Privatisation of Public Services : The Dogma Unravels. Whither the Youth Sector?

Over the past few weeks I’ve bookmarked all manner of articles questioning  the dogma of privatisation, ranging from Kevin McGuire in the Daily Mirror exploring the Olympic Security farce to Matt Dykes on the ToUChsone blog asking, is the tide turning on public sector outsourcing? I’ve not known which way to post as the economic and political crisis unravels.  However Steve Richards in the Independent has furnished a hard-hitting summary of the arguments in his  Time to explode the myth that the private sector is always better, adding facetiously that “ministers still prefer the deceptive swagger of the incompetent entrepreneur.”

In his brilliant review of Shakespeare’s ‘Timon of Athens’, The Power of Money, Paul Mason suggests we are in the middle of a virulent and contagious ‘social meltdown’.

“Police testimony at Leveson speaks of “a network of corrupted individuals”. Criminal charges have been laid against newspaper journalists and editors. Companies charged with security at the Olympics have failed to deliver; companies charged with getting the workless into work likewise.”

He draws our attention to what Engelen describes as the debacle of the elite, the consequence of the overwhelming hubris of our political and economic rulers. And, as ever, he ponders what might be the basis for resistance and returns to his thesis that critical and rebellious youth will not follow gormlessly yet another hierarchical leader or party. We need to return specifically to this last point over the coming days in discussing how youth participation fits into this scenario.

For the moment I wish merely to pose whether the leadership of the youth sector, the plethora of executives and managers signed up to the market-led agenda of commissioning and privatisation, is experiencing even a sliver of doubt? As it is Children and Young People Now is advertising an Achieving Positive Outcomes for Children, Young People and Families conference.

On 26 September, join us in London for this exciting one-day event. Get detailed advice from industry experts to aid your organisation’s efficiency in planning, measuring and commissioning the most effective services for children, young people and families.

Amongst the usual mantra about evidence-based decision-making, efficiency, early intervention and targeting, delegates will hear how to

  • Assess the best methods for devising and managing payment-by-results contracts
  • Build investor confidence and access funding for payment by results contracts


Of course the explicit introduction of payment-by-results is at the heart of the government’s Troubled Families initiative, within which the definition of ‘troubled’ keeps changing, whilst curiously the figure of 120,000 remains steadfast. Given the £7.6bn budget squeeze on councils it’s hardly surprising they grab at any pot of money available. Pragmatism is inevitable, but principles do intrude.  It is clear that a diversity of youth agencies, including many from the voluntary sector,  are bidding to deliver this intervention. It would be illuminating to hear how these organisations explain their incorporation into a scheme, whose funding is linked intimately to top-down ‘behavioural improvement’ – £4,000 available for each troubled family that is eligible through a payment-by-results scheme (based on performance after 1 year of intervention). Indeed how do they rationalise touching with a barge pole a cynical, ideological exercise, which allows Eric Pickles to froth at the mouth, declaring, “These folks are troubled: They’re troubling themselves, they’re troubling their neighbourhood. We need to do something about it”?

Not to be upstaged the Tsar of the show, Louise Casey, echoing Keith Joseph’s infamous 1974 speech, “our human stock is threatened…. a high and rising proportion of children are being born to mothers least fitted to bring children into the world and bring them up”, declares that mothers in large problem families should be “ashamed” of the damage they are doing to society and stop having children. Not content with yet again ‘blaming mum’, she proceeds, “Yes, we have to help these families. But I also don’t think we should soft-touch those families. We are not running some cuddly social workers’ programme to wrap everybody in cotton wool.” It seems limp to observe that these crude and long-standing attempts to demonise the troubled at the bottom of society’s pyramid have no basis in the Department of Education’s own research. Is it limp too to ask how can an empathetic, critical young person-centred practice grounded in their lived reality survive in a straitjacket, which scoffs at youth work itself- not to mention the working-class pastime of fishing in the canal?

Under the £448 million programme, each family will have a dedicated worker whose job is to turn them around. Sometimes this will involve arriving early to ensure that children go to school. Miss Casey says that getting children to school, and encouraging teachers to keep them there, is the major challenge. “There are a lot of people who use the term ‘diversionary activities’, things like angling, netball and all these activities. I always smile when I go along and hear we must set up more youth clubs.

“Actually, I say, the biggest diversionary activity on God’s earth is called school. If every kid in the country who should be in school [was] there, all day, every day, you would transform all sorts of problems.”

Answers in an e-mail to or indeed comment below.


Organisations funded to work with NEETs
The Government has announced the names of the organisations, including many NCVYS members, who will be working with 55,000 16- to 17-year-old NEETs with no GCSEs at A* to C, who are at the highest risk of long-term disengagement. The new programme, part of the Youth Contract, is the first to use payment by results to help get NEETs re-engaged. Funding worth up to £126 million will be made available to organisations across England. Organisations will receive an initial payment for taking young people on, but will only receive subsequent payments when they show progress. The contracts on offer are worth up to £2,200 for every young person helped, with the full amount payable only if a young person is still in full-time education, training or work with training six months after re-engaging.

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