[John Robertson in the Chair] — Services for Young People

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 22nd March 2012.

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Photo of Lisa Nandy Lisa Nandy Labour, Wigan 3:04 pm, 22nd March 2012

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.