Thank you, Mr Weir. It is with great pride, but also with sadness, that I open my first debate in Westminster Hall. I have a vested interest in this debate, in that I have spent almost all my working life as a youth and community worker, and Unite supported me in my election campaign. I am passionate about the sector. I have many important questions for the Minister, who I hope will address them all in his response.
I am proud to have been a full-time youth worker for many years in Nottingham, St Helens and Wigan. I loved my work, and I believe that my colleagues and I, who worked in a local authority-based youth service in partnership with voluntary organisations, made a difference to young people’s lives. Like all youth workers, we had a purely voluntary relationship with young people. They were not forced to come to our projects. The fact that they chose to relate to us without compulsion laid the basis for trusting relationships that enabled us to assist their informal learning and personal and social development. That is what youth work is. Youth workers are young people’s freely chosen and trusted adult supporters. They educate young people informally, support them, help amplify their voices and, critically, take their side when no one else does. It is part of society’s commitment to lifelong learning.
As official Government statements, academic reports and professional bodies recognise, youth workers enable young people to develop holistically, working with them to help them develop their voice, influence and place in society and reach their full potential. Youth workers recognise, respect and actively respond to the wider network of peers, communities, families and cultures that are important to young people, and seek through those networks to help young people achieve stronger relationships and collective identity by promoting inclusivity and equality.
Youth workers have long been experts in creating what is now called the big society. According to the Audit Commission, every £1 invested in youth work generates £8 worth of voluntary activity. Youth workers are trained to recruit and involve volunteers and to sustain their involvement. Some 500,000 volunteers work with established youth services, but volunteers do not come from thin air. They need to be encouraged and supported by professionally trained staff and, to be effective and happy, they need to volunteer in an organised environment. Youth and community work training equips practitioners to empower adults and young people in their communities.
In addition, youth workers are trained to raise funds to support their work. The state has never been the main provider in the sector. The last National Youth Agency audit of services showed that youth workers generated more than one third of the amount spent by local authorities on their youth services. I hope that the Minister will take careful note of the fact that cuts to local authority youth services also mean severe cuts to the voluntary sector and to the social enterprise and mutual organisations that provide youth services. For example, the current proposals to cut £2.6 million from Birmingham city council’s youth service mean about a £600,000 cut to the voluntary sector. He will no doubt be aware that the £2 million in cuts to the youth service in his county will practically wipe out voluntary sector funding as well. It is a fallacy to suggest that the voluntary sector can pick up the pieces left by a shattered local authority service.
On funding, incidentally, Lord Northbourne obtained an undertaking during the passage of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 that the Government would continue to collect youth service funding figures from local authorities. Will the Minister publish the figures for last year and tell me how they will be collected in future? The National Youth Agency used to do an annual audit of youth work, but I have been informed that now that its funding has been slashed, it will no longer be able to do so. I am also informed that Ofsted will no longer inspect youth work. Who will inspect it to ensure that standards are upheld?
I am proud to be introducing this debate almost exactly 50 years after Lady Albemarle produced her great report for the Conservative Government of the time. Her report introduced the modern youth service. In the 1950s, the early youth service had nearly disappeared as a result of cuts and general neglect. The voluntary sector and the early trade unionists who built the Community and Youth Workers’ Union, of which I am proud to have been president for nine years, campaigned hard for the Government to provide public resources and promote respect for youth work.
Lady Albemarle was asked to establish a committee in 1958 to consider those concerns. After two years of intense scrutiny, the committee recommended that specialist training for youth workers be developed, as it was a distinct educational profession. She and her committee recommended that youth centres be built throughout the country to provide places of warmth, free association, safety and fun, that national terms and conditions for youth workers and qualifications linked to those terms and conditions be introduced and that each local authority be funded to work in partnership with the voluntary sector to manage a youth service. The Conservative Government agreed with the recommendations of Lady Albemarle’s committee and laid a substantial foundation for the building of the modern youth service. A new public service depending largely on public investment was born.
Since that time, great progress has been achieved. In fact, Britain’s youth service—with its public funding and partnership with voluntary organisations, national professional standards and joint negotiating committee terms and conditions—has been admired throughout the world. It has pioneered many important developments in working with young people, including international exchanges between young people to help heal a war-torn Europe.
My sadness in presenting this debate comes from the recognition that those 50 years of progress could now come to an end. The youth service is likely to disappear shortly unless the Minister acts. Is he aware that the situation of the youth service is now so grave that the main professional journal in the field, Children & Young People Now, has organised a national campaign called “For Youth’s Sake”, and the main professional bodies and stakeholders have formed a campaign to save the service? The British Youth Council and the UK Youth Parliament, the recognised national bodies for young people, have formed similar campaigns and expressed concerns about rapidly deteriorating provision for the youth service. My hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (Tom Blenkinsop) has also introduced early-day motion 1013 on the threat to youth services.
We need action now. Is the Minister aware that local councils value highly their ability to provide youth work directly, and are so concerned about the cuts, at least in England, that the Local Government Association recently published an excellent document, “Valuing Youth Work”? I am pleased to read in the foreword his quote that work with young people is not a “luxury add-on”. Has he read the powerful analysis of the cost-effectiveness of youth work by Unite and Lifelong Learning UK called “The Benefits of Youth Work”? If he has not considered those documents, I urge him to do so as a matter of urgency.
Does my hon. Friend agree that cutting the youth service is incredibly short-sighted? Not only does the service give young people the opportunity to enrich their lives by taking part in interesting activities but it often prevents them from being drawn into antisocial behaviour or drug and alcohol use.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, absolutely. I will talk more later about some of the studies that have shown that. If we destroy the infrastructure, it will take a long time and a lot of money to rebuild, as happened in Wigan in the 1990s when all the youth centres were closed. Wigan has not been able to regain the ground lost during that time.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate, but I remind her that the Labour Government planned to make 20% cuts. Does she feel that no cuts should have taken place in the youth service? Can she inform all those present where she would make the cuts?
I am not in the Government or even in the shadow Government, so I am not in a position to say where cuts should be made. However, making substantial cuts to a small pot of money—some £300 million is spent on the whole youth service throughout England and Wales, which is a very small pot of money nationally—does huge damage to the services provided.
It is with sadness that I report that Warwickshire county council is proposing to abandon its youth service all together, and it appears that Norfolk, Suffolk and Southampton city councils are planning to do the same. According to a recent survey of proposed cuts that was conducted prior to the comprehensive spending review by the National Youth Agency and the Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services, 95% of services were predicting cuts during the current year, the majority of which would be in the region of more than 30%.
Bolton council has already had to cut £200,000 this year and is predicting a cut of £415,000 next year. Am I right to assume that the Minister is concerned about a cut of £2 million to West Sussex county council youth service, which covers his constituency? Does he support the thousands of young people across West Sussex who have been petitioning and campaigning against the cuts? The portfolio holder for the area, Councillor Peter Bradbury, admitted that young people had not been properly consulted. Again, is the Minister aware that consultation with young people on service provision is fundamental to the Education and Inspections Act 2006?
