to retain the close contact with youth services that would be lost on the introduction of ESA, and that can be done best through local delivery mechanisms at local government level. Entrusting youth services —
Thank you for your intervention.
Entrusting youth services to local councils will also ensure a level of local accountability and scrutiny that will be absent from the ESA uber-quango. However, certain safeguards must be in place. The Department of Education must retain responsibility for setting Youth Service policy; the Youth Service liaison forum and the Youth Council must be retained; local strategies consistent with the delivery of youth work strategy must be developed and implemented; standards of entitlements to services must be established; and, most importantly, there must be ring-fenced budgets from the Department of Education.
We are currently facing huge restructuring of how the Government carry out their business in Northern Ireland. Constituents —
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I congratulate Miss McIlveen on introducing some humour to her speeches. She is obviously learning from the old master Mr Wilson and if she keeps it up she might actually relax and enjoy a debate now and again.
As my colleague Paul Butler said, the motion is out of date. When researching for this debate I looked at Mr Wilson’s contribution to the final Budget debate — it is, as usual, one of Mr Wilson’s interesting, colourful, and humorous contributions. However, youth services are not mentioned anywhere in it. In fairness to him, he did say at the start of that debate that he was not speaking as Chairperson of the Education Committee, but, considering that he has now tabled this motion twice, one would have thought he would have raised the issue in the Budget debate, if he were so concerned.
Mr Wilson spent most of his time during the Budget debate attacking the SDLP and the Alliance Party, but his most interesting comments were his last words:
He supported the Budget, including the budget for the Department of Education, which included youth services. The reason why he supported it, I hope, is because the Minister had secured extra funding for youth services, which appeared in the draft Budget. I then looked at the Education Committee’s response to the draft Budget, which is a three- or four-page letter directed to the Chairperson of the Finance Committee and signed by Mr Wilson.
I scanned the response to see what Mr Wilson, Mr Bradley and the other Members who advocate more money for youth services had to say. I should point out that it is too late for further allocations, given that the Budget discussions are closed. Why were those concerns not expressed in the Budget debate? I came across half a sentence in the response, which said:
“The Committee would question why the bid for Maintenance of the School Estate might not be met”.
I assume that the phrase “might not be met” refers to the Department of Finance and Personnel. It is also reported in that response that:
“the Committee noted with concern that a specific bid to enhance the Youth Service may not be met.”
That was the sum total of the Chairperson of the Education Committee’s contribution on youth services. I cannot find any other contribution from Mr Wilson, the DUP, the SDLP, or the Alliance Party prior to the vote —
Let me finish this sentence. Prior to the Budget’s being agreed, I recall the Minister of Finance and Personnel scolding the Alliance Party for proposing amendments, and I remember the SDLP being politically and publicly ridiculed for proposing amendments. However, none of those amendments concerned youth services.
In the Sinn Féin response to the draft Budget, my colleagues Paul Butler and Michelle O’Neill insisted that youth services be prioritised. That response is available to the public.
Youth services need more funding. The Minister was diligent in her task; she went to the Finance Minister and secured more funding. If the Education Committee had fallen in behind her and supported — instead of scrutinising — her, would yet more funding for youth services been secured? That is quite possible.
The motion states that the Minister should:
“redirect resources from within her budget”.
From where should that redirected funding come? Should she take it from special needs providers? Should she take it from the classroom assistants? Should she take it from school transport? Perhaps she should close a couple of rural schools. Neither the amendment nor any of the other parties’ contributions have suggested from where the extra funding should come. We can all agree that youth services are a vital component on the way forward.
It was a mistake to attach to this motion the issue of the transfer of youth services to the councils; that is a separate debate. There is nothing to stop the Education Committee from holding its own inquiry and producing its own report on the findings on the way forward for youth services. Go raibh maith agat.
We have heard some colourful speeches so far. There have been all sorts of metaphors — there have been stormy seas to play with, or we could go down the Cinderella route. I am disappointed to discover that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, are the fairy godmother, because I thought that that was the Minister of Education. I was waiting for her to wave her magic wand.
