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Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment of Functions) Order 2014

Volume 758: debated on Tuesday 13 January 2015

Motion to Consider

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (Amendment of Functions) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 16th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, the order before us today amends the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales Order 2000, which was made under Section 41(6) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The order gives the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales—the YJB, as it is customarily known—additional functions so that it can more effectively and efficiently fulfil its statutory role to oversee the operation of the youth justice system in England and Wales.

This draft order deals with four provisions. These relate to the YJB’s grant-making powers, its role in the temporary release of young people from secure training centres, its power to commission education provision in young offender institutions and its ability to assist in the development of IT systems underpinning the youth justice system. I will briefly describe for the Committee the effect of each provision and our reasons for making these changes.

The first provision, set out at Article 2(c), extends the scope of the YJB’s function to make grants to local authorities and other persons, allowing it to respond more effectively to the evolving needs of local youth justice services. The YJB’s current grant-making function dates from when the board was established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. At present, the board, subject to the approval of the Secretary of State, may provide grant funding to local authorities and other bodies for the purposes of developing good practice and commissioning research on issues affecting youth justice. One such example of a grant provided by the board is the annual youth justice good practice grant made to all youth offending teams in England and Wales.

At the time of the establishment of the YJB and local youth offending teams, the scope of the board’s grant-making powers was appropriate. However, the Government’s triennial review of the YJB, laid before Parliament in November 2013, concluded that the purpose of the grant-making power was now outdated and limited. This order acts on the review’s recommendation by widening the YJB’s powers so that it can make grants to local authorities and others for the purposes of the operation of the youth justice system and the provision of youth justice services. This will increase the scope of services for which the grant money can be used, thereby better responding to the evolving local priorities of youth justice and promoting improved front-line delivery.

Noble Lords may well be aware that at the same time as we are seeking to broaden the YJB’s powers to make grants to local authorities, we are also conducting a stocktake of youth offending teams, or YOTs. The aim of this stocktake is to establish a clear picture of how YOTs are operating and to make sure that we are providing the best support possible to young people and their communities. While the details of the stocktake are being finalised, we nevertheless believe that now is the right time to amend the board’s grant-making powers so that funding can be better targeted to the evolving needs of youth justice services locally and that there should be no delay in bringing about this important reform.

The second provision, set out at Article 3(3)(a) of the draft order, gives the YJB a new power, concurrent with the Secretary of State, to release young people temporarily from secure training centres—STCs—a form of youth custody. Where young people are risk-assessed as suitable for temporary release without compromising security or public protection, permission will be given for them to leave the establishment for an agreed period to undertake constructive activity with the aim of supporting their effective resettlement in the community after release. Temporary release from custody can be used to enable young people to attend interviews and training courses or to arrange accommodation ready for their release. Making more effective use of temporary release to support resettlement is an objective of the Government’s Transforming Youth Custody programme.

At present, the process of temporary release from STCs is overseen by a combination of the National Offender Management Service—NOMS—on behalf of the Secretary of State and the directors of STCs. As it is the YJB rather than NOMS that is responsible for commissioning and monitoring the delivery of youth custodial services in STCs, we believe that the board is better placed to oversee the temporary release process. This instrument will enable the board to release trainees from STCs temporarily. Under this proposal, STC directors, in conjunction with youth offending teams, will assess a young person’s suitability for temporary release and submit applications for the YJB to approve. The YJB’s expertise and knowledge will ensure that there is greater consistency in the use of temporary release and that activities properly balance the benefits to the young person with public protection considerations.

The third provision, set out at Article 3(3)(b) of the draft order, has also arisen from the Government’s Transforming Youth Custody programme. In line with our aim to put education at the heart of youth detention so that young offenders can equip themselves with the skills to lead productive, crime-free lives, the provision gives the YJB a concurrent power with the Secretary of State to contract for the provision of education in directly managed young offender institutions.

The YJB currently commissions custodial provision in YOIs from NOMS, while the education provision in these directly managed establishments is commissioned and managed by the Education Funding Agency, an executive agency of the Department for Education which manages funding to support all state-provided education for children and young people up to the age of 19. The result of having separate commissioners of custodial and education provision in YOIs is a lack of integration between the two services. As a consequence, young people in YOIs receive an average of only 12 hours’ education a week, with classes frequently disrupted to facilitate appointments and other interventions.

Giving the YJB the power to commission and manage the provision of education in directly managed YOIs will promote the more effective integration of custodial and education services by creating clearer and stronger accountability arrangements. The board has considerable experience in commissioning and managing contracts in the youth custodial estate, and this change will ensure that the new education contracts in YOIs, which we announced in December and which will more than double the number of hours that young people spend in education, will be robustly managed and better meet the needs of young people.

The final provision, set out at Article 2(c) of the draft order, is intended to enable the YJB to make the best use of its skills and knowledge of the information technology systems used in the youth justice system. The provision will enable the board to provide assistance to local authorities and others in relation to the development, management and maintenance of IT systems. Youth justice IT systems are in place to facilitate the flow and management of information between local authorities, youth custodial establishments, the YJB and others who work directly with children and young people. This exchange of information, and the IT systems that underpin it, are therefore vital.

The important role that the board plays in overseeing the operation of the youth justice system means that it is highly knowledgeable about the needs and requirements of these information technology systems and their users. The board ought therefore to be in a position to assist local authorities, the Secretary of State and others to make adjustments to these systems to fit the evolving requirements of the youth justice system. This draft order will give the board a clearer remit to assist local authorities and others, such as IT suppliers, in the development, management and maintenance of these systems. For example, the YJB would be able to help local authorities co-commission services from case management suppliers.