There is an illusion that mutuals, social enterprises or even the private sector will take up youth work provision. Although there are some excellent voluntary sector projects, there is little evidence that many providers are ready to take on the role of providing youth services. In any case, they are dependent on adequate public funding for the work. The staffing and resources of some services are already so depleted that even a small cut of 10% will effectively end their ability to function meaningfully.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. In my constituency, Bramley and Rodley Community Action Trust provides a youth bank in the area. The trust also runs a youth inclusion programme, which helps people who are at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. Does she agree that cuts to Leeds city council of 27% will mean that those services are at risk and that, as a result, we risk building up future problems of antisocial behaviour and criminal activity? With just a bit of funding, we could ensure that such organisations were able to continue providing those excellent services.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I absolutely agree that it is a false economy to make such cuts to youth services. Historical evidence shows that youth services will be harder hit than other services. Local authorities will have to protect some of the services relating to safeguarding issues and the care provision for older people. However, youth services always get squeezed. They have always been Cinderella services and will have greater cuts imposed on them unless action is taken—in particular action to enforce the legislation that is in place, which I shall come on to.
Such cuts will mean the end of universal out-of-school services for young people. Since January 2007, through working in partnership with the voluntary and private sectors, local authorities have had a statutory duty to promote the well-being of young people aged 13 to 19 years—in fact, it is up to 25 years for those with learning difficulties—and to promote access to educational and recreational leisure time activities, which are referred to as positive activities. The legislation that supports youth work is described in detail in statutory guidance published in March 2008 under section 507B of the Education Act 1996. That statutory guidance sets out the requirement for local authorities to provide youth work in three areas: positive activities, decision making by young people and 14-to-19 learning. The guidance refers to the fact that educational leisure-time activities are explicitly linked to youth work methods and approaches. The purpose of both forms of positive activities—educational and recreational—is the improvement of well-being. The definition of well-being in the legislation reflects the five Every Child Matters outcomes: be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution, and achieve economic well-being.
The statutory guidance also refers to “Aiming High for Young People: A Ten Year Strategy for Positive Activities.” That strategy concludes with a very strong statement that recognises high-quality youth work. The Government’s view is that high-quality youth work delivered by third and statutory sectors is central to delivering our ambition of increasing the number of young people on the path to success. Is the Minister concerned about the ability of local authorities to fulfil their statutory responsibilities? If they do not fulfil their statutory responsibilities, will he intervene under sections 496, 497 or 497A of the Education Act 1996?
Would it not be helpful to revisit the recommendations of the “Resourcing Excellent Youth Services” document? Instead of aiming low for young people, as the Government appear to be doing, would it not be better to return to the recommendations of the “Aiming High for Young People” document? Does the Minister recognise that 70% of funding for the voluntary sector, particularly for youth services, comes from local authorities, and that decreasing that funding reduces the potential of what he might term big society organisations?
Does my hon. Friend agree that the big problem with the big society is that it is predicated on the belief that volunteers will do for free what paid youth workers do for a wage? Does she agree that the big society is something of a political convenience, given the huge cuts that will be made to local authorities during the next three years? The situation will be incredibly difficult for those voluntary and community groups that are providing excellent activities and outreach work—street-based youth work—for young people. It will be very hard for them—
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. Yes, I absolutely agree. It is a bit of a fallacy to think that volunteering is not already taking place, as 500,000 people already volunteer to work with young people. They are effective in volunteering activities only if they are supported in their work financially and by professionally qualified and trained staff. Those staff can assist them in developing their work and can ensure that their work is of good educational value to young people.
I want to be clear about this. All of us accept that the debt situation is difficult at the moment. The hon. Lady referred to some 70% coming from local authorities to pay for such services. Is she saying that she would maintain the grants for this type of work on an ongoing basis?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that contribution. Yes, absolutely. I am not simply saying that we should maintain the funding; I am saying that we should increase it. I will give some statistics at the end of my speech that will show how positive intervention and positive activities with young people saves the state a great deal of money. Such funding is an investment and, as I said, if the hon. Gentleman bears with me, I will provide some statistics later to show how when a small amount of money—it is a small amount—is put into services for young people, it saves the state thousands of pounds on much deeper interventional work.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Lady says, much of which seems to focus on the negative side of what is going on. Has she paid any attention to, for example, the plans for the national citizen service and the positive things that that can do for society cohesion?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. If he will bear with me, I will talk about the national citizen service in just a few moments.
In reply to a parliamentary question that I asked the Minister on 15 November, he did not respond to me about the rapidly declining fabric of the maintained youth service, but instead seemed to state that the national citizen service would compensate for the decline in other provision. I hope that I misunderstood him. However, if I did not, perhaps he can explain how allocating £370 million to the national citizen service for, in effect, short-term summer scheme opportunities for 16-year-olds will possibly compensate for the loss of the current youth service budget of less than £300 million per annum that runs for 365 days a year?
Does the Minister share my concern that many child protection and health and safety issues are raised by the fact that inspecting organisations with no track record in residential work and professional youth work delivery will be running the short-term national citizen service? I am deeply concerned that they do not have the capacity or the experience to operate outdoor activities and residential work according to the Department’s health and safety guidelines. Can he give me any assurances in that regard? Also, who will inspect the quality of the service? The youth service was previously inspected by Ofsted, which has commented on its rising standards over the past four years, when other services were often declining.
I welcome the fact that the Select Committee on Education is conducting an inquiry into youth services and that it will be examining the introduction of the national citizen service. Youth service professionals and many of us in this place are beginning to wonder whether the Minister actually understands what the youth service is. The youth service has been recognised in the different jurisdictions of the United Kingdom as an integral part of the education system. Does he agree with the Welsh Assembly Government, the Department of Education in Northern Ireland, the Education and Inspections Act 2006 and the Scottish Government that the youth service is an integral part of the education system?
Youth work is based on a voluntary professional relationship between skilled youth workers and young people, so it has a broad spectrum of influence and success. The various youth councils across the country and the UK Youth Parliament, which so successfully engages people in political education and civic involvement, simply would not exist without the support of local authority professional youth workers. At the other end of the spectrum, as the work of Professor John Pitts has clearly shown, the youth work method is the most effective means of reducing young people’s involvement in gang crime.
Absolutely. I could not have put it better. The youth service is important in encouraging social and political education, social interaction and decision making. There are far too many distinguished reports to mention that demonstrate conclusively that youth workers play a vital role for young people in re-engaging them in education; making their lives healthier; improving their access to learning; strengthening information, advice and guidance; supporting partnership working; participating in structured leisure-time activities; helping them to stay out of the youth justice system; and encouraging them to play an active and voluntary part in their local communities.
Such successful work is achieved by a relatively small cohort of 7,000 professionally qualified staff, working with 30,000 trained youth support workers and, as I have mentioned, an army of half a million volunteers. Those staff work for local authorities and voluntary organisations, but local authority funding is the key. The values, occupational standards and skilled training are the glue that holds the service together. It is therefore with great sadness that I report that youth and community work training courses may now face wholesale closure.
