It is a pleasure to lead the debate under your august chairmanship, Mr Robertson. I am delighted to see that four fellow members of the Education Committee have made it to this Thursday afternoon debate. Lisa Nandy is making a ticking movement with her hand, and she is right to imply that we deserve a medal of honour.
The debate is about our report, “Services for young people”. I intend to set out its key conclusions and the policy developments since its publication, and to comment on questions that the Government have still not answered. It is a pleasure to see the Minister present. I am sure that, given his personal commitment, those questions that have not yet been answered will receive answers this afternoon and that we will treasure them when they are duly delivered.
The Committee conducted its inquiry over six months during 2010-11. Our aim was to consider the relationship between universal and targeted services; who accesses services and what they want from them; the roles of the voluntary, statutory and private sectors; and the impact of funding cuts and the scope for commissioning services in future.
The Committee received 158 pieces of written evidence. We heard from young people, both in person and via an online forum, which we ran for several months with the Student Room and through which we received more than 200 responses. Young people were represented on the panels on many occasions when we took oral evidence—I say that for the benefit of anyone who may have ignorantly thought that young people were not involved fully and consistently throughout the process.
“it focuses in on many of the key issues and problems that are being faced by youth service providers across the country.”
Children & Young People Now said that
“at long last there is an attempt from Westminster to address the challenge of serving young people in these austere times”,
and called on the Government to rise to that challenge. On receipt of the Government’s response, we decided to publish a further report commenting on it, because it did not tackle several issues satisfactorily.
Since then, the Government’s cross-departmental strategy on young people, Positive for Youth, was published in December 2011. The Government make a number of welcome commitments and take up some of the Committee’s recommendations. In other areas, however, they do not go far enough. I will return to the merits of that strategy document in a moment, but first I want to set out the Committee’s key conclusions.
Our inquiry found that young people spend more than 80% of their time outside formal education, yet local authorities spend 55 times more on formal education than on services for young people outside the school day. Acknowledging that inequality, we set out to understand which services are most effective at supporting and developing young people outside school.
Witnesses with different perspectives agreed on three key points: first, that public spending cuts had disproportionately affected youth services; secondly, that there was great potential for youth services to help transform young people’s lives; and thirdly, that services had long been poor at proving their impact and, thus, at making their case to Government—a weakness that is all the more pertinent in times of austerity.
On funding, the Committee concluded that the picture looked bleak and was likely to worsen. Funding had been doubly hit, with the removal of ring fences from central Government grants and the 11% overall reduction to the total value of youth service funds that go to local authorities and are redirected into the early intervention grant. We calculated that local authority spending on youth services in 2010-11 equated to only £77.28 per young person a year, which is about 21p a day.
Two surveys in 2011 showed that more than £100 million would be cut from local youth service budgets by March 2012, with average cuts of 28% and up to 100% in some areas. Even the Department for Education agreed, concluding that
“the scale of budget reductions and the pace at which decisions are being made” was
“limiting the scope for… innovation and fundamental reform”.
The Committee was alarmed enough by the apparent extent of the cuts to urge the Government to consider using their powers to direct local authorities to commission adequate services for young people, which they have a statutory duty to do.
On the impact of services, we received strong personal stories from many young people about their value. One young person wrote on an online forum that,
“when young people come to the centre they know they aren’t going to be judged and they can be who they want to be, for some of them it gives a break from stresses outside”,
while another stated that,
“without my youth workers I would now be in a lot of trouble with education, work and drugs. But with their help I have been able to sort myself out and get onto the right path and stop the bad things I was doing over a year ago”.
We received a lot of anecdotal evidence about the efficacy of youth services and their individual impact, but, as I have said, collectively, services struggled to show the impact of their work in an easily defensible and statistically strong way.
The importance of youth services, coupled with the limited public resources available for them, makes it more vital that effective services are identified and funded. That is in line with the work of Mr Allen on early intervention. The most important thing when spending limited public resources is to find those interventions that will make the greatest difference. Early intervention does not need to take place only during pre-school years; it could equally take place during the teenage years by getting involved with people who might be at risk and intervening early to support more positive behaviours.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this important debate on the Committee’s report. Does he agree that it would be helpful if we moved away from the confusion surrounding the definition of early intervention? Some people take “early” to mean years 0 to 3, while others take it to mean early in the life cycle of an actual problem. Both things are, of course, important, but they are often conflated.
My hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Nottingham North is also right to not only emphasise the importance of early intervention, but to want to build an evidence base to justify additional public funding. If investing another £100 million into the lives of young people means getting a pay back and saving many more pounds later, even the person with the driest heart in the Treasury will see the benefits. I am delighted—this is a tribute to the hon. Gentleman’s work—that the Government have agreed to fund an early intervention foundation that will do precisely that. I hope that, as that work develops, it will look not only at the early years but, as my hon. Friend Damian Hinds has rightly said, early intervention throughout a young person’s childhood.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for being so generous in giving way early in his speech. He may intend to address this issue later, but will he comment on some of the difficulties involved in measuring the effects of different programmes? We discussed and received evidence about those problems in Committee. The prisoner scheme in Peterborough is a perfect, text-book example of payment by results, but the proposition for a youth club is completely different because of the different client group, control group, time period and the different influences on people’s lives.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that question. As he has rightly said, we considered the issue. In principle, I do not think that there is any division between the parties on payment by results. The question is: who is paid by results? Are we really going to try and collect data on a once-a-week youth club in a particularly deprived area which has a brilliant community leader who builds on the history in that area, where parents themselves attended clubs locally and there is a great support, and it really brings the community together? Will the expense be completely disproportionate to the effort of collecting it? The answer is probably yes. The danger of identifying something at a micro level where we can easily pay someone to deliver results is that they will then always have to be able to provide that at that micro level before we support the whole principle, and that could limit its impact.
Payment by results is probably better introduced at a higher level. For example, Birmingham city council could have a partnership with Goldman Sachs for the money, Serco for certain other skills, and seek to bring in additional private money to support and strengthen the focus of the services it provides. That extra money could be brought in to support those services on an evidence base that makes the council—and the hard-hearted business people—believe that they can deliver those improved outcomes for young people. As a Government and as a society, we need to be more effective in ensuring that the money to deliver improved outcomes for young people, which we vote for in this place, actually helps to deliver them. It is important to get the mechanics right.
