In recent weeks many people have written to their MP’s asking them to sign the Early Days Motion 488, which argues for youth service statutory funding. Many have been frustrated by a standardised response from Tory MPs, reeking with the stifling smell of the party’s Central Office. Typically this talks superficially of ‘delivering more with less’, lauds the National Citizen Service programme and claims that decisions are best made at a local level. Sharing their exasperation Bernard Davies has penned the following reply to his MP, Chris White.
To Chris White, MP
House of Commons January 2015
Dear Mr White:
Early Day Motion 488 (Youth Services)
Thank you your response to my request that you support this EDM. I am replying in detail as I see many of your comments as both evasive and misleading, particularly in how you deal with the situation currently facing local authority Youth Services. For example:
‘I am glad that the Government is working with local authorities to help them in their difficult task of delivering more with less
With your local knowledge of what has happened in Warwickshire, you must surely have first-hand evidence of how the reality on the ground conflicts with the rhetoric of this statement. In your own constituency, for example, Warwick Youth Centre is no longer listed as an open access youth facility while Lillington Youth Centre provides many fewer open youth club sessions than in 2010 when you were elected. In relation to such provision nationally, the Government’s large year-on-year reductions in financial support to local authorities have, at best, forced many of them to deliver less with less – where it has not left them delivering nothing.
As I pointed out in my original email, some of the most telling information on this downward spiral has come from the Government itself. The July 2014 Cabinet Office report Local authority youth services survey 2013, for example, revealed that between 2011-12 and 2013-14 the spending on youth services fell by over 22% in the 97 local authorities which responded – from £480M to £374.2M – with the proportion allocated to ‘universal services’ falling from 55.2% to 47.4%. Responses from 168 local authorities across the UK to the Unison union’s FoI requests revealed that, as a result of these cuts, between 2012 and 2014 some 2000 youth worker jobs were removed and around 350 youth centres closed. The National Youth Agency, which is now also tracking these developments (http://www.nya.org.uk/2014/12/cuts-watch-policy-update-local-authority-cuts-youth-services/), is currently listing 12 local authorities (including Warwickshire) which have taken or are intending to take huge slices out of their Youth Service budgets. How any of this adds up to ‘providing more with less’ is very hard to discern.
A wide range of bodies, including the Office for Budget Responsibility, are also now indicating that between 2014-15 and 2019-20 spending by non-protected departments will fall by a further 41%, eliminating a further one million public sector jobs. As a result, spending on public services as a proportion of GDP is predicted to fall to its lowest level since the grim depression years of the 1930s – a period, of course, when youth work provision anyway depended largely on how magnanimous the rich felt and who they deemed ‘deserving’. Without stronger legislative protection, these scenarios – in particular the proposed cut in central government support for local authorities beyond 2015 of up to 8.8% (£2.6B) – will inevitably tip many more local authorities currently struggling to make some ‘universal’ provision into the ‘nothing’ category.
Ultimately, decisions about youth services are taken at a local level, because local authorities have a better understanding of local needs than central government’
The 2013 Cabinet Office survey also demonstrated both the vacuousness of this statement and the inadequacy and ineffectiveness of the current statutory basis of these services as laid down by Section 507B of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Only 42% of the 97 authorities which responded to the Cabinet Office survey said that this ‘guidance’ always played a role in their decision-making with three authorities openly admitting that they never or rarely took their legal duties into account. These figures are perhaps less surprising given another of the survey’s findings: that only 28% of these authorities valued their Youth Services ‘very highly’.
As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the National Citizen Service, I welcome the new social action programme which is open to 16 and 17 year olds across the country… I believe the initiative has been a huge success with over 90 per cent of those who took part recommending the scheme and saying that it gave them the chance to develop skills that would be useful in future.
Though young people’s positive feedback on NCS is of course to be welcomed, it will surprise few youth workers who, having run residential events for years, know well how both bonding and influential their intensive programmes can be for those who take part. Unfortunately however not all NCS’s impacts can be seen as positive. Why for example, as the evaluators did in 2011, should we see as ‘encouraging’ an increase in the proportion of young people who participated agreeing with such a socially divisive statement as: ‘If someone is not a success in life it’s their own fault’?
From its start there have also been well argued criticisms of NCS’s cost, especially at a time when so much community-based youth work provision is being lost – according to the Unison report quoted earlier, for example, 41,000 Youth Service places for young people in the two years up to 2014. In the context of an annual spend in 2009-10 by all local authority youth services of £350 million, the 2011 Education Select Committee on Services for Young People heard evidence from the Scout Association’s Chief Executive that ‘for the same cost per head that the NCS is anticipating spending in the first tranche of pilots we could provide two or three years’ worth of the experience, week by week, for young people in the same age range’.
Indeed, while over the whole of 2013 the NCS was concentrating on just under 40,000 participants, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services’ Youth Report 2013 was indicating that 29% of the Youth Service age range were likely at any one time to make regular use of neighbourhood-based open access youth work. The past and likely future cuts to these services could thus leave a million young people or more at risk of being abandoned at key periods of their leisure time.
I recognise the need to continue to support youth services, and I will monitor developments in the matter with your views in mind.
I hope the evidence I have offered in this email will help you to do this and, thereby, move beyond what largely reads as a standard party briefing. Indeed, in order to support other advocates for open access youth work provision who may have written to their local MP, I plan to offer this response to the In Defence of Youth Work campaign for publication on its website (https://indefenceofyouthwork.com/).