Activity agreements at risk from cuts, opposition warns

Scheme to support school-leavers will be starved of vital resources, Labour MSPs claim

Government funding cuts could threaten the success of activity agreements, designed to support the most vulnerable school-leavers, opposition politicians have warned.

The scheme is being expanded from 10 pilot local authorities to all 32 this year, but Government support has been cut by 67 per cent - from pound;12 million to pound;4m. The move will reduce the average budget for each council from pound;1.2m to pound;125,000.

Ken Macintosh, Labour education spokesman, said starving the scheme of resources could put it at risk of failure before it had been given a chance to succeed.

Intense support was needed for young people in danger of drifting into "this limbo-land where nobody is really helping them". Activity agreements had shown in the pilot stage that they could be "shaped to do that", but more investment was needed.

Activity agreements are entered into by a young person and a professional adviser. They set out a programme of learning and activity for the youngster to prepare them for formal learning or employment post-school. The young people who enter into these agreements tend to be vulnerable, with drug or alcohol abuse issues or a history of health problems.

Pilots were launched across 10 local authorities in May 2009 and ended in March this year. They focused on intensive one-to-one advice and guidance, a detailed assessment of the needs and interests of the young people, and a range of activities offered through various providers, combined with financial support via the education maintenance allowance.

A Government evaluation found that the pilots had been "well delivered and have achieved good results for the young people". But it also found overall resources provided in the pilots were in excess of what was required.

When rolling out the scheme nationally, however, funding would be required to support the work of advisers, monitoring and evidence collection, the report said.

But Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale, who raised the issue in Parliament last week, said: "It is clear that that money (pound;12m) was necessary to deliver activity agreements across 10 local authorities."

Under-funding them would affect the quality of provision, she said. "I have heard through various organisations which deliver activity agreements . that in some areas an activity agreement can be as little as two hours' contact time a week."

A Government spokeswoman said: "The evaluation of the activity agreement pilot showed they were good value for money and helped some of the most vulnerable young people stay in or re-engage in learning, with many moving on to a positive destination."

That was why the Government was now rolling out the agreements across the country and would build on them by taking forward its post-16 programme, Opportunities for All, she said.

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