The sector is really proud of its training courses, which are offered by about 30 universities and other providers. The courses are themselves a product of a “big society” kind of effort. The standards of the courses are validated by the voluntary efforts of professional education and training standards committees, which rely on volunteers to create and monitor standards. Those committees have decided to apply an important set of criteria on training courses, one of which is the requirement that students are recruited after proven and committed experience as volunteers or part-time youth workers. As a result, youth work students are deeply committed to their profession and have all volunteered in it. That is a model of the big society ethos.
Most mature students enjoy a second chance to learn and do not come into higher education through the traditional academic routes. They are community activists and organisers who are concerned to become skilled in what they do. The qualification for youth workers relies on the successful completion of 50% of field work practice. Around 60% of the students are women, and more than 30% are from black and minority ethnic communities. The high demands of placement learning mean that they cannot easily supplement their student time with paid work.
Despite their strong virtues, youth and community training courses, which became degree-level courses in September, have never received funding equivalent to that for teachers or social workers. The students, who are by and large older and less well off than others, have had less resourcing in higher education, but now the situation is even worse. Is the Minister aware that the proposal to remove funding for bands B and C will hit youth and community work courses, and can he give me an assurance that he will look into that with a view to reversing the decision for those courses? I can assure him that failure to do so would be the final nail in the coffin of a valuable service that, ironically, his predecessors created at a time of much higher national debt.
Reducing the deficit and cutting public sector spending is the order of the Government’s day. Whatever we might think about the cuts, we all have an interest in cost-effective public services, so I will finish by highlighting the exceptional cost-effectiveness of the youth service and youth work. It is estimated that for just £350 a year for each young person, all young people could access a good youth work offer. Current spending is £100 a head per annum for 13 to 19-year-olds. More specifically, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned an exercise on the cost of detached youth work, which found that a project that provided a full range of services and was in contact with 125 young people a week would cost £75,000 a year, or £16 for each contact. It concluded that for disadvantaged neighbourhoods, a systematic street-based youth service would cost a fraction of the amount spent on other services targeting that group. It cited, in particular, the £450 million budget for the Connexions service.
Other research has highlighted the relative costs of the criminal justice system and other forms of intervention, including youth work. The Green Paper, “Every Child Matters” stated:
“Society as a whole benefits through reduced spending on problems that can be avoided and through maximising the contribution to society of all citizens. For instance, a child with a conduct disorder at age 10 will cost the public purse around £70,000 by age 28”.
The Audit Commission’s report on the benefits of sport and leisure activities in preventing anti-social behaviour among young people estimates that a young person in the criminal justice system will cost the taxpayer more than £200,000 by the age of 16. The young person who is given support to stay out of the system, however, costs less than £50,000. Other comparative costings include: £1,300 a year per person for an electronically-monitored curfew order; around £35,000 a year to keep one young person in a young offenders institution; an annual average of £3,800 a year for secondary education; and around £9,000 per person for the average resettlement package after custody. Against those, £350 a year for each young person would be a small price to pay to unlock the rich benefits of community-based provision for all and to provide extra opportunities for personal and social development for those young people who, by virtue of life experience and circumstance, are so disadvantaged that they cannot successfully make use of mainstream services.
I could speak about the young people I have worked with over the years and the difference that youth work and youth workers have made to their lives, but I have spoken for long enough. I will end with a plea. We are entering a period that will be even harder for young people. They will have to deal not only with the normal trials and tribulations of entering adulthood but with unemployment, cuts to local services and higher costs for everything. I plead with the Minister to take action now to protect and invest in a highly cost-effective service. I ask him to please take action to defend youth work and youth services before it is too late. Youth work has always been known as a Cinderella service, but please let Cinders go to the ball.
I thank the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) for securing this debate on what is undoubtedly an important issue. Young people deserve our support, and youth services are vital to all our communities. She is absolutely right that if young people get a better start in life, our communities are safer and more cohesive as a result. It is also correct to say that prevention—she gave us many figures on that—is better and much more cost-effective than simply waiting for the cure.
The number of young people who are not in education, employment or training—NEETs—is horrifying, and it is crucial that we engage those individuals in our communities. In my part of the world, Devon, 1,190 young people between 16 and 18—5.7% of the people in that age bracket—are unemployed, do not have training and, frankly, have very little hope. As the hon. Lady explained, that has a cost to society, and it is not insignificant. The figures vary, depending on how they are calculated, but those I have looked at show that each NEET costs around £97,000 over their lifetime. That figure could exceed £300,000, depending on the benefits they have to look for.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing the debate. On the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) about NEETs, in Medway, 666 people in a population of 260,000 are NEET. Does she agree with me that we need to do all we can to support organisations such as the Medway Youth Trust, a charity that does excellent work in giving people who are NEET support and help to move into working life?
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and endorse what he said. Such organisations should, undoubtedly, be encouraged.
We are missing one key piece: providing youth services must be about providing quality. It is not a matter of how much money is thrown at something but how it is spent to get the best possible result. I am lucky, because Teignbridge, which is my local area and a large part of my constituency, has an excellent youth services record. The portfolio holder described Mike Stevens, who is the leader of the unit in Teignbridge, as outstanding and said that, if she could, she would clone him. There are some extremely able people who deliver high-quality services.
There are two outstanding examples in Teignbridge district. In Newton Abbot, which is at the heart of my constituency, an organisation called Chances, which operates out of a building called The Junction, is responsible for giving many young people who are excluded from school hope and a future that they would otherwise not have. I have seen the kind of outward-bound courses that are offered and the engagement of the teachers who work there, and they are fantastic.
More recently, a new centre was opened in Dawlish, which is another key town in my constituency. It is called Red Rock, and what is special about it is that it is a fine example of the big society. I would take issue with the hon. Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander), who suggested that the big society was merely a convenient label. The centre evolved from the local business community, the local voluntary sector and the local authority working together.
The hon. Lady speaks about the big society. One imagines that that means that local voluntary and third sector groups will take over where public services are cut. In my constituency, we have had a meeting with a dozen local organisations that are fearful that their funding will be cut, and that they will be able to provide less, rather than more, in future.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution. I shall turn to funding in a minute, because clearly it is relevant, but let me stick with quality, which is key.
That project involves real engagement, and it is not the intention of anyone—certainly not the county council—that group A should take over from group B. What people see in the future is an integrated approach among different parts of our community, which we should commend.
I believe that there is a misunderstanding about funding. The hon. Member for Bolton West spoke about cuts. It is known across the House that this country is plagued with a huge national debt, and that the Government have to look at the measures to be taken. However, they have not cut youth services. They have taken away the barriers between individual prescribed funding streams that central Government used to pass money down to local government, but the amount of money going from central Government to local government remains unchanged.
May I finish? Local government has been given the opportunity to use money sensibly. Ninety funding streams will be reduced to 10, and that will substantially reduce the bureaucracy. It will also liberate £7 billion-worth of funds for local authorities to use appropriately. There is certainly no intention that this should be about cuts between between national and local government.