I promise to be quiet after this brief intervention. Does my hon. Friend agree that what comes up time and again in talking about how to identify a good parenting programme or a good programme for teenagers, is that we know it when we see it? For payment by results, the trick is to leverage the knowing it when we see it so that we can identify the individuals or organisations who are good, and then work out who else to invest money in for the future of our young people.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As long as there is accountability and people are driven by delivering the outcomes at the end, they should have discretion over how they use their budget. There could be investment in the Friday evening group I mentioned if there was confidence that it was helping to meet our overall goals for delivering change in the local community.
May I help my hon. Friend on this subject? Social impact bonds and payment by results are an important subject. I will give him two examples. The City Year London scheme is being piloted in many London schools, with the help of the Mayor’s Fund and Private Equity Foundation money. It can show, very clearly, a return on capital in terms of the kids catching up. The Private Equity Foundation has been funding literacy schemes, in partnership with local authorities and other public providers, that clearly show a benefit for those children in social outcomes, which are so important, and can be linked back to a return on capital. There are great possibilities for the youth service, too.
I agree with the Minister, and that is exciting and interesting. My note of caution is that there must be many positive services, including youth services, which would struggle to collect the evidence, dissociated from all the other impacts and influences on young people’s lives, to prove that they were delivering. Perhaps that is why, in many cases, we might want to have the payment by results managed and triggered at a higher level, with those people making a discretionary decision. When they see great work—when they see it they can recognise it—they will realise that it is offering value for money. They could take things that did not have an individual evidence base, yet would none the less continue to be commissioned. A dangerous and perhaps self-interested parallel with my previous life as a publisher is an advertiser who places an advert for £1,000 and immediately receives £2,000 back in directly attributable profit on sales. He may spend the rest of his career thinking that advertising is just about getting money back immediately without any other elements to it, which would be a mistake. Life is more complicated than that, and the danger of finding such things as the work in Peterborough, or, possibly, the initiatives mentioned by the Minister, is that we are looking for everything to be able to justify itself on a payments by results basis. Perhaps councils, or other bodies at a higher level, should commission without having to expect that from each initiative in their portfolio.
While we are on this interesting issue, may I encourage the hon. Gentleman in his caution? Although the Minister made a good point about how one can hold an institution to account for services for which it is responsible, is it not the case that, for the youth service, good youth work in deprived communities is good at—we need it to be good at—helping reduce offending behaviour? Of course, offending behaviour and its impact has nothing to do with the youth service, but it will be measured by the police or the youth offending team in the local authority. Often, the youth service will be targeting those most at risk of offending behaviour anyway. Is it not the case, as he rightly says, that this is very complex? It would be quite dangerous to encourage an organisation like an individual youth club to be held too much to account for an issue such as offending behaviour.
I think I agree with the hon. Lady. One of the criticisms we have made of the sector is the need, collectively, to make a better case. When Ministers—we have one with us today, and the hon. Lady was one previously—go to the people in the Treasury, they need a strong case, especially when it is, “Give me money today and I will give you savings tomorrow.” There is a certain natural and understandable scepticism in the Treasury, and a strong evidence based is needed from which to make the point.
At the risk of holding a third-party debate through the Chair of the Select Committee, may I say that Ms Buck makes an interesting point? In the borough next to her own, Hammersmith and Fulham has pooled budgets between the youth service and the youth justice system, and there is a clear imperative to incentivise local youth services to work with legal services, to keep young people out of youth offender institutions and the youth justice system. If we are to hold local authorities to account for doing good stuff, positive stuff, proactive stuff and preventive stuff with young people, we want to penalise them if they do not do so—the result is that children end up in young offenders institutions—but reward them when they keep young people away from offending behaviour.
The Minister’s point was well made. We need to get everybody—in my example, from Birmingham city council downwards—focused on outcomes. The danger—this happens in all Governments; it is not peculiar to the previous one—is that, despite talking about rewarding success and penalising failure, the tendency is to reward failure. For those who deliver services, the less they succeed, the more money they get and the bigger the budget that comes to them. To break out of that and ensure that everyone is focused on outcomes and that the bureaucracies that administer these things see it as in their interests to change the lives of the young people for whom they are responsible, would be a good thing, and I wish the Minister luck in delivering it.
Returning to the difficulty of services demonstrating their impact, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services told us that although
“anecdotal evidence and young people’s stories”— were available—
“what is really difficult is some sort of set of statistics whereby we could show the total amount of investment and the total amount of return”.
That conclusion was borne out in independent evaluations, including by Ofsted.
Although the impact of youth work encounters with young people can certainly be hard to quantify, the Committee said that local authorities needed some indicators on which to commission services. The Committee recommended that the Government commission NCVYS to develop an outcomes framework that could be used across the country. However, we said that it should be not just a question of counting the number of young people using a service or the number of encounters—in some ways, failure would be rewarded again by such an approach—but a measure young people’s social and personal development and that they should be involved in its design.
In addition to those three earlier points, the national citizen service—the Government’s new volunteering programme for 16-year-olds—was a key area that witnesses felt strongly about. We addressed that service in our report, and although we liked the idea of a community volunteering project and a rite of passage for young people and found the scheme’s aims entirely laudable, as did almost all our witnesses, we questioned whether the Government could justify its expense.
We discovered that, based on the cost per head of the 2011 pilot, the NCS would cost £355 million each year to provide a universal offer of a national citizen service to 16-year-olds, assuming just a 50% take-up. Even allowing for economies of scale, we felt that there was a risk that the costs of the NCS—a six-week voluntary summer service for 16-year-olds—could outstrip the entire annual spending by local authorities on youth services, which totalled £350 million in 2009-10. Instead, we recommended that the core idea of the national citizen service be retained, including its laudable aims, but that it be significantly amended to become a form of accreditation for existing programmes that could prove that they met the Government’s aims of social mixing and personal and social development, with the component parts of NCS, such as a residential experience and a social action task.
