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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:26 pm on 22nd March 2012.

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Photo of Neil Carmichael Neil Carmichael Conservative, Stroud 3:26 pm, 22nd March 2012

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.