Union calls for youth work to be statutory as cuts begin to bite

The political parties must commit to making youth services statutory in order to protect them from the stinging impact of local authority cuts, the leader of the Community and Youth Workers’ Union (CYWU) has urged.

Doug Nicholls made the call as several councils across the country have announced significant cuts to youth service budgets in recent weeks. Youth centres and youth work projects targeting issues including alcohol abuse and teenage pregnancy stand firmly in the firing line.

“Local authorities should get together and insist that all parties in Parliament legislate for a statutory youth service,” said Nicholls, who is CYWU general secretary. He said youth work is left vulnerable because it is not afforded the same protection as other statutory services, particularly in child protection.

“Youth work has been pooled into bigger youth services budgets, which have been dominated by the social care and case work agendas,” added Nicholls. “Despite youth work being proven to be cost effective in the long term, it still hasn’t received a statutory position.”

The result, he said, is that youth work is among the first services targeted by councils needing to make savings.

Oxfordshire is among the councils proposing an extensive reduction to annual youth work budgets (see box). Councillor Louise Chapman, Oxfordshire’s lead member for children and young people, said she was left with very little choice when looking to make savings.

“The problem is that the government ringfences everything with grants,” she said. “Out of a directorate of £600m, I was left with £98m to look at and even that included statutory duties we had to carry out.” While Chapman stressed the proposals are subject to public consultation she said there is little else that can be pared back.

The government is currently developing a set of standards that local authorities can use to ensure young people receive what they are entitled to, according to a Department for Children, Schools and Families spokeswoman. These are set to be published in March this year.

But in an interview with CYP Now to be published next week, shadow children’s minister Tim Loughton said youth services could be more efficient if they ceased to be council-run.

“I am putting a question mark over whether youth services departments are the best people to run youth services,” he said. “I think we need to have local authorities contracting out more to outside organisations, and effectively local authorities taking on a greater commissioning role rather than trying to run these services themselves.”


    * Oxfordshire: Consulting on proposals to reduce annual funding for youth support from £3.7m to £1.4m by 2013
    * Birmingham: Youth service budget cut by seven per cent, amounting to £980,000 over the next two years
    * Isle of Wight: Cutting youth services by up to a third. It currently spends £71 a year per young person but is looking to bring that down to £52
    * Coventry: £300,000 already cut from children’s and family education services, with £360,000 proposed to be taken from the youth service
    * Nottinghamshire: Plans to cut youth service budgets by £401,000 and Connexions budgets by £315,000