The Government could have said, but did not—I often thought that if I were a Minister I would have said it, although the Minister did not—that the NCS was just being piloted and that the aim of the pilots was to help to identify ways to deliver more. The Government said that they wanted to secure and leverage in more funding and to ensure that they did not scale up the prices that the initial pilot suggested.
We received our initial response from the Government both directly—orally— and in writing from the Minister, who seemed less than entirely thrilled. We felt that the Government, in their initial response to our report, failed to address fully a number of issues, so we wrote a further report, calling on Ministers to clarify their intentions on how the Government intended to measure outcomes from youth services, which is pretty important, given everything that we have been talking about so far, and the grounds on which they would judge whether a local authority had made sufficient provision, because there is a statutory duty on local authorities.
Although the Government said that they were prepared to intervene, they would not tell us on what grounds they would do so, other than in the most general terms. The Government would not describe what services would, or would not, look like if they were likely to trigger intervention, thus leading to the likelihood that councils could continue to make cuts to youth services that the Government described as disproportionate.
We also asked the Government to clarify the total public spending on youth services before the early intervention grant. The Government said that they did not accept our figure—£350 million—so we asked them to tell us what their figure was. As they did not accept our figure, we thought that a reasonable request. We also asked them to tell us how they planned to fund the NCS after the two pilot years. What have the Government said in response to our two reports and, subsequently, in their Positive for Youth strategy?
The aspirations of Positive for Youth have been well received in the sector. The National Children’s Bureau said:
“we are pleased with Positive for Youth’s holistic approach to giving young people more opportunities and better support”.
The National Youth Agency and the NCVYS both welcomed the Government’s publication of a comprehensive strategy, drawn up in consultation with the sector and produced in less than two years after the creation of the Government. However, many youth organisations are concerned that the strategy is vague about how its aspirations will be implemented, so reflecting a worry of the Committee that was mentioned in its report.
Catch22, which works with particularly deprived youngsters, commented that the levers for change in the Government’s policy “lacked bite”. That view was echoed by the Children’s Commissioner, Dr Maggie Atkinson, who said:
“without action this strategy will amount to no more than words on a page”.
The NYA qualified its support for Positive for Youth, saying:
“no vision or policy is worth anything if it isn’t followed by clear and decisive action”.
The chief executive of YMCA England, Ian Green, went further:
“the Government’s vision will come to nothing if those responsible for the delivery of services on the ground are not prepared to implement it, and the Positive for Youth statement is very light on how it intends to address this fact”.
I suppose that we get used to such e-mails, but does not my hon. Friend accept that it is a statement of the blindingly obvious to say that things will not happen if people do not implement them?
I was reflecting on those words even as I read them, but their implications are clear. If there is no firm action plan, the criticism—to spell it out for my hon. Friend in case he, too, is missing the blindingly obvious—is that if the strategy produced by the Government after such a long period of preparation does not spell out exactly what they are going to do and how they will hold to account those responsible for delivering services, there is every danger that we will have fine words and no real delivery. That might be a statement of the obvious, but there is a serious risk, with a strategy that is light on content, in respect of whether there is confidence that it will deliver on the ground.
Positive for Youth has the right focus on fostering young people’s aspirations and on their personal and social development. It is good to hear the Government praise the potential of young people and extol the qualities and achievements of the vast majority, especially in light of the negativity towards young people generated by last summer’s riots. The Government and the Minister are right to emphasise the positive. If all we ever measure are provisions averting negative behaviour by young people, we suggest that their natural tendency is to behave negatively. In fact, the Minister wants to emphasise—the Government are right about this—that most young people are positive members of our society and that we should support and celebrate their positive behaviour.
Mr Robertson, I wonder whether it is appropriate—I know it is not normally done—to welcome the young people who are listening to the debate, because it is to be appreciated. The message that the hon. Gentleman has just given about the majority of young people being positive and aspirational for themselves will be heard in this Chamber as well as outside it.
Yes. Having served as a Minister, the hon. Lady will know that we can be as positive as we like for as long as we like in as many speeches as we like, but as soon as we say something negative, that will appear in the newspaper. That is the nature of being in power and the nature of news.
It is right to call the paper “Positive for Youth” and immediately emphasise the positive and recognise that we regard young people not as a problem, but as an immense, positive force for good in our society. That is important and we cannot say it too often, although it will never appear in any form of press thereafter. But we have to live with that.
By the Committee Chair’s own token, does he therefore think that it was helpful, in trying to create a positive account of young people, that about three quarters of the press release accompanying his report—it is a good report and I will comment on it—about activities for young people, aged between 13 and 25, beyond the school or college day concentrated purely on the national citizen service, which deals only with young people aged 16?
Mr Robertson will recognise, even if the Minister does not, that it is relevant to mention that a proposal from the highest levels of the Government might, if scaled up to a 50% take-up, lead to spending greater than the entirety of spending on young people outside the classroom, as stated in Government figures. It is in the nature of issuing a press release that 29 points are not included if one wants it to become part of the press story. Although the Minister was upset that a project with such laudable aims was the subject of criticism, he has not been a Minister that long and will doubtless become thicker skinned and will get used to the fact that a more independent Select Committee system than we have had before and a more assertive legislature will be prepared to criticise even the most favoured schemes of the most powerful in the land, because it is our job to do so. If we emphasised that in our press releases, rather than all the other issues, I am sorry that it caused such upset and sorry that the hurt to the Minister continues to this day.
On a positive note, I welcome the commitment to publish annually national measures relating to young people’s positive outcomes, with an audit at the end of 2012 of overall progress towards creating a society that is more positive for youth. That is as a result of the work carried out by the Minister, which I am happy to celebrate and emphasise, even if it does not occupy more than three quarters of my speech. I am also pleased to see the Government emphasis on involving young people in developing policy and monitoring progress—for instance, the pledge of £850,000 to the British Youth Council for 2011 to 2013, to set up a new national scrutiny group of representative young people to advise Ministers on how policies affect young people and their families.