The debate is strange, in that I both agree and disagree with numerous points that Members from all sides have made. Therefore, one could probably conclude that this is a matter that needs more debate. I am convinced that young people need to be empowered. Members who see me around the Assembly will have noticed that I usually have two or three youths with me, seeing what we do up here. It is important that we engage properly with young people.
As Members know, I have had difficulties with the Minister. I am sorry that she has disappeared, because I was going to say something nice. Perhaps somebody could pass on this message to her: we have an opportunity to use our imagination on this issue to make creative and visionary proposals. We could even make radical proposals that could be forward looking and youth orientated.
I agree that there are constraints on budgets; I have heard that from all sides. However, it is important that we find a way to invest in youth services.
I do not wish to demonise young people. Some of the finest people who I have met are the youth of today. However, there is no doubt that we live in changed times. Our prisons are full: what does that say about how society is going? The elderly are afraid, not necessarily that anything is going to happen but they see groups of young people and are fearful. There is also antisocial behaviour and criminal damage in all sorts of areas; and if we do not invest in our youth then we will end up paying for it in antisocial behaviour and criminal damage. Perhaps there is a budget at which Mr O’Dowd can have a look to see where he might find some money.
If I were to look at the real problem; namely adolescence — Minister, I am pleased to see you back because I was saying some good things but felt that maybe they fell on stony ground. Adolescence is a difficult time, a time when people move from being family orientated to peer orientated to, eventually, being independent. It is a time when, conversely, young people want their independence and yet they fear being isolated, left out or wrong-footed. That is a situation in which when families, schools and communities fail to offer consistent direction and positive goals, adolescents can drift into undesirable behaviour, perhaps tending to become confused and cynical and generally experience a diffused sense of self. That is why we have to see if we can help people.
Who is to do the helping? The single, most important factor in the upbringing of any young person is family. The second most important factor is school because that is where young people form a lot of friendships — which are, incidentally, just as important as the education that they receive. Young people want to be a part of strong, safe communities that foster trust, individual well-being and self-worth, and which encourage social responsibility. The problem is that there are some young people who do not get any of that from their family or their school. The pressure on people to stay on at school while living in, for example, single-parent families or families in which both parents work — that is quite a challenge. If it were not for the voluntary sector we would be in dire straits.
I have the deepest admiration for people who, day in day out, try to look after young people. However, the truth of the matter is that they feel abandoned and unloved; they feel at the bottom of the list of priorities. When we talk about cuts, the fear is that we will see those cuts in front-line services and not in headquarters staff or in desk-bound social workers. Therefore, there is an issue whenever an attempt is made to resolve this matter: where will we find more money? I am looking at the Minister and saying that this is an opportunity to do some good; we would be keen to work together; this is a matter that needs a more appropriate discussion and I would be keen to work with all those Members present.
We are all aware how youth services have always struggled down the years to provide services. Had it not been for the volunteers working with youth leaders, then the good work that they do could not have been achieved.
If the Youth Service is to receive cuts, it will be a devastating blow and those who will suffer will be the most vulnerable. The cuts will mean that youth services cannot develop, and we should remember that, over the years, most youth clubs have limped along with one leader. However, such a blow will obliterate some youth clubs and possibly obliterate the others. The youth of Northern Ireland need help and direction. They have potential; however, the implications of the proposed cuts will deal yet another blow to an already impoverished service.
I am also concerned that there are areas that receive at little as 10 hours of youth service work. I am fearful that they will be the sufferers from any cuts in services. I support the amendment.
I declare an interest as a member of the steering panel of the East Belfast Area Youth Project, as an adult and unit guider with Girlguiding UK, and as a member of Belfast City Council because I believe that the issue being discussed has an impact on all three areas. I welcome the motion although I am surprised by its source. The Member for East Antrim Sammy Wilson is always, to say the least, energetic in his opposition or his support. Certainly, I often feel exhausted listening to him.
