Bernard Davies responds to Labour’s skewed youth work vision

Further to our post questioning the direction of the recent Labour Party commitment to youth services, Reviving Youth Work as Soft-Policing: Labour Party Policy? you will find below a letter to the Guardian from Bernard Davies, which was sadly not published.



Bernard listens attentively to Jon Ord – ta to Justin Wylie for the photo


A commitment by one of the main political parties to require councils to provide a minimum level of local youth provision (‘Labour vows to rebuild youth services’, 31 July) is to be welcomed after the way those services have been devastated under ‘austerity’. As a sign that it is taking this seriously, it is good to know, too, that it has commissioned its own research to support other findings that council spending on these services has fallen by at least 50% since 2012.

For those of us who were involved in youth work before all this started, however, Labour’s rationale for its policy in very depressing. Without in any way denying the importance of tackling youth crime, and in particular knife crime, it is surely worth restating that most of the up to nearly 30% of the 10-15 age group who were using or sampling youth work facilities in 2013 were not actual or even potential criminals. Whether they engaged as a member of a now abandoned club or through a now closed-down detached work project, the work started from the interests and concerns they brought with them and had unashamedly educational and developmental goals. It thus assumed their potential and sought to encourage and support them to go, not just to where they’d never been before, but to where, individually and with their peers, they might never have dreamed of going. Along the way, of course, the practice might also often turn out to be ‘preventative’ of all sorts of less positive outcomes.

Why is a party which claims to be breaking out of the dominant neo-liberal ways of making policy adopting such unimaginative, conformist and indeed negative aspirations in its approach to this, for young people, crucial area of public services?


Bernard Davies

Clearly, it is incumbent on us to respond to the Labour Party [LP] consultation led by Cat Smith, the party’s shadow youth minister. We’ll do a separate post this week explaining how to make a submission. It’s not necessary to be an LP member to be involved.


‘Big Society’ Cameron rises from the ashes as NCS Chief of Staff and saviour of our young people

You’ve probably heard that a discredited and disreputable former Prime Minister has taken up the job of leading young people into a promised land of diversity and opportunity.  David Cameron is to chair an expanded National Citizen Service, his very own public school-influenced pet project. At this point you might hope, and I’ve given it a passing start, for a scathing satirical piece, taking the piss out of notions of leadership, strategy and tactics, ethics and judgement when attached to this particular individual – not to mention pricking the bubble of his rhetoric. Frankly it’s beyond my wit, never mind energy. And in my defence I will copy and paste quotes in italics from his own self-congratulatory piece in the Telegraph – I’ve found my first job after politics, building the Big Society. Mind-boggling self-delusion and hubris. So a word in David’s ear NCS is a conscious neoliberal political intervention. As the Guardian puts it in its coverage, “Former PM’s first job after quitting as MP is to chair organisation whose aim is to instil social responsibility in young people.” There’s nothing post-politics about Cameron’s new role.


Ta to the new statesman

In the meantime I wonder how long it will be before our leading youth organisations rush forward to applaud Cameron’s ‘job from the boys’ appointment, hailing it as a major breakthrough for the sector.

When I look back over six years as prime minister, one of my proudest achievements is the creation of National Citizen Service. I often get stopped in the street by parents who tell me what a difference NCS has made in the lives of their children; and I regularly receive letters from young people who have so enjoyed taking part.

From the pilot projects that I began as Leader of the Opposition to the full-scale programme that we have today, more than 275,000 people have taken part in what has become the fastest- growing youth movement of its kind in the world.

Overall, NCS is a fantastic example of the positive and inspirational role young people can play in our modern, vibrant society. It is the Big Society in action.

NCS is supported by government funding, which means that young people pay no more than £50 to take part, with bursaries available for those who are not able to afford this. So I am delighted that Theresa May is continuing the vital work to support NCS and that today the Government is introducing the National Citizen Service Bill. With cross-party support, this will create a Royal Charter to secure the NCS Trust as a permanent national institution that can ultimately offer a place to every 16- and 17-year-old. That should be our goal – not necessarily a compulsory programme, but one that is universally available and becomes a normal part of growing up for every teenager.