I pay tribute to the Minister for regularly meeting young people in care, to ensure that his understanding of the care system is not only theoretical but a personal, direct, linked understanding from young people affected by the policies that he and the rest of us make in Parliament. That, too, is a good thing—as well as having young people in the Public Gallery listening to me going on at such length today.
Positive for Youth does not fully address three outstanding areas, which the Committee was concerned about. First, we welcome the Government’s commitment to retain the statutory duty on councils to secure young people’s access to sufficient activities and services, including their duty to take account of young people’s views in decisions about such activities, which was a key recommendation of our report. We also welcome the commitment to intervene in response to
“well-founded concerns about long-standing failure to improve outcomes and services for young people”— again, a key Committee recommendation.
Our second report, however, called on the Government to specify their minimum expectation for adequate provision of youth services. We asked how communities could know the grounds on which Ministers might be expected to intervene if they did not know what “adequate” looked like. Positive for Youth and the draft statutory guidance currently out for consultation decline to do that, instead stating that a local authority’s efforts to secure a sufficient local offer will be judged by whether it has considered guidance and by its relative performance in improving outcomes for young people. Although we agree that outcomes for young people, rather than inputs, are the right thing to measure, some consideration of what services, if any, are being provided locally must surely form part of the assessment. The duty calls on local authorities to secure
“so far as is reasonably practicable, a local offer”.
I am interested to hear why that caveat was considered necessary and how well received the draft guidance has been in the consultation responses so far.
Secondly, as I have already mentioned, we highlighted confusion about public spending on youth services that the Government have yet adequately to address. The Government continue to dismiss our estimate for public spending on youth services of £350 million a year, which was based on their own figures. When asked repeatedly for their own estimate, they did not provide one, instead challenging the spending figures that the Government have been using for years in answering questions on youth services spending.
I would be grateful to the Minister if he clarified today whether the Government intend to stop using the accounting line on youth service spend and, if so, what alternative instructions his Department has given to local authorities about collecting and reporting data on youth service provision. For instance, if reporting is to change under the early intervention grant, perhaps he can clarify how the Government intend to measure national spend on youth services in future under that grant.
Thirdly, the Committee felt that the Government remained vague about how the national citizen service was to be funded after the 2011 and 2012 pilots. Their response to our report remained ambiguous on that point, stating that they had
“no plans to cease funding for National Citizen Service beyond the pilot years”,
“the Government does not expect to fund the full cost of delivering the programme” in the long term. Perhaps the Minister could update us on the Government’s latest thinking with regard to what proportion they do expect to fund beyond 2012.
There is much to be welcomed in the Positive for Youth strategy, but significant anxiety clearly remains in the sector about the hard reality of funding on the ground locally. Even organisations that are signed up to the Government’s approach of restructuring services to deliver them for less are worried about the extent of cuts. The NCVYS, the Government’s newly appointed strategic partner, said in response to the consultation on Positive for Youth that
“the papers made little reference of how services would be funded to deliver support to young people. This is especially concerning given the implicit assumption that voluntary and community organisations will be expected to fill in gaps left by retreating services.”
Regular reports of the closures of local youth services bear out that fear.
If we are to provide adequately for the 80% of young people’s time spent outside school, we must retain the best youth services—in particular, those whose effectiveness has the confidence of local commissioners. The Government must be prepared to intervene when those are threatened, and they need to clarify precisely the grounds on which they will do so.
I am grateful that we are having the debate today and giving a bit more thought to youth services in the UK. I am glad to see young people in the Public Gallery, although I was watching them during the last speech and I am slightly concerned that they might not be nodding—I will looking for their reaction.
I am acutely aware that in this place we often talk about young people, but we do not often talk to them. An important feature of our report was the fact that we heard a great deal from young people about the effect of youth services on them.
I spent nearly a decade in the voluntary sector before I came into the House of Commons, and I am a firm believer in the value of youth work and services, having seen for myself the dramatic transformation possible in many young people’s lives. In the Committee, we were glad to have the opportunity to give deeper thought to the value, structure and funding of youth work, and to how outcomes are measured. It has long struck me that the strength of the service is also a weakness—by its very nature, it is flexible, dynamic, youth led and localised, but that can create some of the problems discussed by Mr Stuart in his introductory speech. When we began to hear evidence, we had to consider what we meant by youth work, and it soon struck us that there was no definition of youth work or of the youth service, and no job description for youth workers. That is a strength, but it also creates problems.
Inevitably and unfortunately, we spent a great deal of time and energy during our inquiry looking at the effect of cuts, in particular to local authority budgets, and what that has meant for youth services. It emerged that the nature, scale and impact of the cuts have been dramatic and, in some areas, extremely stark. The 10.9% cut to the value of funds into the early intervention grant and the removal of ring-fencing for youth provision seem to have had dramatic effect. Local authorities understandably seem to be prioritising statutory and high-risk services such as child protection. It is easy to understand why, faced with such dramatic cuts, but it is extremely worrying when we consider the hon. Gentleman’s comments on early intervention and the need to prioritise particular groups of young people.
Concern and criticism were aired in evidence to our inquiry, from local authorities and charities. The chief executive of NCVYS—the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services—the former Children’s Commissioner, talked about what the cuts will mean for young people in the long term, if they fall through the net. What will that mean for their future life chances? The former commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green, called it “the end of hope”. I hope that that is not the case, but when the union Unite made a request under the Freedom of Information Act to a number of local authorities, it found that, on average, funding to youth services was down 12% in only one year. The reality of that for young people is stark indeed.
When the Minister gave evidence to the Select Committee, he said that although the Government would be prepared to intervene if local authorities were failing in their statutory duty to provide services, what local authorities spent their money on was largely a matter for them.
Ministers, however, need to acknowledge the serious reality of what is happening out there throughout the country as a consequence of the huge cuts being made to local authority budgets. My own local authority, Wigan, has prioritised youth services. In the past three years—between 2008 and 2011—investment in youth work has gone up 4%, but the question is how long that high spend can be sustained, given that the local authority has suffered a £66 million cut and that many services are, therefore, inevitably disappearing, in particular because the cuts were front-loaded, giving us little time to prepare, plan or find alternatives or efficiencies.