I will allow interventions in a moment. Let me just clarify my point on funding. What we will see in local government is a review of what quality and value for money should look like. In speaking to my county council, I have found no evidence that youth services per se will be any harder hit than any other part of the budget. On community engagement, we are looking for more, not less, but before I move on, I am more than happy to give way.
Can the hon. Lady clarify what she thinks the cuts to the Department for Education’s non-school budget and the cuts to the voluntary youth sector development grants will mean? That central Government funding for youth services has been cut—that is a national cut in funds for youth services. What does she think will be the impact of that?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I am sure that in due course the Minister will clarify exactly how that will work, but my understanding is that it is not about reducing money but about taking away artificial barriers between individual pots of money.
To add to what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) said, the cuts to the youth opportunity fund and youth capital fund were cuts in central Government funding, so this is not just about local authority cuts. In addition, money that was coming from the Department for Education specifically for youth work has been cut. That is a double whammy for local authority and area-based youth services.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. Again, she is talking about structure rather than amount. As the Minister will explain, we absolutely will support youth services because they are important. The hon. Lady mentioned several new initiatives, including the national citizen service. Actually, there is a new group in the constituency adjoining her own. It is called the Bolton Lads and Girls Club, and I hope that she will welcome it. I am lucky, because the national citizen service, which provides an outward-bound social action experience for young people, will see 900 places created across the south-west by Young Devon and the South West Consortium. That must be a good thing for the future.
If I may, let me get back to the principle. We have been asked to keep contributions short, so I will not take any further interventions.
Quality is key. In conversations that I have had with my county council, I have found that people like Mike Stevens and what he contributes are highly valued. That kind of provision is not at risk. What any responsible council must do is look across their patch for the best way to provide best-quality services. Our young people deserve no less.
Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) for securing this debate. I am sure that we have all seen in our constituencies the excellent work that youth services do. In Leeds West, there are several vital services. Earlier, I mentioned one of them—Bramley and Rodley Community Action Trust—and now I would like to highlight the role of another one.
Armley Juniors is a small group in my constituency. It is run by just three people in a deprived part of a constituency that already has low incomes and low educational attainment. Armley Juniors took over an old post office in the constituency and has managed to turn it into a youth centre with a kitchen for cooking classes. It also offers computer lessons and a communal area for children on the estate, and runs sports teams and outdoor activities during term and school holidays. It benefits from funding from Leeds city council and a peppercorn rent on its site, but, like many youth services across the country, it operates on a shoestring budget.
Leeds city council faces 27% cuts across the board during this Parliament, and the people in the dedicated team running Armley Juniors, whom I visited recently, are extremely worried about their future. Such issues may not register on the national scale, where we are seeing significant job losses and cuts across the board following the comprehensive spending review—indeed, in Leeds alone, we are facing the loss of 3,000 council jobs—but on the Heights estate in Armley, where Armley Juniors operates, the removal of funding would deprive young people in the community of the only communal space in the area.
The estate is a densely populated inner-city area with no playing fields, no other youth clubs and no sports halls. To make matters worse, Government cuts mean that the council now has to charge local youth groups for their use of school playing fields and community areas, which is a double whammy for groups such as Armley Juniors that need to use those facilities if they are to provide activities, especially sports activities, for young people.
I agree with my hon. Friend. As well as having some excellent youth services in my constituency, we have Armley prison, and the point made earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West about the long-term impacts of cuts to youth services rings true to me. A lot of people who provide youth services in my area say that their aim is to ensure that young people from very deprived backgrounds do not become the future inmates of Armley prison. During these difficult economic times, it is very worthwhile considering long-term impacts. Many hon. Members here today will recognise that this is an issue in their constituencies, and I fear that the cuts will cost us more in the long term.
Alongside the cuts to the police in Leeds, there are cuts to sports funding in schools, which we read about over the weekend and on which we will hopefully—although I fear not—hear some more positive news this week. There are also cuts to free swimming, and cutting services such as Armley Juniors on top of all that will have costly implications for both the community and for Government spending in the long run.
Most of us remember the 1980s and the generation of young people who were condemned to the scrap heap then. I was at school in that decade, and remember well the funding cuts that meant that sports clubs and after-school activities were available to children if their parents had money, but that children whose parents did not have money and who lived in inner-city areas without open spaces or playing fields, missed out. I urge the Minister not to allow us to go back to those bleak days. The value of organisations such as those that we are championing today cannot be measured, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West said, just by their cost on a balance sheet. They educate, engage and inspire young people and make a huge difference to their lives. Cuts on the scale envisaged by this Government will devastate youth services across the country, and I urge the Minister to think again.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing this extremely important and interesting debate. I am not sure whether I will be able to share her passion, but I shall do my very best.
During my 10 years as a councillor before becoming the MP for North Swindon, this was one of the most important issues that came up in the residents surveys and in the public meetings that I held. Parents generally accepted that their children were well catered for during school hours, but there were often concerns about after-school hours and the weekends. I have very many happy memories of going to youth clubs in the 1980s, and I know that youth provision is essential. It channels energies, and provides support and opportunities to develop, and many hon. Members who have already spoken have gone into detail on that. I sympathise with those who highlight funding pressures, or even call for youth provision funding to be made statutory. However, I think that far more can be done without money, services and facilities, and so in my brief speech I shall touch on some positive suggestions based on my experience as a councillor and my work with the youth service.
Local authorities should do a lot more with their buildings. I recently secured a Westminster Hall debate on the future provision for libraries, and I think that councils could do a lot more to open up community buildings such as libraries to organisations for the provision of facilities. It does not cost much to put shelves on wheels and to push them to the side in the evenings. It is a great crime that we have many facilities that are open for only 10 hours for their primary function, with the community being locked out for the remainder of the week. More should be done also with schools. I was interested to hear the comments of the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) about her experience in the ’80s. Today, we have huge swathes of private finance initiative schools, but the communities that I represent cannot afford to access those wonderful facilities and, therefore, far more should be done to open up the schools.
Our leisure facilities—sports facilities predominantly—should do a lot more with the youth service. The Twilight Football schemes target children from challenging circumstances and promote positive engagement, and that makes a big difference. Also, where there is funding to build new facilities, those facilities should be accessible. I have seen many facilities that in hindsight were built in the wrong place, and I am delighted that the new £1.2 million youth facility in my constituency was built in the town centre, which is easily the most accessible place.
Many hon. Members have also talked about the big society, and Labour Members often try to produce scare stories about that being a way to cover for potential funding cuts. The reality is, however, that it is about empowering local organisations, and the Government and local authorities can do more to support them.
I am president of the Council for Wales of Voluntary Youth Services and all the voluntary organisations involved are extremely keen to play a bigger role in the big society—there is no question about that. However, they all say to me, “We cannot do that if our grant aid from the public sector is being cut dramatically.” Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the things that he is talking about are almost incidental to the major cuts that will affect the voluntary sector over the next couple of years?