He was very enthusiastic about the Budget and the Programme for Government; I was quite concerned for his blood pressure at one point. He characterised the Alliance Party as seeming:
“to think that the role of the opposition is to find fault where there is no fault; to be negative when there is no need to be negative, and to cry about problems when there are none.”—[Official Report, Vol 27, No 1, Part 1, p43, col 2].
He has clearly had time to read the documents and to study the consequences; perhaps that is what kept him late last time. It is clear that the situation was not perfect and that there were problems.
My problem with the motion is that we are dealing today with the consequences of the Budget. It is fine to talk about those consequences, but they are not solely the responsibility of the Minister of Education: they are also the responsibility of the Minister of Finance and his ministerial colleagues in the Executive. It is unfair that only the Minister of Education is mentioned in the motion.
There is some agreement on the substantial issue: the effect that a lack of secure funding and funding fluctuations have on the Youth Service — and we are all aware that fluctuations, cuts and uncertainties damage staff morale. For example, hundreds of staff in the education and library boards were placed on protective notice during the debate that led to the agreement of the Budget. They also undermine staff development and make it difficult to retain and to attract new people into the service, particularly in the statutory sector. Jobs in that sector are not necessarily highly valued, and funding uncertainties mean that there is also very little job security. All those factors are damaging, but, most important, they undermine the consistency of provision.
Intervention with some of our most marginalised young people, particularly through detached youth workers, is not a one-off event; it requires relationship building, determination and long-term intervention. The danger that qualified, trained youth workers will leave the service because they fear for their jobs creates huge difficulties in recruiting people of similar calibre, who have to start from scratch with the young people in rebuilding relationships. That is a serious issue. I cannot support the amendment, as I do not believe that either special funds or in-year monitoring rounds is a solution, because neither provides the long-term security that is required for strategic planning.
By contrast, ring-fencing funding has merit as a means of ensuring that that funding is spent on the right things.
The amendment calls for in-year monitoring to be used to close the gap in funding. Does the Member not agree that, under present circumstances, that is the best solution to the funding difficulties faced by the Youth Service?
I agree that it is perhaps the only short-term solution, but I do not believe that it is a solution to the long-term problem of funding the Youth Service. Several Members said that the Youth Service is regarded as a Cinderella service; however, we must get away from that perception so that we appreciate the service’s long-term value. Ring-fencing funds for young people, whether in Departments or transferred to councils, would be a wise move, as it would ensure that such funding was not absorbed into other areas.
I also want to highlight the implications for our Budget way down the line, because it is likely that policing and justice will be devolved at some point. Some of the very young people that the Youth Service will be failing through lack of finance will inevitably end up involved in the youth justice system; that has been shown by a great deal of research. Although we do not have the budget line for that today, we will in future and it will affect what we are doing.
Transferring youth services to local councils can be managed. If it is any consolation to the Minister, the Alliance Party’s policy of transferring youth services to local councils predates her taking on her role. It is not taking the Youth Service away from a Minister who cannot control it; it is simply our belief that local services are best provided by local councils. We recognise that a major function of the Youth Service is educational, and we also recognise that that would not necessarily mean a transfer of all its functions; however, we want local authorities to take a lead role in community planning and the prioritising of resources. We hope that that will be a constructive way forward.
I support the amendment and welcome the debate. Although the motion provides an opportunity for discussion, I do not agree with its thrust, which proposes to place our Youth Service elsewhere. That particular point warrants a more detailed debate.
For the moment, I am in no doubt that the Youth Service should sit close to the education and library boards, because of the strong links that exist between those two services. The Youth Service has been a part of the education and library boards for more than 30 years. That said, it has often been the poor relation in that setting. Funding pressures have meant that front-line services, such as classroom services, have been prioritised ahead of it. Nevertheless, the Youth Service plays a very important role in developing the character of our young people during their difficult transition from youth to adulthood.
The Youth Service has more than 20,000 volunteers, many of whom regularly provide an excellent service to Northern Ireland’s 2,000, or more, voluntary groups. As I have said, the link between the education and library boards and the Youth Service is crucial. Various experiences have shown how the Youth Service can bring young people together, whether for sports events, meetings or trips away. It has provided many young people with an opportunity to meet young people from different backgrounds.