Ministers told us that youth services should rely on different sources of funding and should not be overly reliant on the state. In reality, as the Committee’s report and the evidence we were given show, that was already the case. The vast majority of organisations we took evidence from got their funding from a variety of trusts, grants and charitable and public sources, as well as from statutory sources; indeed, one organisation—the Scout Association—was 100% non-funded by the state.
In my constituency, there is a good example of the partnership working that Ministers said they wanted to encourage. Wigan Youth Zone, which is opening in 2013, will provide a huge range of facilities for young people, including climbing walls, sports halls, cinemas, cafes, music rooms and training facilities. The focus is on helping young people to improve not only their softer skills, such as confidence and resilience, but the harder skills that they will need to find what work there is and do it.
The organisation will be 10% funded by the young people themselves, who will pay 50p a time to visit, although there will be additional help for those for whom that is too much. The organisation’s running costs will also be 40% funded by the local authority and 50% funded by the private sector and local fundraising initiatives, which the whole town has got behind. The board is chaired by Martin Ainscough, a local business man with a strong commitment to, and passion for, young people. He was inspired to contribute a significant proportion of the capital costs after visiting the Bolton lads and girls club and coming away feeling strongly that we should have similar provision in Wigan.
There are many such examples around the country, but there is a significant issue about the loss of statutory funding. In many places, alternative sources of funding are simply not available, because they are already being utilised. I strongly disagree with the Minister that spending £77 of statutory funding per young person is a large slug of public money, as he told us when he gave evidence to the Committee. This is really important, considering how much time young people spend outside the classroom and how few resources are spent on activities for young people outside the classroom.
It will be particularly hard for smaller charities to find alternative sources of funding. When I worked for the Children’s Society, we, like many other larger charities, had huge teams of fundraisers, whose job it was to look for sources of funding and to navigate complex regulations and processes to ensure that our funding applications were successful. Smaller charities will not be able to compete, and the Committee heard about many that had only one paid employee, who was trying to keep the whole thing going and whose real passion was working with young people, not filling in forms. It is not enough to say that organisations need to look for alternative sources of funding; they need help and, in particular, signposting from the Government if they are to do that.
There are positives from having a more big-society approach to youth services. I was speaking to a youth worker from Hull the other day, and he said that he and his colleagues were working more closely with the voluntary sector, in a way he felt they should have been years ago. We should also not send out too negative a message about small charities. They can sometimes be vulnerable, and they are threatened, but they are resilient, and they have an ability to innovate and find ways through. One tends to overstate how desperate things will be, but small charities are good at levering in additional support.
I take the point that those youth workers should have been working closely with the voluntary sector, but the point I am making is that such things are already happening up and down the country. People are innovative and they are seeking partnerships. In my constituency, people know each other, they work together and they have built relationships over a long period. I am saying not that those charities are not resourceful, energetic and passionate, but that we are stacking the odds against them, and we should give them more support.
Multiple funding streams can be a bureaucratic nightmare, even for large organisations. I say that as someone who, over 10 years in the voluntary sector, suffered the extreme pain of having to report regularly on such things and to demonstrate impacts and outcomes to funders. I filled in the forms, went to the meetings and prioritised that work, because it is important for funders to see what they are getting for their money, but what about smaller organisations with perhaps one member of staff? The Committee came across an organisation with one paid member of staff and 27 funders, which is not unusual, in my experience. What does that mean? It means 27 regular reports.
Such an arrangement also means that people never get the opportunity to catch their breath, because they constantly have to reinvent or repackage the service they offer. In my experience—I think it was shared by a lot of the organisations that gave evidence to us—funders are not keen to fund something that is not new; they generally want to fund something new, not the continuation of a service. As a result, charities are constantly repackaging and reinventing something they already know works. Removing statutory funding at an accelerated rate will therefore have a dramatic impact, which will be felt most by those organisations that are often closest to the ground and that are doing some dynamic and important work with young people.
In the light of all that, I very much welcome the national citizen service, but as an addition to existing youth services, not as an alternative. As we heard during our inquiry, youth services are a lifeline for some young people; they are a source of stability when there is no other source of stability. Many young people talked about the youth service or the youth club they accessed being a family or a home to them, and many had been accessing those services for years. I had a conversation with a young woman who had acted as a National Children’s Bureau mentor for a young man since he was nine years old—he is now 18. She said that, during all that time, she had been the only adult who had remained constant in his life. Everyone else—social workers, of whom there had been many, foster carers and parents—had come and gone, but she had been the one source of stability for that young man. We must not forget how important that is.
A girl called Chloe posted a comment on the inquiry site about her youth centre:
“It’s like a second home to some of us... I’ve been coming to this youth centre for two years now. I’d be lost without it”.
We heard that from so many young people. I am therefore concerned about the cost of the NCS—£37 million this year and £13 million the year before. It cannot be right to prioritise a six-week scheme for young people from different backgrounds, including more affluent ones, when youth services that are a lifeline to young people such as Chloe are disappearing up and down the country.
The hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness said the Committee was concerned by the cost of NCS, given what it is delivering, and I would associate myself with those remarks. The Committee visited Germany and saw some excellent youth services, but the cost of those services per person for 12 months was the same as the cost of the NCS per person for six weeks. I cannot understand why there is such a huge disparity, and I urge Ministers to look at the issue.
I want to question the Government’s vision on youth services. Over the past few years—this predates the coalition’s coming to power—we have seen the gradual prioritisation of targeted services over open-access services. What I am about to say might sound a little counter-intuitive, given that I have just made a strong case for ensuring that we reach young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and that we prioritise them above all others, but, as I have seen for myself, and as the Committee heard in a lot of evidence, open-access services work with many of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, whom targeted services sometimes find it hard to get through their doors. They work precisely because there is no stigma around open-access services, and because a lot of young people who have been through various systems, including the care system and the criminal justice system, and who often have a deep distrust of services that label them and that are targeted at them, will go to open-access services when they will not go to targeted services. At a time when not enough funding is available, it concerns me that we will prioritise targeted services along with the NCS.
