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Youth quango wins reprieve

The National Youth Agency, whose future has been in doubt for six months, has been given a reprieve by the Government in its final report on its destiny, published this week.

The Department for Education's verdict on the three-year-old quango was delivered just two days before the departure of the agency's outspoken director, Janet Paraskeva, who is leaving after being headhunted by the English Lottery Charities Board. Under Ms Paraskeva, the agency's determined lobbying and its emphasis on the role of youth work in defusing anti-social behaviour is believed to have irritated the DFE in the past, prompting suggestions that it was exceeding its brief.

The agency has now lost its quango status, but retains all its functions. While most of its activities and funding will be devolved to local authorities, this will take place over a much more leisurely timescale than was suggested in the interim report. Junior minister Tim Boswell has told the Council for Local Education Authorities that Pounds 1.1 million would be available, rather than the Pounds 700,000 originally proposed.

Ms Paraskeva said she and the agency staff were "greatly relieved that the department is trying to secure the continuation of all the agency's functions". Mike Nicholl, the chairman, added: "We're relieved that this will not be a cut by another name; the money will simply come by a different route."

Local authorities, rather than the Government, will now direct and fund the agency's work on the curriculum and development projects "in the light of local statutory and voluntary sector needs", says the report, but the original proposal that the money should be delivered through Grants for Education Support and Training has been abandoned after local authority protests. The DFE will now "top-slice" money from the total local authority budget and distribute it to councils to pay for the agency's work.

Contrary to the conclusion of the interim report, the agency's training programme will continue, with the proviso that accreditation should cease to be the responsibility of central Government. The DFE will continue to fund the agency's publications and information operation and staff have been given five years, rather than a few months, to halve their costs.

It remains to be seen whether the local authority associations will accept the "top-slicing" arrangement. "Taking money away from local authorities before they get it is never a popular medium for funding anyone," said CLEA's administrator, Ivor Widdison. The policy committees of the three local authority associations will discuss the report in July and a final decision will be made in October.

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