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Youth Services

Volume 783: debated on Monday 3 July 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the need for youth services and how they propose to fund those services.

My Lords, local authorities are responsible for assessing local need for youth services and allocating funding. The Government recognise the importance of activities and services outside formal education settings that can help young people develop skills, improve well-being and participate in their communities. The Government are investing up to £80 million through the Youth Investment Fund and the #iwill fund in voluntary and community organisations that work with young people and are continuing to back the National Citizen Service.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. Of course, I do not think that that is too little, but local authorities are all cutting back. The Avenues youth centre on Harrow Road has been in existence for 40 years. For the first time, the council has cut all grant to that body. Not only is this a time when young people need to have their outlooks broadened and some joy in life, but we and they need to be protected from knife carrying and the terrible occupations that can easily fill in work for idle hands. How does the Minster think the voluntary sector will cope with that?

As I said in my previous Answer, local needs are best addressed by local authorities. It is not the ideal position of central government to look at local needs such as those to which my noble friend referred. However, it is not just a question of local authority spending. That is why we are spending £200 million on the National Citizen Service, £40 million on the #iwill fund—looking after a third of its running costs—£40 million on the Youth Investment Fund and £10 million from LIBOR fines for uniformed youth groups. Importantly, we are spending £700,000 on the Delivering Differently for Young People programme, which gives local authorities technical and legal support to help them develop new models for delivering youth services.

My Lords, it is all very well saying that decisions are best made locally, which of course they are, but if the Government reduce the funding to local authorities by more than two-fifths, it is inevitable that youth services and other non-statutory mainstream services will suffer. The Government have a responsibility. What are they going to do about the fundamental issue underlying the noble Baroness’s Question, which is that there is a problem in terms of activities for young people which should be properly resourced and funded?

When local authorities have to make difficult choices, who would noble Lords rather did that—the local authority or central government? We have provided additional money to enable local authorities to look at sustainable models. There are very good examples of local authorities which have grabbed the opportunity, looked anew at how to provide youth services and done it with local partners. I can give the example of Knowsley.

My Lords, I welcome what the Minister said about additional investment, but going beyond the local and thinking about national security—in terms of preventing the radicalisation of young people and the creation of gangs—does he not think it vital that we invest in youth services? These have been cut to ribbons in the recent cuts arising from the economic crash—they have been decimated. I welcome the money, but so much more work is needed. Will he and colleagues consider putting youth services on a statutory basis so that they are protected over time?

The noble Earl may be aware that such services are on a statutory basis, and local authorities have a statutory duty to provide them. If we just take specific examples from recent years, Unison reported on the cuts to local youth services. For 2014-15, it reported that £85 million was cut. In the meantime, the Government spent £170 million on NCS, £10 million on the Uniformed Youth Social Action Fund, £300,000 on the British Youth Council, £500,000 on Delivering Differently and £270,000 on the Centre for Youth Impact. That is some £128 million against £85 million of cuts. My central point remains that difficult decisions should be made locally. It is not true that, for the reasons that the noble Earl expressed, the Government are doing nothing—let alone the National Citizen Service, which the coalition started in 2011 and which now has about 100,000 young people going through it.

My Lords, it has long been clear that voluntary agencies deliver more effectively and at lower cost youth services such as those discussed and as a result keep children out of crime. What are the Government doing to encourage and support the voluntary sector in this vital area?

I do so because I think it is vital. When the National Citizen Service Bill went through the House, it received virtually unanimous support because it was regarded as a good thing. I encourage noble Lords to visit the NCS during the Summer Recess. They will be impressed. We deliver 80% of that service through local community action groups. The money that central government allocates is spent through local charities, authorities and voluntary groups in the various regions of the country.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that cuts to youth services, public health, libraries and education all hit hardest young people in the poorest and most vulnerable communities? What assessment have the Government made of the impact of these cuts in such communities? What are they going to do about that?

The Government looked at these particularly disadvantaged areas and set up the Youth Investment Fund, funded by DCMS and the Big Lottery Fund. It will award £40 million to the most disadvantaged areas in the country.

My Lords, would the Minister accept that those of us who believe in local government in England despair at the way Westminster and the Government appear to be determining priorities? It is no good saying that local authorities have a statutory duty to provide when there is no quantity attached to that. The Minister keeps referring to local authority choice, but there is none in England: Westminster decides what can be spent and therefore determines what is needed. When will those of us in the English local authority system get the sort of money the Government appear to be spending per capita in Northern Ireland?

It is not true that it is just a question of local authority cuts. That is why central government is spending £40 million on the Step Up To Serve #iwill fund, £40 million on the Youth Investment Fund and £200 million on the National Citizen Service. They are providing real money to help youth services all around the country.