As a whole, the provisions in this draft order will enable the YJB to discharge its functions more effectively, thus improving the overall operation of the youth justice system. Our intention is to give the YJB the powers it needs to tackle offending and reoffending by young people. The challenges the board faces now are not identical to those it faced when it was established in 1998, and it is right that we amend its powers to reflect this. Fewer young people are entering the criminal justice system and fewer are ending up in custody, which I am sure is welcomed on all sides. These are significant achievements, and this draft order will ensure that the YJB is able to continue building on this success while supporting new approaches to tackling what can be stubbornly high reoffending rates. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, for setting out the details of this order for the Grand Committee to consider this afternoon. As the noble Lord explained, the order both amends the functions of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales and grants it new powers. Of course, we can look back to earlier in this Parliament when the Government were talking about the bonfire of the quangos and the Youth Justice Board was firmly in their sights. Thankfully, we on these Benches saw off that threat and now the noble Lord’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is the chair of the Youth Justice Board—how things change!—and we wish him well.

I would like to put on record my thanks to the Youth Justice Board for the work it does in England and Wales and its many achievements. I have a number of points to make and a few questions for the noble Lord. First, I welcome the proposals to extend the ability of the Youth Justice Board to award grants to local authorities or other bodies working in the youth justice system. Will the Minister say something about the level of funds that are going to be available to make grants from? Is there any new money here or is it just new powers and grants from existing budgets, with no new money?

Secondly, the order gives the Youth Justice Board the new function of assisting other relevant bodies with IT support. Anything that involves IT always worries me as I have seen so many things go wrong due to poor planning, poor procedures and problems around IT. The words “overpromise” and “underdeliver” are usually in my mind when it comes to IT projects. Will the noble Lord tell the Grand Committee a bit more about what is planned here? What assurances can he give the Grand Committee about the protection of data? These are people’s data and, in this case, young people’s data. How can we be assured that these data will be protected and kept secure? Will the Youth Justice Board have the necessary funds to ensure that this important function is done properly?

I welcome the proposal to allow the Youth Justice Board to enter contracts for the provision of education in young offender institutions. Good quality education and purposeful activity for the young people held in these institutions is of paramount importance and more must be done in this area. Will the noble Lord tell the Grand Committee how he sees standards being improved in the coming period? There are lots of data and other pieces of evidence about the education level achieved and the number of people who suffer from some form of learning difficulties going through the criminal justice system. It is essential that educational achievement is improved as part of rehabilitating these young people—I am delighted to hear that fewer young people are going through the system now—so that they can return to make a proper contribution to society and not be in a revolving door in and out of these and similar establishments. With those points, I am happy from these Benches to support the order.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his observations about the Youth Justice Board, which will be conveyed to it. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, the distinguished chairman of the board, has previously stood where I now stand and has had many of his proposals thoroughly scrutinised by the party opposite, including the proposal to get rid of the Youth Justice Board altogether. However, wise counsel prevailed on that occasion, and it continues to perform its function well, as the noble Lord quite rightly said.

He asked me a number of questions about the grants, including whether there be more money for the YJB for grants. This is really not about extending the function of the YJB or the YOI; the aim is to increase flexibility in how the YJB awards grants and how the money is spent. On the question about youth justice grant levels, the grant is allocated from within the Youth Justice Board’s overall budget, and there are significant challenges in meeting the savings, as the noble Lord will be aware, that all departments and arm’s-length bodies must make next year. We need to get this right. However, I am aware that youth offending teams need to plan their resources. We are close to reaching an allocation for the board, and we expect that youth offending teams will be informed soon.

I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that the youth justice IT system is a vital communication tool enabling information about young people to be shared across the youth justice system. He was concerned about the protection of data. This is, of course, not something that has been overlooked. The YJB will not be handling additional personal data as a result of these reforms, so there is no change in the risk in terms of data. This will give the YJB greater freedom to assist in the development of its systems.

There is a great deal I could say about how the youth justice IT systems are currently working, although I am not sure that the Committee would thank me for a lengthy answer. Perhaps I may just say that examples of the current systems include Connectivity, which provides a secure information-sharing mechanism between agencies in the youth justice system. I hope that the security of the programme will reassure him on the question of data. The eAsset sentence management system is used to support the placement and ongoing case management of young people in custody. The Youth Justice Management Information System collects, shares and analyses end-to-end management information, supporting better decision-making about vulnerable young people.

Lastly, the board currently has the power to identify, make known and promote good practice within the youth justice system, but at the moment this does not extend to providing assistance directly to local authorities and other persons in relation to the operation of the youth justice system and, in particular, in relation to their IT systems. Contracts for central IT systems—that is, those which are not held by local authorities—are and will continue to be held by the MoJ. The costs information we have shows that Connectivity and annual running costs are put at £835,480. The eAsset system and YJMIS annual running costs are £626,764. Examples of the type of assistance which the YJB will be able to provide under the new function are the maintenance and management of IT systems, assisting local authorities in co-commissioning from their case management IT suppliers and helping to procure changes to IT systems.

These are minor changes to the powers, although I bear in mind the noble Lord’s general wariness about any alteration in IT systems, and given his experience he has much to teach a government body. However, I think that he will be able to see that the YJB will be very much on top of this and the data will be sufficiently secure. I hope that he can accept that the YJB will continue to do the useful job that it has been doing so far. I hope that it will be able to do it somewhat better with these increased powers. These are reasonable amendments and the board will be able to fulfil its statutory role to oversee the operation of the youth justice system and continue to make what I think are improvements. Nevertheless, one accepts that there are some difficulties which have proved to be particularly intransigent. The increase in the provision of education, the sharing of information and the capacity to have more powers in relation to grant are important ancillary powers that will enable the board better to fulfil its functions. In those circumstances, I hope that the Committee will agree that these are proportionate and sensible measures.

Motion agreed.