Youth Service cannot move on without funding

6th April 2001 at 01:00
The launch last week of the Government's paper on the Youth Service, though coming four years later than originally promised, coincided with the 40th anniversary of the government report that originally launched it.

This was the Albemarle Report of 1960. It invested in local authority budgets, promoted a partnership with the voluntary sector, and created the JNC Committee which manages national collective bargaining, links pay rates to qualifications and maintains quality assurance over training. These building blocks have maintained things ever since and remain secure.

After years of decline, binned reports and the rejection of Bills and Parliamentary lobbies, the previous Tory government sought to eradicate funding for the Youth Service by removing the grant related expenditure assessment (GREA) figure which set a benchmark for local authority spending.

Though most spent below this, it was something to aspire to. The removal of GREA led to sharp decline everywhere, forcing my union to take one local authority to the High Court to test the legality of reducing the Youth Service to nothing.

Our failure in court revealed the failure of legislation. Statutes simply require the provision of "adequate" facilities for young people.

Rather than tackling this problem, the Government diminished power even further by applying it to services for under-16s.

As a result, postcode inequality continues. A young person can expect 10 times the provision if born in Kensington and Chelsea than if born, say, in Hampshire.

While Wales and Scotland are seeking to address this problem by basing all new youth policies on the Youth Service and the concept of young people's entitlements and rights, England is opting for the status quo. This involves hiding under the illusion of local government autonomy.

Government says local government must do more with the funds it gives the Youth Service, though it does not specify what it gives. Local government says if it is to do more it must have more central funding, but it is not prepared to accept any strings, nor to actually present a case.

Lifelong learning minister Malcolm Wicks' announcements last week were the first official statemens since 1960 to recognise the central role of the Youth Service. He is "encouraging" local government to spend more by showing their pathetic spending figures, imposing more Office for Standards in Education inspections and demanding annual action plans.

These are all steps forward. He knows too that the new Connexions service won't work without youth workers. Yet, just when Government needs us more and calls on the JNC and training agencies to support it, local government is pulling the plug on funding for the crucial work of endorsing the JNC training courses.

Local Connexions services are setting pay rates for the new personal advisers and qualification requirements so low that there is a real danger that the sub-standard will become the norm. Unbelievably, it is also seeking to undermine the profession's commitment to codes of ethical conduct.

The political benefits to Government are centrally prescribed, but any attempt to benefit the profession seems to be left to chaotic local market forces. New Labour rests contentedly on the 1944 Education Act and a Conservative compromise to refuse to impose spending levels. We remain the only part of education not to have received new funding since 1997 despite acknowledged centrality to key Government initiatives.

The Government is genuinely asking what should be done, but it has apparently rejected the legislative and funding changes that would ensure success. This is a shame because we have contributed a lot to transforming this Government.

The concepts of lifelong learning and social inclusion come from this sector. The idea of creating a minister for youth and cross-departmental government youth and children's committee comes from us. So does all the work on active citizenship which has created the United Kingdom Youth Parliament and the proliferation of local youth councils and community action programmes, and a stronger voice for young people.

We have made government more youth friendly and more like the rest of Europe. The status quo in return is not a fair response.

Doug Nicholls is general secretary of the Community and Youth Workers' Union, which represents youth workers, mentors and personal advisers

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