Our amendment also highlights the need for a fund for children and young people — a glaring omission from the Budget. Contrary to Naomi Long’s claims, a fund for children and young people cannot be described as a short-term measure, because it would make an important contribution to the development of the youth services.
The provision of youth workers is one of the biggest costs in the youth budget across all the education boards, whether in urban or rural settings. In recent years, those youth workers increasingly work in stronger partnerships with local schools. That is evident, for example, in the delivery of personal and social education, which is a particularly important part of the curriculum, and another good reason why we must think more carefully about where the Youth Service is placed. The curriculum also includes the teaching of citizenship, which is another vital dimension of the Youth Service. Citizenship helps young people to understand better their duties, rights and responsibilities as citizens. Through integrating youth work with the formal education system, citizenship also provides an opportunity to maximise our young people’s potential.
The additional money that has been put into the system since the motion was tabled is welcome. However, how are we to spend it? How will it be distributed equitably across urban and rural areas? It is important that those funds be distributed under the assessment-of-relative-needs exercise (ARNE). For the reasons that I have stated, the Youth Service is important. Its work is particularly important and well recognised, not least in those areas of high social deprivation, where facilities are lacking. I support the call for more funding for the Youth Service.
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. I recognise the vital role that youth services play in ensuring that young people have access to a range of positive activities that contribute to their individual learning and achievement. Therefore, I have ensured that the budget for youth services, after taking account of inflation, has been restored in 2008-09 to a level consistent with that of 2007-08.
There is not a decrease in the budget, as Members have suggested. An extra £1·059 million is allocated in 2008-09; an extra £0·3 million in 2009-10; and an extra £0·1 million in 2010-11. The budget will increase, in real terms, by 2·27% in 2008-09, 1·45% in 2009-10 and 1·93% in 2010-11. Of course, I would love those increases to be greater, and the Department recognises the need to put money into youth services, but it has competing priorities and a budget to consider.
Members have lobbied me on various issues — the primary-school system, preschool provision, youth services, classroom assistants — and I am sure that that lobbying will continue. Although the Department has had budgetary constraints to contend with, it has listened to people and allocated that amount of money. The Department held consultations on the budget in three different parts of the North and listened carefully to people’s views. Young people made strong cases, and I applaud that; fair play to them. We went into communities, where we spoke to primary school and pre-school principals and listened to people’s views. I made significant changes to the budget that was presented to me, for which I make no apology.
I want to put on record my appreciation for the work undertaken by youth-sector workers on behalf of young people. Members know that Contact Youth Counselling Services won the tender for the counselling service. The Department introduced the counselling service for post-primary schools in September 2007, and Members will now know — I have stated it often enough in the House — that there has been a 95% or 98% uptake, which proves the points that other Members made about adolescents. However, I found resources to extend the counselling service to primary and special schools, and that is recognition of the difficulties that young people face and evidence that early intervention is important.
There is no doubt about the value of youth work, and my commitment to youth services is evidenced by the additional resources made available to the sector and the fact that I have listened and responded to the various groups.
I want to thank my officials in the Department of Education. Assembly Members will know how busy they are, as my Department is one of those that receives the greatest numbers of questions for oral and written answer. Despite that, at my instigation, my officials took time to consult local people in various areas of the North. They returned energised, and strongly advised that I should consider youth services. Officials do not get thanked very often, and it is important that they receive recognition.
As Members know, it was not a case of simply getting more resources; I had to critically evaluate my budget and make tough decisions. I allocated resources to maintain the important outreach and child-protection work that is required in the sector. That money was previously available from the children and young people funding package, and I secured resources to maintain such activity. However, that money will not necessarily be used in the same way, because the money for detached work and outreach work will be targeted specifically at meeting the needs of young people who are marginalised. I want to ensure that those resources are allocated according to need and that we deliver on our equality duties right across the North.
