Creating a New Vision of Public Money and Youth Work – IDYW Seminar, June 22, Manchester

Ta to
Ta to

This seminar seeks to build on the lively discussion, which took place in Birmingham on April 22. The launch of Bernard Davies’s revised ‘Manifesto’ and the presentation by Ian McGimpsey of his continuing research into the nature of statutory funding prompted the beginnings of a vital, critical scrutiny of ‘where we are up to’ in terms of practice and finance. Thus we are organising a seminar, entitled provisionally, ‘Creating a New Vision of Public Money and Youth Work’, to be held at 42nd Street in Central Manchester on Monday, June 22 from 11.00 a.m. to 3.30 p.m.  More information and a flyer to follow this week.

To whet your appetite here are Ian’s challenging reflections following the Birmingham event.

Public Money: a campaign aim for a new political context

Today is a day of unexpected certainties. We have a majority Conservative government. Few saw that coming. However, even before that outcome emerged it was already certain that the campaign for a restoration of statutory funding for youth services had been unsuccessful in persuading either of the main parties to make a manifesto commitment.

Beyond the immediate frustrations, this is an opportunity to take stock and consider what might be done now. In so doing, we should confront the problem that recent campaigns defending youth work typically have two goals: one being the restoration of statutory funding for youth services, and the other being the promotion of a youth work practice worthy of the name. There is nothing wrong with either goal in isolation. This difficulty is that these goals are divergent from each other.

The reason these goals are divergent is that successive governments have used money as a way of reforming services and regulating what practitioners do, in youth work and public services more generally. The recent launch of Bernard Davies’ revised Manifesto for Youth Work – originally published in 2005 – is a timely reminder of the dilemma this creates. If austerity is the context for the second edition of the manifesto, remember that the original manifesto was felt necessary at a time when statutory money was in relatively plentiful supply.  Indeed, the ‘In Defence of Youth Work’ campaign was founded in similar circumstances.

Since the early 2000s, there have been two phases of statutory funding. The first ran from the early 2000s until 2007/8. During this period local authority spending on youth services steadily increased (House of Commons Education Committee, 2011) as central government created and grew a series of funds ‘ring-fenced’ for this purpose (see fig. 1). But, as the then education secretary Charles Clarke put it, government did so in return for ‘reform’ (DfES, 2002). This was part of a larger pattern of government funding through competitive commissioning services to be delivered by voluntary or third sector organisations. By 2007/8 statutory spending on voluntary sector organisations through contracts for services had increased to around 80% of total government spending on the sector (NCVO, 2014). For the voluntary sector as a whole, earned income (such as through contracts) overtook voluntary donations for the first time in 2002/3 and has continued in its place as the dominant form of funding (NCVO, 2014).

YS funding

This ‘quasi-market’ form of statutory funding brought with it many of the regulations that have been argued to restrict the practice of youth work in youth services: targets and an output focus, cultures of managerialist regulation and auditing of practice, short-term projects with a pre-determined process rather than open-ended provision, targeted of pre-categorised young people, more formality in relationships and so on.

From 2008/9 to 2010/11, the levels of spending on youth services by local authorities fell by just over £100M (House of Commons Education Committee, 2011), which is about a quarter of the peak level of spending in 2007/8. Then, according to Unison’s report The Damage (2014), in the single year of 2011/12 this level of spending fell by a further £137M and then continued to fall at a slower (but still rapid) rate.

This fall is not just about cuts. While austerity has involved a systematic withdrawal of cash from public services, to explain such an exceptional divestment we need to look at how statutory funding for youth services has changed. First, the removal of ring-fencing from local authority funds used to fund young services is clearly significant. With no legal reason to spend money on youth services, it seems likely that local authorities diverted money to areas where they have a stronger statutory duty to maintain levels of service. At the same time, however, significant statutory funding has been made available to youth services through the National Citizen Service and Big Society Capital. But statutory funding is increasingly taking the form of ‘social investment’. Such funding is outcome rather than output driven. This requires youth services to demonstrate ‘return on investment’ through a credible (in policy terms) ‘theory of change’. Statutory funding is increasingly paid via Payment By Results contracts, Social Investment Bonds and other funding vehicles that suit organisations with capital that are ‘investment ready’, that is for-profit organisations, larger charities, or formal consortia that can pool resources and risk.

In short, the competition for statutory funding has changed and it is perhaps even more powerfully regulating of youth work practice, and is certainly more ruthless about diverting money away from that practice altogether. And the political party that has most actively driven this social investment model has just won a further five years in power. At this point in time, to demand access to more statutory funding will require such reform on the part of youth services that I fear youth work practice would be lost.

However, to recognise that the goals of statutory funding and valuing youth work practice are divergent at this time is not a counsel of despair. It doesn’t have to be this way. I am not suggesting we have a choice of arguing either for statutory funding of youth services or for youth work practice. Nor am I criticizing those campaigning for government to fund youth services. What I am saying is that if we understand how statutory funding works to regulate practice then we should be better able to campaign not just for statutory funding but a form of statutory funding that supports a genuine practice of youth work. We can, and should, bring the two aims together.

To unify these aims, I suggest we shift our focus slightly and build a new vision of ‘public money’. ‘Public money’ is any capital that promotes and enables the creation of truly public spaces and public provision rather than private or privatizing aims. In short, it is money that has no strings attached that would (in a deliberately very close paraphrase/almost-quote of Bernard Davies’ manifesto for youth work) prevent its use to create spaces:

  • which are ‘open access’
  • in which participation is voluntary
  • in which young people and communities hold the balance of power
  • in which young people are understood as members of a public with identities they produce and choose and not through governmentally imposed categories
  • in which respect for the wider diversity of personal, community and cultural identities is fostered
  • in which education as a process of personal and emotional, creative and political development can take place

Public money would not prevent diversity within the practice. Nor should it prevent evaluation of that practice, indeed it should encourage it! However, such evaluation would be consistent with the value of public money, and not subvert it or promote fabrication. Public money is not the same as statutory money, and the source of public money could be government, a charitable fund, or a private foundation. Perhaps I should say, the source of public money should be government, charitable funds, and private foundations!

With the prospect of a cold policy climate, public money is intended not as critique of those committed to youth services who have campaigned for statutory money, but as a hopeful prospect and a point of solidarity. It is also intended to hold out tactical possibility. If government will not listen, and an opposition political party will not listen, then perhaps charitable foundations or others in policy networks might. It may be a day of unexpected certainty, but change is another certainty we should bear in mind.

Please note: This post was developed following discussion at a recent event supported by IDYW and Youth & Policy which was hosted at the University of Birmingham’s School of Education. I would like to thank my co-organisers at Youth & Policy and In Defence of Youth Work and the participants for the conversations which stimulated my reflections here.


DfES. (2002). Transforming Youth Work: resourcing excellent youth services. London: Department for Education and Skills Retrieved from

House of Commons Education Committee. (2011). Services for young people: Third Report of Session 2010-12 Volume 1. London: The Stationery Office Limited.

NCVO. (2014). UK Civil Society Almanac 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2015, 2015, from

Unison. (2014). The Damage. London: Unison.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.