I was speaking at the Voluntary Action Swindon annual general meeting on Friday, and I got similar messages there. We cannot hide away from the current economic challenges, and I am trying to set out some areas in which we can make a positive difference. The shadow Minister will confirm whether it is the Labour party position to find some money—good luck if it can—and the Minister will set out the Government’s position. We cannot ignore the situation that we are in.
I have talked about making more of our buildings accessible. Many organisations have said to me, “We’ve got willing volunteers and enthusiasm. We can see a problem and we want to tackle it, but we don’t have access to facilities.” Whether as Government, local authorities or local businesses, we could do far more to provide those facilities, along with advice and support. One challenge in getting funding is the need to fill in extremely complicated forms. When I set up the sports forum in Swindon, a lot of effort was put into filling in forms. Volunteers are keen to make a difference on the front line, but not to lock themselves away in offices for many hours with complicated forms.
The youth service also needs to be a lot more proactive in matching with the times at which children or young people actually want to use its services. I am delighted that many authorities have changed their hours to match when children are outside school, and they should also go to where the children are. Too often, I have visited youth centres where a service is being provided to just a handful of children. In my constituency, we have an ice-skating disco on a Friday night. There are 650 children there, and the youth service should be parked outside providing help and support to those children who require it. Not every town has an ice-skating disco, but the same principle would apply to a cinema or bowling, or to teenage nightclubs, which I am assured are still very popular. In communities where there are open spaces, the leisure or youth teams could turn up with footballs and bibs, or rounders equipment, and organise impromptu games. I am sure that all hon. Members see when out in their constituencies that there are lots of kids hanging around, and they feel that someone should go along and positively engage with them.
On the point about reaching out to small groups and how it would be better to reach out to larger ones, some of the hardest-to-reach young people in some of the most difficult-to-reach communities need youth work outreach and support on a very small scale. I have seen youth workers in some of the most difficult parts of my constituency just hanging out with children on the streets of an evening, so that the children at least engage in positive dialogue while they hang out. That is the kind of youth outreach work that is in danger when we focus on big projects and on the big national citizen service, rather than on smaller initiatives directed at particular groups of young people.
I am not sure that I agree. My point was about going to the young people, but the hon. Lady has made a good point. Engaging with certain children is very challenging, and the youth service must be as proactive as possible. If that means that it parks itself right in the heart of communities and engages directly, that is only a good thing. The service can also be there through the leisure facilities—teenage discos for example—so I sort of agree with the hon. Lady.
Finally, the principle of the National Union of Students discount card, which applies to students, should be extended. A lot more could be done to get young people discounts so that they can make more of the leisure facilities that are accessible to them. As a consumer body, young people are huge in number. By being proactive, we can make those facilities more accessible, to tackle the problems of boredom.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing this important debate. There is no doubt that all hon. Members in this Chamber are concerned about the personal development of Britain’s young people and how best to secure that. As somebody with a background in the voluntary youth sector as well as local government, I recognise well the concerns expressed by many hon. Members today.
I want to make three points. First, the message that came through strongly in my hon. Friend’s speech is that early intervention is valuable. The benefits to society from working with young people accrue much later on, but that does not mean that we should not recognise them early on. It is about understanding the best way of intervening. One of the challenges—one thing that we Opposition Members see in some of the things the Government are doing—is that the ability to be flexible and work with young people in a range of different ways seems to be narrowing rather than broadening.
It is about not just spaces and places for young people, but the people who work with them and the purpose of that work. We need both generalist activities that help and support young people, many of which come from the voluntary youth sector, and specialist services. I have worked in setting up both kinds of activities in my local community in Walthamstow—working with young people at risk of joining gangs, and with young people to help them achieve their potential in a broader sense. I am concerned about the idea that the national citizen service can be mixed with those more integrated services.
I am glad to see the Minister shaking his head. Those two things cannot be comparable. We in the youth sector know that they are apples and pears. The national citizen service, which is interesting, should in no way be regarded as a compensation for the ability to integrate services and work with young people in their communities in the long term. In areas such as Walthamstow, it is important for people on the ground to build up trusting relationships over time with young people to help them make the right choices in their life. It is critical that we understand the need to intervene differently in respect of various age groups and children in differing circumstances. Youth services in local areas have been able to develop ways of working around young people, rather than around the service that is delivered. I accept that that differs in various places. There are issues about how youth services are delivered, but we Opposition Members are concerned that the cuts that are coming through now will hamper youth services’ ability to be more flexible in working with young people in different ways and producing the interventions that people need to get the outcomes we all want.
Secondly, the consequences of the public sector cuts, nationally and locally, are already clear. I urge the hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) to look again at the impact of the cuts on the national and local youth sector, particularly the voluntary youth sector. We recognise the interconnectedness of the voluntary youth sector and local youth services; that is the challenge for us. The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services has said that already this year youth sector organisations have lost 20% of their budget, and that 80% of the programmes that are closing are those working with people who are not in education, employment or training—the very group we are especially concerned about. That is already happening as a result of the in-year cuts.
There is understanding about the relationship between the voluntary youth sector and youth services locally, and other public services. It is important to put on the record the great support that the police and health care services in my area provide to youth projects. However, before we can get to the great world in which the voluntary youth sector is more involved in running services, we will see it being cut off at the start, so that it will be unable to do some of the more innovate partnership work we all want to see happen.
I shall make my third and final point brief because I recognise that we are short of time. The challenge we are facing is not difficult economic circumstances but the question, “What are our priorities?” If our priority is to get best value for money, it is clear from the case made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West that investment in voluntary youth services and youth services locally reaps dividends well beyond the initial financial investment.
What is the best way to tap into the ability and interest in volunteering with young people locally, and how best to support it? I welcome some of the ideas the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) has come up with, but he did not say how he would get the youth services bus to the youth disco, or who would pay for the person who organises and manages that. That is our critique. The hon. Gentleman’s ideas are fantastic, but how will he make them happen? Delivery and implementation—
No one doubts the need to make the best use of resources, but cutting resources year in, year out with no alternative and asking the voluntary sector to pick up the slack does not add up. For example, it is explicit in the tender document for the national citizen service that the Government are already saying, “We will not fund this properly. We’re expecting the voluntary sector to pay for it.” Many voluntary sector organisations that might work with youth services in future to provide the more creative services that the hon. Gentleman was talking about are dependent on public sector funding, so they will be unable to do the work he wants to happen, let alone to provide services not just for 16-year-olds for three weeks over the summer, but for every age group at the point at which they need intervention.
I plead with all hon. Members to give the Minister the evidence and encouragement he needs to return to his colleagues and fight for the funding that youth services so desperately need to deliver services that we all want for young people in our communities. I am looking forward to welcoming the Minister to Walthamstow tomorrow, so that we can have a conversation about how he can fight for the funding he needs to deliver the services that all hon. Members in this Chamber want to see delivered.
I am grateful for the opportunity to say just a few words in this important debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) for securing it.