The statutory and voluntary youth sector will have access to funding that will allow those important initiatives to continue. It will be up to them, as delivery agencies, to assure the Department that the resources are allocated according to a fair and transparent assessment of need across the North. On that basis, I have written to each education and library board to ask them to ensure that allocations will be subject to equality impact assessments. Furthermore, I have asked them to ensure that their statutory duties in relation to Irish-medium education are met.
I was disappointed to hear some of the comments about the Irish-medium sector. I thought that Members had moved away from those debates. Irrespective of whether they learn through English or Irish, children have rights, and I make no apology for ensuring that the Irish-medium sector gets its fair share of resources. I thank Naomi Long and Trevor Lunn for their positive comments in relation to that. Members must stop making Irish language a political football; we have to move away from that and move into new times.
I have instructed my officials that all departmental policies must be subject to the equality impact process, and they have a statutory duty to ensure that that happens.
The Department of Education has allocated approximately £35 million to youth and community relations in 2008-09. The sector is fortunate to have such strong community support through its volunteer base, and that is to be commended.
The Department supports 165 statutory youth clubs, 14 residential centres and more than 2,071 voluntary youth units. There are approximately 517,000 young people in the North of Ireland, aged between four and 25, and we estimate that approximately 38% use the youth service. That is a high figure.
The motion refers to a reduction in the youth services budget for 2008-09, and, as I said previously, I have restored that shortfall, thereforeI have dealt with those issues. I have listened to the youth sector and those who lobbied on its behalf, and I have made available additional resources. I have turned a potentially negative situation into a positive outcome for the youth budget, and work to develop allocations across the sector is almost complete.
There are difficult decisions to be made in allocating resources across all education and youth services. There will always be more resources needed than it is possible to provide, and, with my colleagues in the Executive, I will continue to raise the profile of youth services.
In-year monitoring is, primarily, a process to deal with the merging in-year pressures and easements. In that context, I will continue to bid for resources, where necessary, for those services for which I am responsible. Decisions on allocations will be a matter for the Executive in the context of competing priorities, but youth will be an area in which we will ensure that money is invested.
The future of the youth sector in the remit of the Department of Education is important. To date, I have seen no evidence to suggest that youth services would have greater stability with local councils. I have not been presented with any arguments that can demonstrate that the interests of children and young people would be better served in local councils, but I am listening carefully. Naomi Long made some interesting arguments in her contribution, and I will consider taking them on board.
The Department of Education is responsible for children and young people from preschool through to primary and post-primary education. It is also responsible for the youth services that are available to the same young people from the age of four to 24. I do not have a closed mind on that; I will listen to all views. However, responses to the review of public administration papers on youth and education welcomed the fact that youth will remain part of the education system.
In recent weeks, I received correspondence that stressed the need for youth services to remain the responsibility of the Department of Education to ensure joint working at governmental level to improve outcomes for young people. Others share that view.
In 2004, the education and library boards consulted with a range of sectoral partners, including youth organisations, youth workers and young people. The review demonstrated that the service, its educational base and its staff were highly valued by young people. The review also highlighted the core aim of youth work as the personal and social education of children and young people, and stressed that work with young people is only youth work when it is educationally based.
The 2004-2006 report of the chief inspector of the Education and Training Inspectorate stated that:
“The Youth Service makes an important contribution to the personal and social development of many young people... youth work makes a distinctive and valuable contribution to helping young people overcome barriers to learning and achievement”.
The Department of Education’s youth work strategy recommends that one of the key priorities for the service should be to develop and implement a strategy for the development of youth work practice in the formal education sector. It is essential that the Youth Service forges greater links with the formal education sector. We are already working on that, not least through some area-based inspections completed by the Education and Training Inspectorate.
Youth work should be fun and enjoyable, but it is about educating young people to participate, to respect and value difference, and to test their own values and beliefs. Citizenship is taught in schools, but it is experienced and lived out in the Youth Service. The personal and social education of young people is just as important as academic achievement. I have heard that from organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, and I know that as a former director of Féile an Phobail — the West Belfast Community Festival. I always read through CVs, looking for some mention of volunteering, because it is very important.
