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Youth Service: Funding

Volume 572: debated on Tuesday 21 May 1996

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2.46 p.m.

Whether they will review the current arrangements for funding the youth service.

My Lords, we have no plans to do so. The Government provide grant to fund all the services for which local education authorities are responsible. This grant is not earmarked for specific services. Arrangements for funding youth services will continue to be a matter for local authorities. My department also funds local education authorities to train youth workers through its programme of specific grants for education support and training.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that over the last four years for which figures are available there has been a reduction of 22 per cent. in the funding of the maintained and voluntary sectors of the youth service? The reduction is even greater in London boroughs and other metropolitan areas. It is attributable to the increasing pressure on local authorities. As the Government continue to express concern over youth crime, drug addiction and truancy, will they urgently reconsider their policy of ending their direct spending on services that provide positive alternatives to criminal and disruptive behaviour by young people?

My Lords, perhaps I may start by correcting the noble Lord's figures. The amounts spent by local authorities over the last four years for which we have figures (up to 1994–95) have remained in real terms broadly consistent. I accept that the figures have fallen, as the noble Lord puts it, in particular in inner London. However, the amount spent per head is still considerably larger than the amount spent in other parts of the country.

We believe that it is for the local education authorities to decide how they should spend their resources. It is for them to assess their priorities and not for the Government.

My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that the answers he gave relate to England and Wales and not to Scotland? People sometimes are a little confused when the figures differ, the funding being different in Scotland.

My Lords, although at the Dispatch Box we generally answer for Her Majesty's Government and therefore for the United Kingdom as a whole, on this occasion the figures relate to England and Wales, for which my department is responsible. If my noble friend wishes for either myself or one of my noble friends in the Scottish Office to write to her giving her appropriate figures for Scotland, we shall be more than happy to do so.

My Lords, the demise of the youth service can be traced back to the decision to abolish the Youth Service Development Council. That led to the closing of many training colleges for professional youth leaders. It has had extremely unfortunate results, in particular in the inner cities, which demonstrate the results of so much boredom because no trained leadership or facilities exist. Would it be a good idea for the Government to re-establish something like the Albemarle Committee which a previous Conservative Government set up? It could review the serious situation existing in the youth service and come forward with recommendations which perhaps we could all accept as being pertinent to the problems facing young people today.

My Lords, again I start by correcting the noble Lord. There has been no demise of the youth service, which continues in all local education authorities throughout the country. Most authorities provide a good service; some are trying new, interesting and innovative ideas. As I made clear earlier, the amount of money spent by local education authorities has remained broadly consistent over the past few years. I dare say it will remain the same in subsequent years. It is a matter for the LEAs themselves to decide on their priorities. It would not be right for the Government to impose a diktat in the area.

My Lords, will the Minister give an assurance that in no way will the Government fund any kind of youth service by stealing £2 billion or £3 billion of shareholders' money from the privatised utilities—because that is the intention of the Labour Party in funding its youth scheme?

My Lords, as I understand it, the party opposite has plans to steal a great deal of money from the privatised utilities and spend it not once, not twice but of the order of 10 times over.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be a good idea if we spent more money than appears to be spent at the moment on the youth service? Is he aware that the Council of Local Education Authorities has advised us that the funding of the youth service is a continuing problem, as LEA grant settlements become less and less adequate? For an LEA with a priority in the area of teachers' pay—which is one of the first priorities—discretionary grants come much lower down the agenda. For that reason, I fear, the youth service advises us on this side of the House that it currently faces a severe crisis, particularly in London.

My Lords, I am interested in that further commitment to spending from the party opposite. I dare say that the noble Baroness has checked it with the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer. I believe I can say that her party will probably spend the money it plans to raise from raiding the privatised utilities not 10 times but 11 times over.

We make considerable sums available to local education authorities for education. It is then up to those authorities to decide on their priorities. We increased the SSA for education by nearly £1 billion this year. It is therefore for the local education authorities to decide on their priorities. I do not believe that the party opposite would like me to start telling its members exactly how they should spend the money.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that one cannot escape spending money? As a result of the Government not providing facilities, there is the cost of delinquency and hooliganism in our society which cannot be lost. It must be met by police committees and by the Government themselves. When the Minister makes such statements, will he please discuss the finely judged balance between the cost of providing youth facilities and the cost when the Government fail to provide such facilities?

My Lords, what the noble Lord said is simply nonsense. We are not failing to provide resources for the youth service. We provide money through the educational side of the standard spending assessment for local authorities. It is up to them to decide on the appropriate priorities, and they do so, because spending has remained broadly the same throughout the United Kingdom and throughout England over the past few years.