I am ashamed to admit that I have been involved in the youth service for nearly 40 years, since I was a teenager, particularly in detached youth work, which is, for me, one of the most important areas of youth work in urban Britain and many other places, too. I want to say a few words and join other hon. Members in pleading for the Government to ensure that they understand the importance of Government and local authority support for the youth service.
I have always believed that there ought to be a statutory youth service. That is my party’s policy, it is still my belief, and I hope that before long that can be the position. It has always been a Cinderella service, although it is the bit of support for young people that is needed to complement parental and family support, and school and educational support. Other role models who are not authority figures can often be far more influential in ensuring that young people have the development, security and safety they need.
I welcome the Education Committee’s inquiry. The Government are looking forward to introducing comprehensive proposals in the new year. I welcome that. The Minister has often been well received since taking on his job. I thank him for that. I am keen for him to be bold and ambitious, both in his Department and across Government, because this is not only the responsibility of the Department for Education.
The national citizen service is a good idea, but as colleagues have said it is a time-limited, specific activity for some people at some time. It will grow slowly. The reality of the youth service is that it can be found by and is accessible to everybody in every community. That is the difference. The youth service is there now. We have to ensure that we do not lose any of its validity or accessibility.
May I make a special plea to ensure that the funding for people to be qualified and trained as youth workers is increased, not decreased? Some of the best, most talented people, who may not have a great academic background, come through the youth service as volunteers, then realise that it is their vocation. They have just the sort of skills that are needed. Often, they are women or people from black and minority ethnic communities. They are really good role models who have been where the youngsters are now. They understand the score, because they have been in the front line and have come through. We need to ensure that they are given the educational support to go on and do practice-based qualifications.
I have said that my engagement has mainly been with detached youth work, but that is not to underestimate club-based or specialist youth work. The benefit that the hon. Member for Bolton West mentioned in being out on the street, engaging with youngsters where they are, not expecting them to come to where the service is, is fundamentally important. If people are to gain the confidence of young people, they do not say, “Come and do it my way”; they say, “We’re going to come alongside you and understand what you want.”
We know that local government will have a hard time, as will central Government, because the settlement is difficult. But local government does not have to find all its savings by cutting grants to the voluntary sector and does not have to cut equally across the board. I plead with every council, no matter who runs it, to make sure that they do not think that the implication of a severe spending cut means cutting the voluntary sector rather than reducing the in-house services. Often, the latter needs to be done, because money for the voluntary sector can multiply in terms of its benefits in the community.
I will not because I am conscious that other hon. Members want to speak.
I am keen to ensure that evening and weekend work is supported. One of the problems with a lot of traditional youth services is that they were there—fantastically—on Monday to Thursday evenings, but not on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. That is exactly when young people need places to go to.
A good example of a youth service was a place I went to in south Wales a few years ago. The kids wanted somewhere to hang around safely. They were given support locally in the valleys and they were able to build a shelter. It was a very simple shelter, but they built it and it was their place. It was a sort of glorified bus shelter, but it meant they had somewhere they could go, supported by individuals. Often, simple things that cost small amounts of money can transform people’s self worth and allow them to have a place they can call their own and build on.
Lastly, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) pointed out that there are often many unused buildings. In difficult financial circumstances there is an imperative for organisations to work together complementarily, to ensure that facilities are shared and that people do not just do their own thing. That is often a danger in the statutory youth sector if there are schools that do not stay open after school hours or youth clubs that open only in the evenings. Local authorities need to lead on that, and my plea is for the Minister to say to every council, “You lead with the voluntary and faith groups. Do the work on the ground.”
The Minister must also ensure that we have funding for youth workers whom we need to do their job, and that we do not lose them; we need them now more than ever. We must not lose key services, which are often the glue that keeps communities together as well as keeping young people and their communities safe.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to this important debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on her excellent speech. She is clearly not just an expert but passionate about her working life before Parliament, and she probably knows more than anybody in the House about the youth service. I hope the Government will listen to her.
Luton North is an unusual constituency. When I was elected in 1997 it had the highest proportion of children aged under five in the whole country. In more recent years, it had the highest proportion of school-age children in the country, and those are now young people. There has been a surge of young people, and although Luton has wonderful educational and youth facilities, we have a considerable number of young people who are disaffected and perhaps not so successful in education, and they need much more support. We had a large number of people not in education, employment or training, and until recently, we did not quite know what was happening to them every year.
A number of community centres were built by Labour councils in the past. When I was a councillor in the 1970s, we built superb facilities that are still in operation today. However, facilities alone are not enough. We need staff to operate them. Some of that staffing is now being squeezed, and some of the services in those centres for young people are being trimmed at the edges, despite the fact that we have an excellent Labour council that is doing its best. There are problems now, and unless something is done it will get much worse once the serious cuts come through. To pretend that youth services do not need to be cut and that we can squeeze somewhere else is playing with words. The cuts will affect every service one way or another. The youth service has been underfunded in the past and it does not need less funding; it needs much more.
[Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]
One factor is safety, which my hon. Friend mentioned. Young people are on the streets. It is not just those in gangs, but those not in gangs who do not feel safe. They need places to go and professional staff to organise activities in which they can participate. In a letter that I received this morning, Tracey Quinn, the integrated youth support team manager for Luton North and a senior youth worker, wrote,
“we are proud of the good youth work we do with young people in the north of Luton and any future cuts to this young people’s service will be detrimental to both youth work and young people as part of the North Luton community.”
There is serious concern at local level in Luton. I worked for Unison for many years as a researcher. It has said that Connexions will face cuts of up to 50% across the country. That has serious implications, especially for NEETs.
I must take issue with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes). He was talking about a national youth service and implying that the Government should take a central role in that. However, when asked to justify current cuts to youth services at a recent meeting with young people, he told them that the decision was not for central Government, but for local councils. That is saying, “We’ll cut your money, but you’ll get the blame.” We cannot blame local authorities when they are facing savage cuts.
My major point is that I do not accept the need for cuts. I have raised that point in the Commons and, before anybody intervenes, I also raised it with Ministers in the last Government before the election. We should be targeting employment creation to bring down unemployment. That will increase tax revenues and reduce the need for benefit payments. The by-product of that will be a reduction in the deficit.
Some countries have gone for savage cuts. I feel deeply sorry for the Irish; they have gone for savage cuts, but that makes their economy perform less well. Setting aside their massive debts, they have seen output decline, and going for deeper cuts will make the problem even worse. The developed world should be reflating not deflating, but we are moving towards deflation. Cutting expenditure on youth facilities will make the situation worse. Employment generation should be used in that area to bring down levels of unemployment and start to reduce the deficit. I could go on at greater length but I have probably said enough. I will listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.
Thank you, Mr Weir. [Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr Rosindell, you don’t even look like Mr Weir.
This has been an excellent and thought-provoking debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling) on securing the debate and on her contribution, and I will reflect on some of the other contributions.