For some young people, youth work is a way of achieving accreditation or training, or it can act as a springboard into employment.
Caithfidh an t-oideachas neamhfhoirmiúil an t-oideachas foirmiúil a chomhlánú ar chaoi straitéiseach phleanáilte. Non-formal education must complement formal education in a strategic and planned way. The Youth Service budget, albeit a small percentage of the overall education budget, is ring-fenced and protected when it is allocated. That ensures that the Youth Service budget cannot be used to bolster budgets elsewhere. The value of that budget can be maximised when the formal and non-formal education sectors work more closely together. An obvious example of working more closely together is to share resources, accommodation and buildings.
The Department wants to better utilise the resources that we have tied up in the formal education sector, which are often closed to local young people after a certain time of day. Officials are working on area planning models that include the youth sector. I will return to that point later. Another example is the contribution made to formal education outcomes by wrap-around services that are provided in areas, such as after-school activities, sport, health-related activities and other services provided by significant adults, such as youth workers in schools who act as role models for young people.
Of the factors affecting school achievement, families and communities have considerable influence in helping young people to develop self-discipline, teamwork, self-belief and good physical and mental health. If any other decision were taken in relation to youth work, there would be a huge lobby from the MLAs, because the extended schools are working well and they are offering breakfast clubs and after-school activities, and the youth clubs are part of that.
The Youth Service can be a good bridge between schools and the community, and we must work harder at exploiting the full benefits of that. The Youth Service can and does work with schools and communities. It can be linked to after-school activities and to providing access to sport, which contributes to fit futures and, in turn, to tackling obesity issues. Youth work provides important opportunities for civic participation, which is essentially the link with the local communities that schools need if we are to draw in parents more.
Schools are making stronger links with the communities. The Youth Service’s working with schools and communities can help to foster young people’s active involvement. The Education and Training Inspectorate inspects the Youth Service as well as the formal education sector. The latest chief inspector’s report stresses the need for connecting better for learners. That important concept of the needs of learners reflects the emphasis placed by the inspectorate on the ability of the Youth Service to meet the learning needs of many people. The inspectorate has also been developing an area-based planning inspection, which examines provision in local communities. That inspection is developing to examine the quality and adequacy of provision and the coherence of that provision for young people. Would that important element of education inspection and continuous improvement not be lost in any transfer to local government?
Formal education is changing. Citizenship is now part of the curriculum, and employers are telling us that young people who are achieving some of the highest levels of educational attainment are not prepared for the world of work.
The world of work is changing, and the entire emphasis is now centred around building skills, enabling young people to fulfil their potential and helping them to play an active role in a diverse and rapidly changing society. The North of Ireland is changing.
We have a 30-year legacy of conflict; dark days to which no one wants to return, but which we must never forget.
As a result of the arrival of new members of our society, our communities are changing. Migrant workers bring their families to live here, and these young people are to be found in early-years settings, schools and youth services. We are also building new relations between communities in the North and the South and with England, Scotland and Wales.
Since youth work is curriculum-based and centred on respect for diversity —
Go raibh maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle. Cúig bhomaite, mar sin. In today’s speeches, there were many areas of agreement about the Youth Service, and that is welcome. Many Members agreed with me about the cuts to the Youth Service’s budget and about the fact that it provides excellent value for money — each pound invested is increased tenfold. First-class services are provided to 180,000 young people, and, through voluntary work, the sector self-invests £50 million per annum. Few other sectors can boast of such value for money.
Mr Sammy Wilson said that he was doubtful about whether in-year monitoring would be helpful in making good the deficit in the Youth Service budget. However, as my amendment points out, if the children and young people’s fund had not been abandoned, we would have had a ready-made resource from which to draw. In the SDLP’s amendment to the Budget motion, it warned against the abandonment of that fund.
The most pressing need faced by the Youth Service is budgetary. The uniformed organisations and others are already aware that their regional funds will be reduced and that that reduction will, in all likelihood, be passed on to local groups.
