Minister warns colleges that unless they forge alliances with local youth groups they will lose the right to provide services. Huw Richards reports
COLLEGES and local authorities which fail to use the youth service as a leading partner in the battle against social and educational exclusion could have the work taken away from them, lifelong learning minister George Mudie has warned.
Under a new drive to raise standards, government cash will only go to those partnerships which demonstrate that they have formed effective groupings with leading public and private sector providers.
Mr Mudie, whose responsibilities include the youth service, was speaking to last weekend's annual conference of the Community and Youth Workers Union, held in Derby. He said that to attempt to raise educational attainment among the socially excluded without using the skills of community and youth workers would be "like assembling all the chemicals necessary for the creation of life except one".
He warned: "If they leave you out they will not deliver. And if they do not deliver we will take the responsibilities away from them."
But he denied that he was issuing threats, telling The TES: "There's no threat. It is a question of getting people to come together and attack these problems."
Welcomed as the first youth service minister to address the CYWU within living memory, Mr Mudie promised that the long-awaited consultative document on the future of the service would be issued in June. He said that the pre-consultation process would start in the coming week, following the conclusion of consultation on post-16 plans, to which the youth service document would be linked.
Mr Mudie was critical of local authorities that fail to give the youth service the money allotted by the Government's standard spending assessments.
He said that pound;50 million was being lost to the service. While recognising that councils had the democratic right to do this, he said: "I would plead with them to recognise that this money should be spent on the service." Local Government Association representatives who spoke at the conference denied Mr Mudie's charges. Graham Lane, chair of the LGA education committee, said there was pound;580m in school reserves which could be released if the Government wished to help the youth service. A CYWU survey of local authority returns to the recent Audit of the Youth Service shows dramatic variations in the proportion of education spending devoted to the youth service.
Of the 126 English authorities, 35 spent less than 1 per cent in 19967 - with North Tyneside bottom on 0.36 per cent. Top was Kensington and Chelsea with 4.50 per cent, followed by Leicester at 3.54 per cent. Four authorities did not supply returns.
Mr Mudie was cagey on the demand to make youth services statutory. He told the conference this was unlikely to be addressed in the immediate future because of extreme pressure on the parliamentary timetable, with even the Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott unable to secure time for his Transport Bill.
Doug Nicholls, general secretary of CYWU, welcomed Mr Mudie's recognition of the central importance of the youth service, but told him that statutory standing was essential if the youth service were to enjoy equal status with other agencies in local partnerships: "Every other partner has statutory status and earmarked funding".
He pointed out that the councils invariably complained of underfunding by central government, and that even if the extra pound;50m were given to the youth service it would only restore funding to 1977 levels.
He told The TES that councils could be compelled to pay up by restoring grant-related expenditure requirements abolished by the Conservatives:
"This would not require complicated primary legislation," he said.
Tom Wylie, chief executive of the National Youth Agency, said: "The Government has dragged its feet for long enough. It should seize the opportunity of the post-16 review and legislate on the statutory base of the youth service this autumn".
The promised consultation paper should provide a proper policy framework for the service, including a clarification of the statutory issue and of what constitutes sufficiency, he told the conference. It was essential to ensure enhanced long-termfunding and a sustained programme of professional development.
But youth workers should also be addressing their own quality of performance, he said.
Some problems were attributable to resources. Others were not. The profession needed to note OFSTED reports pointing to lack of focus and developmental activity and to stop treating new initiatives negatively, Mr Whylie added.