On Wednesday (8 February 2017), Assembly Members will debate the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report of its inquiry into the effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy and policies in respect of youth work: What type of youth service does Wales want? (PDF 1.11MB).
The Committee concluded that a ‘radical approach’ is needed to address an ‘alarming decline’ in youth services across Wales. It made 10 recommendations to the Welsh Government on how it should deliver the youth service that people in Wales want.
The Committee’s inquiry focused primarily on:
- Young people’s access to youth services;
- The effectiveness of the Welsh Government’s strategy and policy on youth work; and
- Funding for youth work from local authorities, the Welsh Government, the European Union and the third sector.
Over 1,500 young people submitted their views to the Committee and their clear message was: when youth work provision disappears from a young person’s life, the impact is considerable. The Committee also heard from stakeholders working with young people. Here is what they had to say: six minute video.
What does youth work look like today?
The Committee heard that financial pressures have had a serious impact on youth work over recent years. Welsh Government statistics show that the total amount of expenditure which local authorities budget for youth services has reduced by almost 25% over the last four years. There has also been a decrease in the proportion of young people registered as accessing youth work provision from 20% in 2013-14 to 17% in 2015-16. The Committee described this as an ‘alarming downward trend’.
The Committee heard the outlook for the voluntary sector is seen with no more optimism, with the Council for Wales Voluntary Youth Services (CWVYS) reporting that 30% of its members were unsure about their financial future.
The Welsh Government’s launched its National Youth Work Strategy for Wales in February 2014, intending to set the direction for youth work organisations for the following years until 2018. The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies explained (PDF 662 KB) that the strategy seeks to maximise the role and contribution of youth work provision to young people’s engagement and success in their mainstream education.
The Committee considered the extent to which the capacity in the voluntary and statutory sector is maximised, concluding that:
There needs to be an urgent and radical intervention on the part of the Minister if he is to deliver his ambitious vision of a truly open access, bilingual provision. He must also address the lack of strategic and joint working between the statutory and voluntary sector, which the Committee believes is a significant barrier to delivering a universal youth work offer.
What role should the Welsh Government take?
The Committee recommended the Welsh Government reviews its National Youth Work Strategy and refreshes the existing Extending Entitlement statutory guidance, which was issued in 2002. The Minister told the Committee that the current strategy is being reviewed, the findings of which will be published in Spring 2017. He said this would form the basis of a new strategy from 2018 and work to refresh the statutory guidance.
Evidence submitted to the inquiry by stakeholders showed they believe there is a lack of leadership and strategic direction from the Welsh Government. The Minister’s views on the current state of youth work in Wales differed considerably to those of the local government Principal Youth Officers Group and CWVYS. The Committee called on the Minister to work with these organisations, ‘harnessing their expertise and understanding’ to make progress on improving youth work provision.
What type of youth service does Wales want?
Many of the contributors to the Committee’s inquiry called for a new national body to be established to drive forward youth work policy and implementation across both the statutory and voluntary sectors. These stakeholders believed a national model would, as the Committee’s report puts it, ‘enable better collaborative processes, reduce duplication across the sectors, raise the status and profile of youth work, enable workforce development’ and ‘maximise the available resources for the benefit of young people’.
Alun Davies AM told the Committee he does not intend to ‘nationalise’ youth services or seek to deliver them centrally from Cardiff Bay. He said he would decide on a future model for youth work provision in early 2017. However, he added:
Overwhelmingly, my view remains that this is a matter for local government to take these decisions and not a matter for a Minister to intervene in. (…)
The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government introduce a national model for youth work, encompassing both statutory and voluntary provision.
In its report, the Committee expressed concern about a ‘lack of accountability’ for how local authorities use the funds which are nominally allocated for youth services within the Revenue Support Grant (RSG) but are not hypothecated for that purpose. In response to a question about the possibility of setting outcomes for local authorities as a condition of funding, the Minister said:
Setting outcomes by local authority area—I’m happy to consider that. (…)
I’m more attracted by the concept of outcomes than I am by hypothecation … If we are going to look at a national outcomes framework, then perhaps how we break that down into local areas could be something we could look at.
The Committee has recommended that the Welsh Government develop an accountability framework for local authorities’ use of funds for youth work via the RSG, including sanctions if these are not delivered.
The Welsh Government’s response
The Welsh Government’s response (PDF 293KB) has been published today (2 February 2017). The Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language, Alun Davies, has accepted 5 of the recommendations and accepted the other 5 in principle.
How to watch the debate
Assembly Members’ debate on the Children, Young People and Education Committee’s report is scheduled for around 4.00pm in Plenary on Wednesday 8 February 2017. It can be watched on SeneddTV and a transcript will be available on the Assembly’s Record of Proceedings.
Article by Michael Dauncey, National Assembly for Wales Research Service