Members referred to the Youth Service’s valuable role in augmenting more formal educational settings by dealing with young people who have become disengaged from education. Without the Youth Service, those young people might cost society much more.
Trevor Lunn said that he could not support the SDLP amendment “for the reasons given”. However, other than saying that the Alliance Party’s NILGA representatives had expressed a preference for the responsibility for the Youth Service to go to councils, he did not give any reasons. The SDLP amendment does not state where that responsibility should be located — that is a debate for another day. In the future, I hope to have the opportunity to debate that matter in the House. When the time is right, I will relish the occasion. In the meantime, the SDLP amendment seeks to focus on the reduction in Youth Service resources throughout the Budget period.
John O’Dowd’s research facilities seem to be rather restricted. Had he bothered to read my contribution to the Programme for Government debate, he would have seen that I clearly highlighted the reduction in the Youth Service’s budget. The SDLP amendment suggests that that money should be found in in-year monitoring. No one has suggested any other source, and, although that may not be the ideal solution, it is certainly a practical way to close the funding gap faced by the Youth Service. Indeed, the Minister said that she would seek to identify further Youth Service funding through that method.
Naomi Long agreed with me when I intervened in her speech, and I agree with her that long-term funding must be secured. However, in the interim, in-year monitoring is probably the best solution to the problem.
The Minister agreed with all the Members who spoke about the role of Youth Service, but she was at odds with the figures that were available to others. As I understand it, there is a decrease of 1·3% in 2009-10 and 2·1% in 2010-11. Perhaps the Minister is unaware of the effects of inflation. As I said earlier, the Minister said that she would seek to find extra funding through in-year monitoring, and I welcome that.
Nothing that I have heard so far convinces me to change my mind. I retain my view that the SDLP amendment represents the best practical solution to the difficulties faced by the Youth Service, and I urge other Members to support it. Go raibh céad maith agat, a LeasCheann Comhairle.
I thank everyone who contributed to the debate. The issue is important and I am pleased to have a second bite at the cherry, despite the cynicism of Mr Lunn, who, for some reason, thought I was running away from the debate.
The first argument advanced by some of the Members who oppose the motion is that it is out of date because changes made following the issue of the draft Budget have been included in the final Budget. Some Members may have difficulty with numeracy; and perhaps Mr O’Dowd might need to enrol in one of the account for success courses, which the Minister runs in schools.
However, the fact remains that the inflation rate this year is either 2·5% — in the Government’s view — or 4%, as appears from the retail price index. As the increase in the budget for the Youth Services is 2·2%, then using anyone’s mathematics, that amounts to a real cut. That real cut gets worse in the following year, because, assuming that there will be a constant rate of inflation, the increase will fall to 1·2%. That real cut gets even greater in the third year. The motion is not out of date: it is still relevant. There will be a real cut, and it will impact on the Youth Service budget.
The second argument put forward was that I should not complain because I supported the Budget — Mr Lunn and Naomi Long made that point: so too did all the Sinn Féin Members. I did support the Budget, but was allocating £9·4 billion. Only the most naive of Members would believe that, given a Budget of such size, there would not be one Member who would not have some concern about some line or aspect in that Budget. When one supports £9·4 billion of expenditure, it means that one is supporting general allocations; it does not mean that one is supporting every part of the Budget. If that were the case, I would be unable to open my mouth on any subject for the rest of the year.
Some may welcome the situation in which the Member would be unable to open his mouth on any subject for the rest of the year. However, that aside; did he not make the point about me finding fault where there was “no fault”. When one makes statements such as that, one can expect to be called to account later on. The Member made the outrageous statement in the first place.
Let me deal with this intervention, for goodness sake, before I move on.
When we debated the Budget, which the Alliance Party’s opposed, it rubbished the whole thing. It said that there was no merit in a Budget that was going totally in the wrong direction. At that stage I said, and I still contend, that one cannot find fault with the broad thrust of the Budget or its broad allocations. The Alliance Party was seeking to manufacture faults.
I am sorry, I do not get extra time for taking interventions otherwise I would love to give way.
