HC Deb 16 June 1981 vol 6 cc850-1
7. Mr. Foster

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what effect the Government's policy of reducing public expenditure is having on the youth and community service.

Mr. Macfarlane

I ask the hon. Member to read the relevant paragraphs of the inspectorate report published in February this year. While many decisions are for local authorities, the Government's view is that expenditure on the youth service should not be reduced.

Mr. Foster

Has there not been a reduction in staffing of 15 to 20 per cent. in the youth and community service in recent years? How can the Minister justify such a reduction at a time of rising youth unemployment and crime, and at a time when Ministers are saying that voluntary effort will plug the gaps in the Welfare State? Is not the hon. Gentleman aware that those people who have lost their jobs spent much time recruiting, training, supervising and organising volunteers, and supporting voluntary organisations?

Mr. Macfarlane

The last two rate support grant settlements have embodied the assumption that expenditure on youth and community services will be maintained. The hon. Gentleman may know of circumstances where posts have been withdrawn or where some reappraisal by individual local education authorities is taking place. This is very much a matter for each individual local education authority. The hon. Gentleman makes somewhat exaggerated claims about the Department of Education and Science. I must point out that the department's grant to the headquarters expenditure of the national voluntary youth organisations this year has been increased by 11.5 per cent. I would have thought that this was living testimony that the Government wished to see expenditure maintained.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

I welcome warmly the funds provided by my hon. Friend's Department for voluntary youth organisations. Will he not agree that the Duke of Edinburgh's award scheme can play an increasingly important part in provision for young people? Does he further agree that the effort that is being made to assist those from deprived backgrounds and those who have committed crimes and are seeking to take their place again in the community is to be encouraged? What help can his Department provide towards this work?

Mr. Macfarlane

I support my hon. Friend's comments about the enormous contribution made by the type of activity he has mentioned. I would have thought that the increase provided by my Department to many bodies was some proof of our dedication towards ensuring that the youth area does not suffer. The support that we can give to the Duke of Edinburgh's scheme takes place at official level and through general support.

Mr. Beith

Is the Minister aware that in some counties, such as Northumberland, the youth and community service has been developed on the basis of close integration with the schools? If the closure of many rural middle schools, as proposed in yesterday's document, goes ahead, all that work will be thrown aside.

Mr. Macfarlane

I would have thought that local education authorities have to take all these aspects into consideration. They face the problem of falling rolls in each community area. Schools are not the only places that can provide facilities for young people. There are also village halls and premises in industrial areas that can prove a useful feature in the life of young people. It is a partnership between industry, commerce and those in the statutory sector of the education service.