The only thing remarkable about this recently-published report is that it is 35 pages long! How long it must have taken them to find sufficient information to produce it, heaven only knows? What it tells us about the progress on Positive for Youth ~ the so-called Government ‘youth policy’ ~ is that business as usual is the name of the game! And we all know that ‘business as usual’ is the mortal enemy of positive change!
At the risk of this sounding too much like a ‘rant’, let’s examine a few of their claims for progress across Government, by the Cabinet Office and the Department of Education! The Government is committed to continuing to listen to and work with young people ~ and yet is is not acting on what they are hearing! It is continuing to pursue the Youth Contract ~ a programme that is terminally flawed; and exacerbated by an increase in 40,000 place to the equally terminally flawed NCS programme!
It is supporting the development of mutuals and joint ventures ~ with how many thus far? The report fails to even mention the Young People Friendly Neighbourhoods programme, which actually delivered the UK’s first ever youth mutual ~ Circle Crew for Change Limited, based in Consett in County Durham! They do highlight the continuance, which is perhaps a good thing, of a range of funding to various young people-focused charities, although the case studies offered do little to really raise the blood and passion that true progress ought to be engendering!
They focus on their drive to provide an excellent education for all young people and, as I write this, they have announced today more assessment and league tables for primary aged children, which will stigmatise future young people at a much earlier age and drive deeper the divisions in our society in terms of academic attainment and achievement … and preclude a future pathway to success in life.
They have delivered on their commitment to refresh the statutory guidance to local authorities on youth services and did so in 2012. Having personally undertaken a survey of the ‘Youth Offer’ in the 13 local authorities that make up the North East and Cumbria in late 2012, it is clear to see just how much they listened to that guidance … and still the major reductions to youth services continue!
The litany continues on throughout DCLG, DWP, Home Office, Local Authorities ~ with some examples of Youth Voice and outcomes from the Youth Innovation Zones programme ~ and the Voluntary Sector. In this latter section the Government comments on the Outcomes Framework and observes that it is ‘neither a performance management tool nor mandatory for youth services’. And yet, local authorities all over England are adopting it, as if it were the Government’s mandate.
Of course, civil servants don’t ‘get’ that what has been needed in our youth policy system for years is a core strategic perspective from Government about standards for youth services’ delivery, in an attempt to secure some form of equalised approach. Tom Wiley came close to it with ‘Resourcing Excellent Youth Services’ but the real point was never hammered home, the momentum was eventually lost, and it will never be regained!
The real sting in the tail of this ‘progress’ report lies on page 32! Here the Government reinforce their view that the real responsibility for effective services with and for young people lies with local authorities. The report on this reads as follows: ‘Central government’s role is to give them the freedom and flexibilities to make the most effective decisions such as providing local authorities un-ring-fenced funding and reducing bureaucracy.’ For that reason, “youth policy is primarily a matter for local government”! And they backed that up by issuing revised guidance … which local authorities then largely ignored!
This was then further exacerbated by the Government noting that the challenge nationally and locally included efforts to ‘… reduce the dependency on Government for direction, intervention and/or resources’. Now … doesn’t that just cap it all? At a time when local authorities need to be told that young people are a priority, the Government appears to take preferably take no role, leaving local authorities free to make the kinds of incredible decisions they have been making in recent months … and which are well-documented!
This at a time when the most disadvantaged young people in our communities, amongst which sits a youth unemployment population that is slightly smaller today but is still outrageously high, continue to bear the brunt of service reductions and, in some cases, removal. How on earth can this been seen to be ‘progress’?
If I did not believe so fervently in the resilience of young people to overcome such challenges, I would truly despair! So … I urge every youth services professional to keep on supporting, keep on challenging and keep on advocating for bigger and better, locally, regionally and nationally! These young people are our future … and they deserve much better than this travesty of a national policy!