Mr O’Dowd said that there was so little concern from the Committee for Education that it never raised any objections to the Youth Service budget. If Mr O’Dowd’s numeracy is bad, his literacy is also bad. If he had read the report, which was provided to Members by the Library in the information pack, he would know that the Committee referred to the Youth Service budget in two paragraphs. Departmental officials also attended a Committee meeting to give a presentation on the budget and to answer questions. I am sure that other members of the Committee can confirm that the Youth Service was raised during that meeting. Mr O’Dowd is totally incorrect to say that no concern was raised by the Committee or by me on behalf of the Committee. Perhaps, after he has learned to count, he will also learn to read, and that will help him.
Yes, it worked for me. [Laughter.]
Dominic Bradley said that in-year monitoring could solve the problem. It is clear from my conversations with people from the Youth Service that they do not want short-term solutions. They do not want a sticking plaster with a bit of money thrown at them. They want long-term strategic planning, but in-year monitoring does not allow that. The money often does not become available until halfway or three quarters through the year, and it may be of no use at that point. Mr Bradley also said that the issue of where youth services should be located is a debate for another day. The short-term financial problem and the long-term problem of how the budget can be secured with local input are inextricably linked. The only way to do that is for the Youth Service to be put into local councils.
I will comment on some of the Minister’s points. It is surprising that few Sinn Féin Members defended her position on where the long-term provision of the Youth Service should be. Perhaps they did not have enough time to get round to the figures in the five minutes of speaking time that were available. The only Sinn Féin Member to talk about the long term was Paul Butler. He said that provision for the Youth Service should not go to councils because they would also cut budgets; that was the only defence. I made the point that, when the Minister cut the budget, she would not even talk to anyone from the youth services. It is inconceivable that, if a council cut a budget in a local area, those who were affected would not have some access to those who made the decision. That is where the safeguard would lie. I accept that councils have to consider budgets, but at least there is accessibility to the councils and the decision-makers.
The Minister also said that the education and library boards, the Education and Training Inspectorate and the Department of Education youth work strategy all gave evidence in support of youth services staying with the Department. I would have been amazed if they had not supported that. Those bodies all have a vested interest; the Youth Service is part of the bureaucracy. Around 65% of every pound that is available to the Youth Service is absorbed by the bureaucratic structures inside the Department of Education and the education and library boards. Of course they will not want to give that up — that is the whole point. Moving away from a body that is essentially bureaucratic and which absorbs all that money, would, I hope, result in more money percolating down to the people who work on the ground, the volunteers who give their time and the services that are available locally.
I did not give way to the Member for West Tyrone Mr McElduff, so if were to do so now I would be accused of being sectarian and biased. I would love to give way, but I have only a moment or two left.
In its submission to the review of public administration, the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, which does not have a vested interest, did not rule out services going to local councils. They merely asked for the kinds of safeguards to which Naomi Long, Basil McCrea and I referred.
The Youth Council for Northern Ireland simply said that if those services are to go to local councils, certain measures should be taken. Therefore, there is no conclusive evidence that those who are involved in the Youth Service wanted to stay with the Department of Education — there is only the evidence presented by the bureaucrats and those who have a vested interest in maintaining the current educational structures.
In conclusion, I am gravely concerned by what I have seen of ESA and its treatment of the Youth Service. I am worried that, in the long term, that Cinderella service will become even more so. Therefore, I ask the Assembly to support my motion and oppose the amendment so that, in the short term, the funding of the Youth Service can be safeguarded, and, in the long term, its future can be safeguarded by placing it with local councils.
Thank you, Mr Wilson. We do not want Mrs Long to be too exhausted from listening to you.
Question That the amendment be made, put and negatived.
Main Question put and agreed to.
That this Assembly expresses its concern at the eight per cent reduction of the Youth Services budget for the year 2008-09; calls on the Minister of Education to redirect resources from within her budget to make good the cuts; and believes that Youth Services would have greater long term security with local councils, after the Review of Public Administration.
That the Assembly do now adjourn. — [Mr Deputy Speaker]