One point that my hon. Friend made particularly powerfully was about the value that youth work provides in generating money into our communities. The fact that for every £1 spent on youth services, another £8 of voluntary activity is generated is a powerful statistic. She also reflected on the national citizen service, and whether it should be seen as an alternative to youth service provision. The general mood of the debate was that it should not.
I would be interested to hear the Minister’s comments to the question raised by my hon. Friend during Education questions:
“As youth services nationally have already been cut by 30 to 40%...how will the Secretary of State ensure the quality of youth service provision in future?”
The Minister responded:
“The hon. Lady underlines the great importance of engaging the young people of this country as proper citizens, which is why we are carrying forward the national citizen service programme,”—[Official Report, 15 November 2010; Vol. 518, c. 643-4.]
To an impartial observer, that sounds rather as if the national citizen service was the replacement for youth services.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) said that cuts to the youth service are a false economy. That is a powerful and central point that we should all reflect on. Making such cuts to youth services will lead to additional costs in policing, social work, education, health services and fighting crime in our communities. If we do not get it right, we will be paying for the cuts to the youth service time and time again.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman’s contribution in more detail. We had a Budget in 2010, and people could see from the direction of travel taken by the Labour Government over previous years just how much of a priority we placed on youth services. The improvement in youth services is clear as a result of that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West also said that she did not want us to return to the bleak days of the 1980s. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham East (Heidi Alexander) talked about the big society as a political convenience. She is in good company because the Minister himself is completely unclear about what the big society means. He says:
“The trouble is that most people don’t know what the Big Society really means, least of all the unfortunate ministers who have to articulate it.”
We look forward to him attempting to do that in a moment. He says:
“What actually is the Big Society, let alone is it good or not? Exactly how big is it now or is it going to be?”
I can answer that question: it is getting smaller by the moment. However, I look forward to him perhaps attempting to articulate better in the future than he has been able to in the past what the big society is and what the contribution of youth services should be to the big society.
The hon. Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) made a thoughtful contribution, which started well when she said that prevention was better than cure. She focused on how important it was for us to take serious action on NEETs. She may be aware of the piece in The Times Educational Supplement with the sub-heading “Experts predict rise in Neets as young people are left without support following local authority raids”. It stated:
“Local authorities are slashing Connexions budgets”
and youth services,
“raising fears that young people out of work or education will be left without support.”
In raising the initial question, the hon. Lady was on exactly the right lines. It is just a shame that she did not follow that through, but decided instead to divert us to the line we heard a number of times that the issue is the quality of the service, rather than the money. It is deeply disingenuous for us as politicians and for those in government to talk about the level of cuts that local authorities will see and say that they must not cut safeguarding—the Minister has already told them that, and the Prime Minister said that they should not cut the voluntary sector—but that it is totally up to local authorities what decisions they make. Some responsibility must be taken at central Government level. If cuts of 27% in local authority funding are to be made, youth services in particular will be affected, but services will be affected across the board. We cannot keep saying to local authorities, “Well, it’s your decision what you choose to cut.” The Government have to take some responsibility for that.
The hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) had obviously given youth services considerable thought and he reflected positively on his experiences as a councillor and the importance of youth services in that area, but he repeated the idea that the cut in funding should not necessarily lead to a cut in services. That is the elephant in the room that we need to be honest about. If youth service professionals are to take us seriously in this debate, we need to be honest about the fact that they will see very substantial cuts. I think that 95% of local authority youth services say that their budgets for providing services to young people in their area are being cut. That will make a real difference to the level of service provided.
The hon. Gentleman had some good ideas about how school and council buildings could be used more effectively, but we must be realistic. The big cost for youth services is actually for the people employed within them, so yes, we can use buildings more effectively, but there is still a cost attached. We ought to be realistic about the cost attached to improving those services. The hon. Gentleman’s ideas about taking people on trips and so on all have a cost attached to them.
Okay. Certainly the voluntary sector will play a very important role. As someone who has been involved in youth sport coaching for the last six or seven years, I know how important the role of the voluntary sector and sports organisations is and completely support that. That is why I have been so horrified by the cuts that the same Minister has been making to the school sports partnership. That was a very important way of engaging children in sport, which led to their involvement in sports clubs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) reflected on the interconnectivity of all these services. That is a central point that we need to consider. The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) reflected on a lifetime dedicated to youth work and youth services and made a thoughtful contribution. When he reflected on the success of youth services in their contribution to the education of people who then go on to develop themselves further and become mature students, he made a very powerful point. He also reflected on the importance of street engagement in terms of youth services. That is another of the central areas in which the national citizen service will be no replacement for youth services, because the national citizen service is a universal service and the activity that it involves will take place over a very short period of a young person’s life, whereas youth services are there every single day of the year, providing a service, particularly to people from more deprived communities, out on the streets. It is a service that they have to engage with; they have to make that contribution.
When the hon. Gentleman said that councils do not have to cut the voluntary sector, he was repeating the line that we have been hearing, which does not take into account the serious level of cuts that there will be for local authorities. Inevitably, when so much of local authorities’ money is already tied up in contracts with external providers, the cost of redundancies and so on, the voluntary sector is an easy area for them to cut. The reality that we all recognise, and that the voluntary sector is very worried about, is the amount of cuts that there will be.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North (Kelvin Hopkins) focused on the fact that the cuts will not spare youth services. I put it to him that in fact the cuts will specifically focus more on an area such as youth services than on some of the statutory areas, such as safeguarding, which councils will be very sensitive about cutting.
I think that all of us, right across the House, would support the general ethos of a big society and the general principle behind it. The Minister is right to say that it still defies an exact description, but we all have an idea of what we think it ought to mean.
The lack of co-ordination between different organisations has implications for how we keep our children safe. Safeguarding is an area that many councils will be protecting, but safeguarding often applies after the problem has been identified. Youth workers play a central role in identifying children who are at risk and in making referrals. There are many cross-referrals from youth services, police services and adult social services to child social services. If those services are diminished, the number of referrals will reduce and many children will never be identified as having problems.
I would like the Minister to respond to the question about whether he agrees that youth services are an integral part of our education system. Does he still see a central role for youth services in our education system? Does he accept that local authority funding is the glue that holds a wide range of youth services together? We currently spend about £100 per year per young person. How much does the Minister think that we will spend in 2011-12? Does he see youth work as a professional role? Does he recognise the professional qualifications that youth workers have now and how important they are?
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that the majority of youths in an area have no interaction whatever with youth services, and that within areas there is often tension between a number of voluntary organisations and the local authority? It would be much better if the local authorities worked much more closely with the youths and if the local voluntary organisations provided the activities and services that those young people wanted.
The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case for expanding funding for youth services. I would certainly support him in that campaign, but at this time we are trying to protect what we have. The key point is that youth services work across our communities, but they work most closely with those in the most deprived areas, those most likely to drop out of school and those most likely to get involved in crime. The central role played by youth services in this country and their success has been recognised by people across the world.