When young people from the backgrounds I described access open-access services, which do not necessarily have a label attached, staff can also identify the fact that those young people have problems, which goes back to the point about early intervention. The Committee heard strong evidence that such young people often go on a journey: they go to an open-access service, such as a youth club, and get talking to a member of staff. They build a relationship of trust, and it emerges that they have significant barriers to overcome. They are then referred to a targeted service and end up going full circle—coming back to the open-access service, having had the support they desperately needed. We need to be careful about prioritising targeted services, because the evidence that we heard shows that there is a need for open access and for targeted services that work.
The question of what works—the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness referred to it earlier—exercised the Committee. A witness to the inquiry described the measuring of outcomes as the Holy Grail, and I could not agree more. That can be difficult to do, and it is necessary to be incredibly careful, think about what is being measured and avoid setting up perverse incentives. With the increase in payment by results and targets under the previous Government, organisations cherry-picked the easiest cases and left the remainder, so resources were directed precisely where they were needed least. Often, the targets set for us in the voluntary sector, and for others, completely ignored the reality that many young people face.
In the youth justice system at the moment, for example, the Government are rolling out a system of payment by results, which is about trying to get young offenders into work as soon as they leave an institution. I applaud the focus on getting young people into structured work and giving them a reason to carry on, but the way those targets are set will be important. I worked at Centrepoint, the youth homelessness charity, for several years, and there were some young people for whom just getting out of bed and having breakfast every morning was a significant achievement that constituted real progress; it took months of work, support and encouragement from the staff. That is something we need to be careful about.
I am also quite concerned about measuring outcomes and the focus on payment by results. Constructing intelligent frameworks for what is measured and how that is done involves more than skill. When I worked for the Children’s Society, it constructed a well-being index, which took several years to complete, and while such frameworks can usefully be shared with other organisations—the Government have commissioned work on that, which I welcome—I also urge them to pay attention to the fact that it also takes time to collect and record information in a meaningful way. Many of the young people I worked with in the voluntary sector were sick and tired of being part of the system and of being asked questions, quizzed and grilled. It is important to find useful, meaningful, non-harmful ways to engage young people in the framework, and to get the right information from them, so that the process does not turn into a tick-box exercise.
We heard a lot of evidence that measuring soft outcomes was important, and I completely agree with that; confidence and resilience are examples. Often, causal links are too complicated. It is difficult to say, “This young person came to us and has gone on to commit crime. That is because we failed.” That would be to ignore every other thing going on in the young person’s life at the time. There are so many influences on young people, and it is difficult to measure the direct impact. I was encouraged by the focus on positives in the plan that the Government have produced. If outcome measures are constructed in a negative way, the focus on positives, which is so valuable to youth work, and which we should value and prize above all else, is lost.
Having read the Government’s plan for young people, I thought it was long on policy, which I welcomed, but short on vision. It did not seem to consider the future impact on young people of many of the things in question. The creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families, instead of an education Department, was a significant step forward for children. It meant that, for once, all Departments had to work together to deliver for young people. Things were brought under one umbrella, with a strong Secretary of State who drove through improvements for young people. I saw that for myself, particularly in areas where children had traditionally been left outside the system. For example, refugee and migrant children came under the umbrella of the Children Act 1989 and the UN convention on the rights of the child for the first time as a direct consequence of the fact that the Department brought things together. If the Minister wants to consider the long-term future of young people and what the decisions we take will mean for them, he needs to look at youth work and immediate support and intervention, but he also needs to look closely at what his colleagues are doing in housing, pensions and care for the elderly—a host of things. Our failure, as a country, to tackle those things will affect young people for the rest of their lives.
A generation is growing up who are losing youth services and support, particularly for the most disadvantaged, but who also face the prospect of high unemployment, with a million young people out of work. They face depressed wages for the rest of their lives, and interrupted work patterns. They also face high debt if they manage to get through university, difficulty getting on the housing ladder and having to fund care for their elderly parents while paying hefty funds into their pension schemes and bringing up their children. The Minister needs to consider what he does for young people now, but needs also to look carefully at his colleagues’ failure to act. Otherwise, young people will feel the results for many years to come.
I apologise for arriving late for this debate [ Interruption. ] It was outrageous. We should always arrive on time, but I have a very good excuse: I was meeting a contingent of young people from Stroud high school in my constituency, who are involved in fundraising, and are doing a lot of thinking about the role of Oxfam. That, ironically, is a good example of the kind of thing that young people should be involved in. I applaud the girls from the high school for doing what they have got in mind. They have been raising a huge amount of money through cake stalls, footprint contests and so forth. They are doing so because they want to be part of the community and are endeavouring to become responsible individuals, and because they think carefully about the world beyond their habitat. That is fantastic, and their example and commitment to some extent underpin what I shall be saying in my brief remarks.
It is an honour to follow Lisa Nandy who made a thoughtful exposition of the situation, coming from huge experience, which she brings to the Education Committee. We all derive value from that, and it is great that so many members of the Committee are here. I think that half of us are present.
More than half; that is fantastic. We work well as a team and are very effective, coming up with some useful reports. I have voted against only one report so far, which was on the English baccalaureate.
We had a lengthy process to discuss whether we should support the Government’s proposals, and I disagreed with the whole thrust of the report. I noted that although the evidence we had in support of its conclusions was persuasive, we nevertheless should not stop thinking beyond its remit.
I am grateful. I am not entirely sure whether I can describe that as a compliment to my position, but there is much more evidence out there that we should be mindful of. That is what I shall talk about. I referred to the EBac report not because I wanted to ram home yet again the fact that the Government are absolutely right to introduce the EBac—they know that, and most people are beginning to realise it—but because there is more to our thinking on youth services than is contained in our report.
My other more general point is that it is absolutely right that 80% or 90% of young people’s time is spent in activities other than schooling, but we must get our education system right. That must be the top priority, and public money must be allocated on the basis of priorities. I want to make it absolutely clear right now that my priority is to ensure that our children receive an education that will equip them to deal with the challenges facing them and the opportunities and lifestyles that they wish to pursue. That is a cornerstone of my contributions to the Education Committee.
