‘Public’ Money : Ian McGimpsey explores a New Vision for Funding Youth Work

public money

Following upon the thoughts of Bernard Davies, Whatever happened to the Youth Service, Ian McGimpsey from the School of Education at Birmingham University ventures some tentative and provocative suggestions about how we might revisit the issue of how youth work could be funded. He is especially keen to foster debate so we hope to receive your responses and criticisms.

He begins:

We need a new, positive vision for the funding that will value and promote youth work. This new vision is needed for two simple reasons. The first is that youth services have had drastic amounts of money lifted out of them in the last six or seven years and the taps aren’t being switched back on in the foreseeable future. The second is that even when the sector had historic highs of government funding just prior to austerity, very many youth workers argued that they were paid to work with young people, sure, but were being prevented from doing youth work. I wrote about those trends in more detail in a previous blog, and had some very early speculative thoughts about what that vision might look like. This blog is an effort to develop those thoughts a little.

We might add a third reason for a new vision of funding: even if the government did switch the taps back on, it would be just as difficult to do youth work as it was under New Labour. Probably more so. Government still spends its cash largely through commissioning. However, that commissioning now tends to fit a social investment model, which demands impact on outcomes (rather than outputs), and often involves some form of ‘payment by results’ model which stages payments to providers until they can provide evidence of outcomes achieved through their work. This tends to mean organisations need more capital in hand to manage cash flow. So, larger charities, consortia and for-profit or social enterprise organisations are winning contracts at the expense of smaller voluntary and community organisations.

So what to do?

In the past statutory funding has disrupted youth work practice. In the future, we want sustained funding that encourages it. I suggest our first positive step in this new ‘late neoliberal’ landscape is to create a new vision that unites the two goals of sustained funding at an adequate scale, with a vision for a youth work practice worthy of the name. I call this a vision for ‘public money’.



  1. If you are looking for new models of funding youth work I would start with asking what is a youth service trying to do;

    if it is trying to provide as many young people as possible with the best possible social education, then even after the recent cuts there are still substantial untapped resources within the community and reservoirs of expertise and goodwill to be harnessed towards that goal.

    If it is to maintain the profession in the style in which it has become accustomed then the game is probably up.

    So what doesn’t a Youth Service need to do; well first there is no point in using scarce resources competing with existing charities and community groups..
    You do not have to go very far north of London to find a village blessed with two youth activity centres, One is a Scout centre providing a large range of outdoor activities available to any youth group, funded purely by its own fund raising. The other is a County Council activity Centrer providing some but not all of the same activities which only exists because it is subsidised by the youth service which forbids its groups from using any provision but ‘their own’ activity centres.

    Similarly council youth projects have to often been allowed to become political virility symbols rather than rational responses to young peoples needs. So the establishment with the most clout forms a vortex which sucks all funding and resources away from other equally deserving youth organisations.

    The youth service needs to asses what can be achieved by existing voluntary youth groups if they were properly resourced and supported first, before it establishes ‘it’s own’ project.

  2. The two papers by Bernard and Ian make interesting and challenging reading. Nowadays once any service seeks public money it has to show that its contribution to the common good will be worth the spending.By the end of the years of Labour government ,investment in youth services, particularly youthwork, had increased by some £200m pa (representing an increase on annual Youth |Service spending of over 50%) . Inevitably this increase came with expectations, expressed in ‘Resourcing Excellent Youth Services’ . These were relatively modest ; that the Youth Service in an area -local authority and voluntary combined – should aim to reach a certain % of the total youth population,draw a (smaller) % of these contacts into fuller engagement and enable ( an even smaller % )to show progress in their development ,including by gaining, say, the Duke of Edinburgh award or a first aid certificate. I thought these expectations/targets not unreasonable, though some purists did , and in some places the expectations were badly managed.And ,as Bernard notes,the distinctiveness of youthwork tended to get lost in the miasma of new overarching structures,quite apart from accountability regimes .
    Ian McGimpsey’s approach offers a different take on the argument and attempts to ride the twin horses of funders’ expectations and youthwork approaches. There are some examples of the kind of state funding for community-determined purposes he advocates;these might include the ‘folkhighschool’ movement in Scandinavia and , perhaps now England’s ‘free schools ‘ . Whether there is any public appetite in this country for funding the type of open space Ian suggest must be doubtful . Certainly I would not like to lead a delegation of youth workers to HM Treasury unless there was a willingness to place some meaningful outcomes on the table in return for the investment. .

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