Finally, the Minister must set at rest the minds of people involved in youth work and say that he values their work. If he does value it, he should say what he will do to ensure that the excellent youth services that are provided in this country are protected.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell. This is the worst kind of debate to which to respond. I have been left with 11 minutes to take on board the excellent contributions of seven Back Benchers in this worthwhile and informed debate. It has not been quite as well attended as the debate on high-speed rail, but this matter is of great importance to everybody who is present and to people in our constituencies.
I will discard most of my speech and respond to the points that have been raised by hon. Members. At the end, I will respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Bolton West (Julie Hilling). She provided some questions to the Department at 21 minutes past midnight last night. Unfortunately, I was not at my desk and have not had time to go into them in detail. [Interruption.] I was at my desk at 21 minutes past 11 last night, but not at 21 minutes past 12. I am happy to provide the hon. Lady with more detail and to have a meeting with her to take up the more substantive issues.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing the debate and recognise her great experience in this area as a former youth worker, a former president of the Community and Youth Workers Union and a committed campaigner for young people. I believe that services for young people are vital. I have had the pleasure of visiting the fantastic Bolton Lads and Girls Club, which has been mentioned no fewer than three times. The Prime Minister has been there at least twice and the Prime Minister’s wife has visited it. It is in the constituency neighbouring the hon. Lady’s. Recently, I was delighted to join a group of business leaders in Blackburn who are working with the founders of that club to establish a series of similar facilities across the north-west of England, which is tremendously exciting. The commitment shown to young people by the OnSide project and by local people and businesses in Bolton is second to none, so the hon. Lady can speak from great experience.
I will set out briefly the principles of the Government’s approach to youth services before responding to specific questions. We want to promote a culture of being positive about young people in this country, which engages with the media, central and local government and people of all generations. Intergenerational trust has taken a knock in recent years, and has been exacerbated by negative stories about young people and mixed messages from the previous Government. The good projects supported by the previous Government sat uneasily with the negative messages given by the respect agenda, antisocial behaviour orders, curfew orders and the proliferation of those ghastly Mosquito devices.
We want to promote the involvement of young people in decision making at the top table on matters that affect them, not just on specific youth budget issues. That is not tokenism. As money is tight, we are freeing local authorities to decide what money should be spent on in the light of local priorities. We have ended ring-fencing to give greater autonomy to local authorities. We want to introduce an early intervention grant to help disadvantaged young people get on track for success, using proven effective practices. That is the best use of public funds. The hon. Lady rightly catalogued the cost of failure in this area.
Yesterday, I visited Nottingham, the early intervention city, to see a series of projects that are being led by the hon. Member for Nottingham North (Mr Allen), who I am delighted to say is undertaking an early intervention review for the Government. That is where the hon. Lady has her roots as a youth worker. As many hon. Members have said, early intervention is key. It is important not just in the early years, but in identifying teenagers who are at risk of indulging in dangerous behaviour, before they get on a slippery slope.
We also want to promote new partnerships and sources of finance with the private sector and voluntary bodies. We want to enable voluntary bodies to challenge the monopoly provision of youth services departments. The big society bank is a particularly interesting way in which huge amounts of money might be leveraged into innovative and exciting youth projects.
I have talked to a huge number of people who are passionate about achieving excellent services for young people and I will be talking to young people, youth services representatives, businesses and the media over the coming months to develop our thinking. I have set up a youth forum of key players in the youth sector, which will meet again in two weeks. That is an important source of information, as are the various panels of young people that I have set up to inform the Government about how best to shape policy.
Young people contribute a massive amount to their communities, but the press they get is out of keeping with that and unduly negative. Antisocial behaviour must be tackled firmly, but one of my first responsibilities is to celebrate young people’s achievements, and to promote a culture in the country and in the media of doing so. I am sure that all hon. Members present will want to contribute to that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) made the strong point that prevention is better than waiting for the cure, hence our emphasis on early intervention through the early intervention grant. How that money is spent is important. We should not just throw money at projects. Their success should be determined not by the number of participants, but by whether they provide a life-changing experience for the young person, by the value added and by the quality of the experience. There has been too much concentration on how many people have participated, regardless of the outcomes.
My hon. Friend rightly said that the big society is not a political convenience, but something that has been going on in parts of the country beneath the radar for many years. We want to raise it on to the radar and to encourage more people to participate in it. The Opposition spokesman fell into the trap of lazy journalists. Occasionally, it is useful to let detail get in the way of a good headline. If he reads my speech at the Edith Kahn memorial lecture, he will see that the 17 pages subsequent to the initial setting out of the problems are rather good and set out what the big society is all about. I recommend that he reads it in full; it is available on the Department for Education website. It sounds as though Mike Stephens is something of a one-man big society in his own right.
The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) went on about the bleak days of the 1980s. She clearly got her headline because she has now legged it elsewhere. She mentioned Armley Juniors, which has set up a youth facility in a local post office—one of the few things to come from the previous Government’s wholesale closure of the post office network.
The Government’s policy is not about cuts, but about new and smarter ways of doing things. Just yesterday, we launched the voluntary and community sector grant scheme, which encourages youth services organisations to come forward with their good ideas to get funding from the Department for Education. There is a new £110 million education endowment fund that will allow schools, charities, local authorities, academy sponsors and other groups to bid for funding to boost the attainment of disadvantaged pupils. There is about £470 million to help fund key programmes, including the training of community organisers, the creation of a new neighbourhood grant programme and so on. We should look beyond the headlines.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) is right that we should use existing facilities in a smarter way. We want to use children’s centres more out of hours and at weekends for youth activities. We should make more use of schools and sports facilities that are lying idle for much of the time. In my constituency, I set up a midnight football project that runs from 10 o’clock to midnight on Saturdays at a leisure centre after it has closed. That is when it is not being used and when the problems happen.
I will come on to the points made by the hon. Member for Bolton West, but because I have so little time I think that we will have to have a meeting. She asked about collecting information on youth services and auditing them. The Government collect annual figures on local authority expenditure on youth work through what have become known as section 52 returns. We are reviewing all data requirements on local authorities, but we have no plans to discontinue the collection of that information. I hope that that answer is helpful.
It is important that youth services are scrutinised by local young people. Youth mayors—there is one in Worthing—youth cabinets and UK Youth Parliament members should scrutinise the quality of youth services. They should use their voice to challenge local authorities and the Government. I spend a lot of time with them.
The hon. Lady mentioned West Sussex and I am aware of the pressures on local authority budgets. In fact, West Sussex county council has changed the way in which it does things and the cuts will not be of the level that she mentioned.
I look forward to visiting the project tomorrow with the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy). The national citizen service is not compensation for youth services. The funding will not come out of the Department for Education’s funding for youth services, but will be completely separate. However, it does bring lessons for new ways of doing things that can be applied to the youth sector—it is about inspiring young people. We are not discussing just a short summer camp, but an experience of a lifetime at the transition to adulthood that will engage and re-engage young people in their communities on an ongoing and lasting basis. Let us not confuse it with a glorified summer camp.
There are many more questions, but I am running out of time in which to answer them. I would be delighted to meet the hon. Member for Bolton West.