The House of Commons last week debated the future of the Youth Service in a Westminster Hall Debate secured by Julie Hilling, Labour MP for Bolton West. Julie used the debate to voice her professional experience, used to convey the importance of youth services and its position as a Cinderella service, pleading with the government to ‘let Cinders go to the ball.’
Julie is absolutely right in her arguments.
It is a false economy to cut youth services where they are needed. Current spending is around £100 per head per annum on 13 to 19 year olds – interventions which cost less than £300m per annum.
That cuts are coming is undoubted – decisions are already being made and with local councils bearing a disproportionate amount of the deficit reduction burden it was to be expected that youth services would take a big hit.
In Leeds, the City Council is facing cuts to its budget by central government of 27% – and youth services are under threat as a result of an end to ring-fenced funding. There are lots of great services in the city which rely on dedicated staff and volunteers to educate and engage youngsters. The story is the same across much of the rest of the country.
In last week’s debate, I highlighted a local project as a great example of a youth service. Armley Juniors in West Leeds provides computer courses, football sessions and cookery classes to local kids. It offers the sole communal space for children on an inner city council estate – and a hugely valued facility for the whole community. When people across the political spectrum think about volunteering, it is groups like this that shine out as an example of what a big society should be – and these examples have been around a lot longer than David Cameron’s sound-bite.
In removing ring fenced funding for youth services, the government are risking more costs down the line in dealing with anti social behaviour and in wasted potential if local kids have nothing to motivate and inspire them – and in some cases keep them out of trouble.
The reality is that voluntary groups providing specialist services can’t operate for free. Most groups rely on government support and engagement. They can’t provide services on altruism and philanthropy – but they do provide services with real value. As well as putting youngsters on the right track, they are vital in creating soft skills on which employers heavily rely. Another local charity in Leeds West, BARCA, runs youth services, drug support and rehabilitation projects in West Leeds. Chief Executive Mark Law told me after reading the debate in Hansard that he is already seeing the impacts of government cuts and has had to cut back on services and lay off experienced staff. In the last few months BARCA has had to make cuts of 25% and next year has been told that their budget will decreased by a third. These cuts mean less intensive family support, cuts in youth work and cuts to the junior youth inclusion project which targets young people at risk of getting involved in crime.
Over fifty years ago, the last woman to represent Leeds in parliament said ‘our aim in education is to produce young people who can think for themselves, people who are self-reliant and feel confident to face the outside world.’ To do that today, we need voluntary groups to support the work of our schools and build a good, big society. And to achieve that for everyone regardless of whether they come from West Leeds or Witney, it requires support from the government.
The government finds it easy to cut projects that it has no experience of – regional development agencies, the School Sports Partnership and youth services. But the reality is that the cumulative impact of cuts will be to weaken the fabric of our communities and increase costs in the long term as we write-off a generation of the hardest to reach young people. In a quest to cut quickly and deeply the government is failing to look at the evidence of what investment and which services add value and which do not. The result will be bad decisions – for the economy and society.