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“Youth Matters”

Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

4. How the Government plan to improve the participation of young people in decisions about local facilities following the Green Paper “Youth Matters”. (138955)

Legislation introduced in section 6 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 places new responsibilities on local authorities to secure young people’s access to positive activities. The legislation also requires that, in securing access to positive activities, local authorities involve young people in local decisions about what those activities should be. In addition, extra resources of £115 million have been made available through the youth opportunity and youth capital funds, and it is a condition that those funds are spent directly by young people on schemes run for young people.

I welcome my right hon. Friend’s response. Does she share my admiration for the fact that Lancashire county council meets on a quarterly basis with the youth council to discuss all issues of policy relating to young people in the county? Is that something that she would like to see replicated in other parts of the country—and, indeed, nationally?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question and for her general support for schemes for young people and their participation in them. A number of local authorities are establishing youth councils, as well as young mayors and youth cabinets, which is certainly one important way to involve young people in learning about the democratic process and decision making—and the limits on it—while also acquiring valuable and important experience around team work, co-operation, reliability and representation. Although this is not the only way of doing that, it is an important way, and I would certainly like local authorities to consider doing it more.

Is not the best way of improving the participation of young people in decisions about local facilities to encourage them to vote in and stand for local elections? Will she therefore commend Phil North in my constituency who, at the age of 21, stood for Test Valley borough council, defeated the leader of the Liberal Democrat group and is now ensuring that there is a strong voice for young people in the council chamber?

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be great to see more young people of that age as proper representatives in our local democracies. I am sure that, whatever party they represent, they will provide a strong voice for young people.

The hardest to reach young people are not involved in youth or other formal organisations, but they are the very young people who we need to involve. We need to encourage them off the streets and into more positive activities. I am very concerned that they will not reap the full benefit of the youth opportunity funds, so will my right hon. Friend assure me that when she is assessing projects in Greater Manchester, she will take any action necessary to ensure that the funds are used in the way that they were intended to be used?

Yes, I can assure my hon. Friend, who I know takes a great interest in these issues in her local area. I made it a condition on both the youth opportunity and capital funds that local authorities should work very hard to seek out the most disadvantaged young people, who can gain so much from the sort of positive activities that those funds will stimulate as well as from the process of decision making. We are just about to collate the data on the first year of operation of both those funds and I have asked for evidence of the extent to which disadvantaged children and young people have been involved. I will look at that very closely and will be happy to share the data with my hon. Friend.

What discussions have the Minister and the Department had with the Department for Communities and Local Government about the Sustainable Communities Bill, supported by the Government, which will ensure that young people have a much greater say not only on facilities provided for them, but on all the services provided at the local level?

The whole question of sustainability and the role of local authorities in promoting it opens up, for me, yet another set of opportunities for children and young people that we are only just beginning to realise and appreciate. It is the question of the importance of place, green spaces and opportunities created around those developments for young people. We need to explore them much more fully and my officials are talking to officials in the DCLG precisely to that end. I welcome the point that the hon. Lady has made. It is important and we should look further into it.

This is an interesting question. Will the Minister tell the House what sort of facilities young people would like to see made available to them in the local authority areas in which they live? Her response should be interesting; I hope that it will be. Will she also tell us whether the provision of such facilities will attract any central Government financial resource?

What I do not want to do is speak for young people, because adults tend to do that too often. I want local authorities and their local partners to have not just a one-off dialogue with young people about these funds, but an ongoing dialogue to enable them really to explore the local issues and find out what young people want in their area. The projects that have already sought and secured funds from the two pots of money that we have given out have been many and varied. They have ranged from young people setting up their own voluntarily run youth centre to getting experience in hairdressing and beauty—those are examples from the Burnley projects that we have funded. There has also been a great deal of interest in media opportunities, art and animation. I urge any Member to go to their local area, ask about these projects and visit some of them. They will see the huge variety of things going on and the difference that they are making to many young people.