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Youth Justice Board (Abolition)

Volume 530: debated on Thursday 23 June 2011

I am today announcing further detail on the Government’s plans for the future national governance of youth justice. It is my intention to abolish the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and to bring its key functions into the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the Minister responsible for civil society, the Member for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner (Mr Hurd), will be bringing forward a Government amendment to reintroduce the YJB to schedule 1 (the list of bodies to be abolished) of the Public Bodies Bill currently before this House.

The Youth Justice Board was set up in 1998 to oversee what was then a fractured and immature system. In the past 12 years the system has changed considerably. In response to a lack of cohesion and collaborative working, the YJB has overseen the national roll-out of youth offending teams and the establishment of a distinct secure estate for young people. These core elements of the youth justice system are now fully operational in the local delivery of youth justice. Given these significant improvements, I believe that we no longer require a separate body to provide oversight of the youth justice system.

Effective oversight can be better achieved by bringing this function closer to Ministers; and it is right that Ministers themselves—not unelected officials in arm’s length bodies (ALBs)—should be responsible for youth justice, which is a critical area of Government policy. It is Ministers who should lead and drive forward the work that will result in further reductions in the numbers of young people entering the youth justice system, the numbers of young people reoffending and the numbers of young people in custody. By bringing youth justice closer to Ministers, the new Youth Justice Division I am establishing will be a powerful impetus behind future improvement, will be able to influence policy across Government and will ensure that other Departments play their part in stopping young people from becoming involved in crime and reoffending. An ALB does not have the appropriate policy leverage within Government to effect such change.

The abolition of the YJB will not have an adverse impact on the delivery of youth justice on the ground. The Government intend to retain youth offending teams, which are well embedded in local structures. My Department will also continue to place young people separately to adult offenders in a dedicated secure estate that is driven by the needs of young people. There will be clear ministerial oversight of this.

It is my intention to carry out the main functions of the YJB within a newly created youth justice division in the MoJ. The Youth Justice Division will continue this Government’s focus on meeting the needs of children and young people in the youth justice system and will deliver the main functions of the YJB—overseeing the delivery of youth justice services, identifying and disseminating effective practice, commissioning a distinct secure estate and placing young people in custody.

The Youth Justice Division will be a dedicated part of the MoJ and will sit outside of the National Offender Management Service. It will ensure that the commissioning of the youth justice secure estate and the placement of young people in custody will continue to be driven by people who have a dedicated focus on the needs of young people. The structure will also ensure that youth justice work in the community—primarily conducted by youth offending teams—remains closely linked to work with young offenders in custody. This is at the heart of our ambitions for a “rehabilitation revolution”.

I can confirm that John Drew, the current chief executive of the YJB, has agreed to lead the transition of the YJB into the new Youth Justice Division structure and to continue to lead it beyond that. I am confident that he will ensure there is continuity between the YJB and the new Youth Justice Division. He will also help to ensure that the new organisation is embedded in the MoJ while retaining the experience and expertise of YJB staff.

My Department will also strengthen its focus on youth justice by establishing an advisory board of stakeholders and experts to advise on youth justice issues and to provide expert challenge and scrutiny. In addition, Dame Sue Street, a non-executive director of the MoJ who brings experience and knowledge of youth justice, will be taking an active interest in youth justice within MoJ, and will have a direct route into the Department through the permanent secretary and Secretary of State.

In making this decision I have taken into account the concerns expressed by some interested parties and noble Lords about the abolition of the YJB and our plans for the future governance of youth justice. My Department will consult on the YJB’s inclusion in the Bill over the summer, and I will pay close attention to the responses. My reform proposals are also subject to the progress of the Bill through Parliament, and the abolition of the YJB will require me to lay an order, subject to affirmative resolution process. This proposal has therefore already been widely discussed with stakeholders and will continue to be subject to consultation and to full and appropriate parliamentary scrutiny.