But making NCS a rite of passage requires more than political leadership. It requires leadership from every part of society. From industry to the arts, from sport to the media, from local communities to the wider public sector, we need everyone involved in a national mission to make NCS a normal part of growing up that can give every generation a greater sense of purpose, optimism and belonging.

By bringing together expertise from every part of society we can embed NCS in our national fabric. And we can continue to build this special movement – empowering our young people to be united in their diversity, with the skills to get on in life and the compassion to support each other.

That is the vision for NCS that I had all those years ago when I first thought about developing the programme; and together we now have the opportunity to make it a reality for generations to come.

Back in May we posted under the following title, Two Fingers to Youth Service as NCS put on Statutory Footing. Cameron’s contempt for youth work and the youth service is made plain by the utter absence of any acknowledgement of a history, within which the elements of NCS have always been staples of practice.

Here’s a paragraph from a piece on Youth Work and Neoliberalism I’ve been co-writing, which might see the light of day sometime in the future.

The Conservative government’s intention to recast informal youth work in its own image is symbolised by the launch of a National Citizen Service (NCS). Aimed at 15-17 year-old school leavers, this comprises an unremarkable three week programme of team-building and volunteering kicked off by a residential outdoor activities week. In 2014-15, on a budget of £140M the take-up was just 58,000 compared with the up to a million young people who had been sampling or making regular use of local Youth Service provision (NCVYS, 2013). Crucially NCS replaced this open access, year long, informal youth work with a time-limited non-formal practice infected from the outset by neo-liberal assumptions. Branded as a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ with a marketing budget in 2015 of over £8m delivery contracts were awarded only to private and voluntary organisations. Spurious ‘monetised claims were made about its outcomes, suggesting that the social return on NCS was worth almost three times its cost (de St Croix, 2016). In the real world its participants, lauded as NCS graduates, found that with the collapse of the Youth Service infrastructure a dead end was often reached. Yet, after consistently ignoring the youth work field’s pressure to strengthen the legislative basis of the local authority Youth Service, in 2016 the anti-statist Conservative government ignored its own ideology in announcing legislation requiring local authorities, schools and other state bodies to promote a programme, which was failing palpably to meet its targets. In the teeth of the evidence £1.2bn was set aside to fund NCS through to 2020 – more than enough to restore the cuts to open access youth work provision made in the previous five years.

We might add that between 2012 and 2016 over 600 youth centres were closed, 139,000 youth service places lost and some 3660 youth worker jobs abolished (Unison, 2016). And to add insult to injury the NCS advertising budget is now £75 milion with the Trust looking to recruit a firm with “a proven track record of creating and executing potent campaigns to shape brand perception and behaviour amongst youth and parents/guardians. We need to connect and engage with young people and inspire them to participate in NCS, pre-, during and post-programme.”

Such has been the failure of the NCS in meeting its targets that the Trust has set up pathfinder programmes in an attempt  “to bring on board organisations that have a pre-existing relationship with young people and a “deep reach” into communities.”

And so the hypocrisy and deception continues. With Cameron at the helm we can but expect more bullshit.

Theresa May upstaged by Ed, the friend of youth!

Theresa May to review stop and search in wake of Reading the Riots study | UK news |

More interesting than the headline is Ed Miliband’s resurrection of the Holy Grail of Youth Work, a statutory Youth Service.  This is going to get some folk very excited. Calls to include the commitment in the Manifesto etc…

It begs the question of New Labour’s leading role in reducing youth work to no more than ‘positive activities’ and its focus on targeted early intervention – none of these the fevered creations of the Coalition’s dearth of imagination. It demands, at the very least , a Labour Party Working Group that engages seriously with young people and youth workers about what we mean by the Youth Service. And as a first step, as Seema Chandwani suggests, Ed ought to pressure Labour councils to refuse the implementation of cuts and commissioning. The trouble is that most of them have swallowed whole the market-driven agenda.

Whatever, Miliband’s proposal opens potentially a new front in the defence of democratic youth work.  Your thoughts welcomed.

HOT OFF THE PRESS : Seema Chandwani, who was at the conference, asks if there is a substance to Miliband’s reference to the statutory and his response to Abeer, a young person from Tottenham?

Statutory Substance..?