A key theme of the evidence that the Committee received in our various meetings showed that the picture is extraordinarily mixed, and it was difficult to analyse outcomes, and to elicit clear messages. In broad terms, the range of providers, the complexity of provision, and the different priorities that many providers had, made it extraordinarily difficult to make a judgment about outcomes and processes. That must be properly understood in the context of expenditure levels and the way in which the Government have reacted to the challenge of the pressures on public expenditure.
My constituency has a huge number of youth providers, and not all of them would be recognised in the context of the Committee’s report. We must acknowledge and salute those organisations that provide a huge amount of good value for our young people, and which would not normally come within the remit of our discussion today. For example, the Door project in Stroud provides fantastic support for young people who have been let down by everyone, including in most cases their own parents. The project is supported powerfully by the local community, delivers outstanding outcomes, and is a strong and useful part of our community. It is a good example of the sort of things we need.
Nailsworth has a community workshop, which I visited not long ago, where young people can learn about crafts, and to be craftspeople. It is fantastic, and is growing up from our local community. Not far away in Nailsworth is a youth centre that is very well supported by the town mayor and many others. It has been the victim of cuts by Gloucestershire county council, but nevertheless continues to deliver fantastic services that are really worth having.
In Dursley, another key town in my constituency, the Lower King’s Hill management co-operative provides great opportunities for young people to do all sorts of things, including gardening and so on. It is also where I hold some of my surgeries, so I am connected with its work, and its aims and objectives. It is yet another example of the sort of structure that we should be supporting, but which might not be covered by our report.
With that degree of diversity, we have some great structures, and I have not even started talking about some of the others, such as Outreach, which provides support for young people in very difficult circumstances. The staff’s dedication to young people, and the opportunities that they gain because of the support, framework, comfort and succour that they receive is fantastic. I applaud that.
All the organisations that I have mentioned are well supported by local people in their local communities, because they recognise local needs and work extraordinarily hard to produce outcomes that are surprisingly easy to measure. As a Member of Parliament, I visit them all, and I see the outcomes and am impressed. What often worries me is the number of people who need those services, rather than the outcomes. We must not ignore the fact that many good things are happening in our constituencies. Mine is a good example, but I think all hon. Members can say the same.
I agree broadly with my hon. Friend, but in my constituency in rural Somerset, one difficulty is acute travel problems. The complete lack of transport services after 6 o’clock in the evening means that only children with parents who have access to a car can access youth services. Not every village has a youth service. I have 172 communities in my constituency, and there are probably youth services in nine or 10. I accept what my hon. Friend says, but it is almost intolerably difficult for young people to access services in rural communities if other services are not in place, and my county council is cutting everything.
I thank my hon. Friend for that comment. She is absolutely right that people must be able to get to facilities. In constituencies such as hers and mine, where there are many villages, transport is a factor. My son is a member of Rodborough Eagles, a football team that does extraordinarily well. He is a much better footballer than I ever could have been because he is not flat-footed and is a really good defender. The key point is that he visits many different parts of my constituency, and I join him as often as I can. That football club is a youth service, and an option for him and his friends to enjoy, and is part of youth service provision. A variety of different services can be tapped into.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important when considering statutory services, which have an important role to play, as I said during my speech, to remember that there is a vast range of other services, such as sports clubs—Beverley rugby club, Beverley cricket club, the Meridian gym, which my younger daughter attends, and the Eastside gym which serves more than 700 children at Hedon in my constituency.
I pay tribute to people such as Andy Dickinson and Steve Crane who do such a good job of providing services on a voluntary basis.
My hon. Friend Mr Stuart is absolutely right, and his point is central to the matter. We should not think that youth services are just about statutory provision, because they are not. They are all part of the big society, which is encouraging many villages in my constituency to start thinking about providing the services that people need, including includes youth services.
I think that I have made my point about the rich variety of facilities, clubs, sports clubs and so on with which young people can get involved, and about the powerful role played by charities in providing facilities.
Before concluding his remarks, perhaps my hon. Friend will touch on the provision made by what these days we call faith communities and in the old days used to call churches. There is an ongoing debate about the role of Christianity and other faiths and religions in public life, and a lot of churches provide important youth facilities that often are not restricted only to members of one particular denomination. The King’s Arms in Petersfield is one such example—
Thank you, Mr Robertson. Your point is absolutely right, but it shows that we can think of more examples than just the evidence provided by the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire is right about churches. My father used to take me to Sunday school, and I thoroughly enjoyed the first bit. I have remained a member of the Church of England for some time, and I look forward to a life of such membership. My own children had a similar sort of arrangement. Church organisations play a part in providing great facilities for young people, and I have seen that in action.
We are in danger of labouring the point, although I think that it has been well made. I am therefore going to move on to the point raised by the hon. Member for Wigan about the national citizen service. As she said, we went to Germany and looked at the range of options that were available for young people. We noticed first that a huge number of young people were participating in Germany’s equivalent of our national citizen service, and that to a large extent the activities were work based. That is the essential reason why, broadly speaking, the programme costs just over £1,000 in Germany for the year, but about the same in this country for a number of weeks. That is the big difference between the German system and the fledgling system in Britain, and the German system has a number of noteworthy advantages.
First, the work-based nature of the programme chimes well with the emphasis that is put on training and education in Germany, and the relationship that has with employers and professional activities. We need to embed such an attitude to education and to what happens afterwards in our own culture. It was obvious to me that the schemes that we saw in Germany provided a strong continuity from education to employment, and we should learn from that.
The second interesting thing that I noticed in Germany was the consistency of the youth programmes. We visited a fire station just outside Berlin, and there was a continual throughput of young people. Young people had to make a choice, but they knew what those choices were before they had to make them. From that, I gleaned that young people were able to think about what they were going to be doing outside and immediately after school. I thought that that was really encouraging; the experience of working in that fire station meant being part of a large team with awards, presentations, pictures and so on. Such things demonstrated that people had been there and benefited from being there, before going on to do something else that was the right step in their career development. Those who were starting the programme could see the results and the beneficial outcomes.
Those are the differences that I saw between the German system and the national citizen service. That did not stop me, however, from writing to local secondary schools in my constituency to remind them of the value of the NCS, and to make sure that they informed their students about getting involved in the schemes provided by the NCS. I hope that students get involved in the programme, but if the NCS is to continue in the long term, we must learn one or two of the lessons that I have just mentioned. It is imperative to provide the schemes that we propose with a sense of continuity and worthiness.
Too often in this country we end up putting things into silos. We forget that most things are linked and that most policies are not dependent on the work or delivery of one Department, but that there are connections between Departments, agencies and other structures. The provision of youth services is a good example. What matters is not only the budget provided by the Department for Education, or wherever, but the overall Government approach and the links between various policies—including the Work programme, for example—as well as what we do in and expect from our schools, our objectives for social services, employment opportunities, and so forth. That is why it is dangerous to rely only on the evidence that we are given. At times, we have got to think slightly beyond that, and the provision of youth services is one such example. That is why the Government are sensible in encouraging other things to happen, rather than just the statutory provision.
I am not entirely sure how to follow that last speech, but I will definitely get a copy of Hansard tomorrow and read it. I am sure that it will be even better the second time round.
I have never spoken in a Westminster Hall debate on a Select Committee report before, and I was not sure what to expect. So far, however, it is exceeding even my wildest imaginings. I am pleased to speak in this debate. Having seen what happens, it is now clear to me that the purpose of such a debate is not for members of the Committee to get together—in a sense, we could have had this debate in a bar—but for us to duff up the Minister verbally, and hopefully get a response from him that will satisfy some of the recommendations that came out of an incredibly well researched and evidence based report.
It is difficult, particularly in my part of the country, to speak in a debate about youth services without seeing them in the wider context of, for example, youth employment and unemployment. The timing of this debate is particularly opportune, given that youth unemployment currently stands at more than 1 million.
In my constituency of North West Durham, unemployment has doubled in the past two years, and 13% of all jobseeker’s allowance claimants are aged between 18 and 24. In human terms, that is 1,290 young people aged between 18 and 24 in my constituency who are not receiving any form of education or training and are not in employment. That is a human tragedy for them, but from my point of view, it is a case of déjà vu. It is like a rerun of the 1980s. We are in danger of creating yet another lost generation, with all the costs that that has for society.
I know that the Government are concerned about the issue. They talk about families living in dependency and they launch initiatives to deal with the most complex and costly families, who collectively, across the country, are costing us billions of pounds in benefits and in terms of health. They take up the vast majority of the time and resources of housing services, the police and justice services. Much of that has its roots in mass youth unemployment—what we saw in the ’80s and ’90s.
I see families in my constituency who do not work, and my constituency is not so different from many others. It is a large rural constituency, with an urban population in one corner—
The hon. Lady is very fair-minded and will want to recognise the fact that mass youth unemployment has been a reality for the entirety of the time that we are talking about. From the beginning, it was pretty solid. It did not move in the boom years of the previous Government. After the financial crisis, it went up. Although there was a temporary drop before the last election, the upward movement was there. It is a systemic issue, which we need to tackle. It is certainly not the result of any immediate policies of a Government who have been in power for 22 months.
My hon. Friend is right to place the issue in the wider context. Does she agree that when youth unemployment rose in the mid-2000s, that was because there was an increase in labour supply—more young people were looking for the same number of jobs—whereas the skyrocketing of youth unemployment since the current
Government came to power has been caused by a collapse in labour demand? The jobs simply are not there. The Minister needs to take that seriously.
I agree. In my constituency at the moment, 12 young people are chasing every vacancy. However, I want to look back to what mass unemployment causes and to look at what we will face in the future. I see people in my constituency who do not work. Their parents did not work and in all probability their children will not work. They place no value on education. They see schools as convenient baby-sitting services when their children are younger, but have no interest in whether they attend school when they are older. They have no investment in the present and no hope in the future, and they certainly do not vote.
However, the situation was not always as I have described. In communities such as mine before the 1980s and the early ’90s, those people had work. They worked in steelworks, in mines and in all the industries surrounding those big beasts, but all that has gone and we have not put anything in place for them. The cycle of depression and waste is costing the country billions of pounds, and it starts with youth unemployment. Depressingly, I can see the cycle beginning again.
As a member of the Education Committee, I was therefore very keen that early on we should take a look at services for young people and particularly services targeted at vulnerable and challenging young people. As we have heard, the Select Committee examined those services, particularly in the context of rising 16-to-19 participation in education, and we found several issues that worried us greatly, not least the major cuts in youth services and careers services.
We made a number of sensible recommendations, based on the evidence that we heard. We did not think that the Government response was adequate. I hope that the Minister can make a better showing today. In response to the Government response, we highlighted our recommendations again. We are looking for an endorsement of the outcomes framework. I know how hard it is to focus Governments on outcomes. That is very difficult for Governments. I could entertain hon. Members all afternoon with accounts of the attempts that various Governments have made to focus on outcomes and that have gone wrong.
However, we think that it would be worth while for the Government to consider an endorsement of the outcomes framework. We have recommended that the Government set out the grounds on which they will judge a local authority to have failed to provide sufficient services for young people and the ways in which Ministers will act to secure improvement, so that it is clear across the piece, for local authorities and for young people, when local authorities have failed to deliver services and what Ministers will do to secure improvement.
We underlined our finding that some local authority youth services had already closed and urged Ministers to intervene before it was too late. We told the Government that it was not good enough to dismiss our estimate of public spending on youth services, which is based on their own figures, and demanded that they provide us with their own assessment of annual public spending on youth services for each of the 10 years before introduction of the early intervention grant, so that we and others can see clearly exactly what has been spent on young people’s services in the past, what is being spent now and what is being cut and where. We raised concerns—we have discussed this already—about the potential impact of charging for the national citizen service and the impact of the NCS on youth services generally.
Most of all, we highlighted the fact that services for young people—education funding, careers services, youth services and home to school and college transport services—were at risk. Indeed, some were disappearing before our eyes—some as a result of direct Government cuts and some indirectly, through cuts to local authority funding.