HL Deb 02 March 1994 vol 552 cc979-83

2.45 p.m.

Lord Rochester asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will review the current funding arrangements for voluntary youth organisations in London.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, support for local and regional voluntary youth groups is primarily a matter for the London boroughs, as it is for any other local education authorities. It is also open to the boroughs to provide support to voluntary organisations through the London Boroughs Grants Committee. At national level, the Department for Education makes grants to voluntary organisations in London and the present cycle comes to an end in March 1996.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, does the noble Viscount acknowledge the fact that diminishing funding from the Department for Education, combined with increasing pressure on the finances of London boroughs, is seriously affecting the services that can be offered to young people in London? As the Government have expressed their growing concern over youth crime and truancy, will they give urgent reconsideration to their policy of reducing spending on services that can provide positive alternatives to disruptive and criminal behaviour on the part of young people?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, grants paid to the 18 London-wide education voluntary organisations under the DFE-LBGC partnership scheme will end in March 1996. That was announced at the onset of the scheme. Thereafter, the voluntary organisations funded under the scheme should look to the LBGC and the boroughs for funding. All London boroughs are represented on the LBGC. It is for the boroughs themselves to decide on the allocation and distribution of the resources made available to them. The DFE schemes of grant which are national will be reviewed later this year. The department plans to consult voluntary organisations over that review.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister say what co-operation there is among the ministries, the Department of Health, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the local authorities as regards finding a solution to the problem of juvenile delinquency? Would it not be better to spend money on prevention rather than cure as proposed in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, which will shortly come before your Lordships' House, under which it is proposed to spend £ 30 million on 200 children? Would it not be better if the ministries and the local authorities co-operated in an overall policy to deal with the matter?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, my noble friend's question is a little wide of that on the Order Paper.

Lord Judd

My Lords, in view of the vital contribution made by the youth service in combating drug abuse, delinquency and crime—especially at a time when we have 1 million unemployed youngsters—is there not a need for an absolutely clear assurance from central government to the service that it has the strategic and financial backing of central government? What consultations have the Government had with the youth service? Further, what was the number of youth service workers in 1979 and what is the number today?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, it is a matter for the local boroughs to determine the amount of money that they spend on the youth service. The Government make a grant through the SSAs. It is for the local authorities to distribute the money according to their own priorities.

Lord Rix

My Lords, I recognise that the Government do not apparently have any direct responsibility in the matter. However, is the noble Viscount aware that London's division of MENCAP's Gateway Clubs provides 120 clubs for 3,600-plus young people with learning disabilities and that it is in receipt of a grant of £ 5,000 a year; that is, £ 1.38 per person?

Does not the noble Viscount consider that to be a derisory sum? Surely central government should take some interest in the amount of money which is being given by local authorities to such services.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I can only repeat that it is for local authorities and for LEAs to determine their priorities. The Government make vast sums of money available through the SSAs and it is for local authorities to distribute it according to their own priorities.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I must declare an interest in this matter as my husband serves on the London boroughs committee that we are discussing. The London boroughs simply do not have money to give to these youth organisations. The London boroughs fully recognise the need to fund youth organisations in London, but they are themselves under increasing financial pressure and they are desperately short of funds to distribute.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, Question Time in your Lordships' House brings with it many pleas for additional funding for a wide range of good causes and what could be a better cause than the youth service, be it the statutory youth service or the voluntary youth service? However, we have to remember that the public purse is finite and that difficult choices have to be made.

Baroness David

My Lords, is the Minister aware that all his answers have been totally complacent and uncaring? Youth Matters, the London Council for the Voluntary Youth Service, and the British Youth Council are all extremely anxious about what is going to happen. They reckon they will lose as much as half a million pounds in the period up to 1996. The Government complain about the behaviour of young people and the crime rate and therefore I think they should mind a little more about these organisations.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that the Government do mind about this matter.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, would not my noble friend agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, on rethinking his answer, that her question was wholly relevant to this issue because it is for central government to decide the priorities in public expenditure? If central government get it wrong, it is not surprising that local government get it wrong, too.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, as I have said before, this is a matter for LEAs and local authorities to distribute the resources given to them by central government.

Lord Hunt

My Lords, is not the run-down in government funding for the youth services in London at any rate in part a reflection of the Government's new-found preference for locking up young offenders rather than diverting them from further crime by community action? Is it not a fact that with relatively few exceptions—I accept there are exceptions—locking up young people in prison does not deter them from further offending? At great public expense prison prepares the great majority of them for committing more and more serious offences in the future whereas constructive community programmes have a remarkably good success rate in diverting young offenders from committing further offences. Is that not where the Government's priorities should lie?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I was not sure whether I was listening to a question or a lecture, but the Government certainly do not encourage any system whereby young people are placed in prison.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, with respect, I ask my noble friend whether this is right. As your Lordships know, I have been concerned with introducing legislation—now accepted by government—which seeks to get the legal position right for children with special educational needs. If, frankly, the position is that the local authorities do not have enough funds to do anything about this, apart from the sum of about £ 1.1p per child received in grant, is it not really a matter for government? What is the use of passing legislation if no money is available from any source to implement it? I suggest to my noble friend that something has gone wrong.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I cannot relate the Question on the Order Paper pertaining to youth organisations and youth services to special needs.

Lord Northbourne

My Lords, what do the Government intend to do if local authorities cease to provide any funding to the youth services and, as a result, those youth services close down? Are the Government prepared at least to ring-fence some of the funding which they are passing to local authorities so that they can make a more reasoned decision?

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the statutory provision for youth services in local authorities is covered by law.

Lord Ennals

My Lords, is the Minister aware that two of his replies were quite insulting to those noble Lords who had asked serious questions? Further, his other replies lead one to conclude that it is about time there was a London authority instead of this matter being dependent on London boroughs.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, the Department for Education has shown evidence of its concern by contributing £ 1.5 million up to 1992–93 through the interim grants scheme. It has also responded positively to an initiative by the LBGC and it is providing additional support for the years 1995–96 through the partnership scheme. The department values and supports the work of voluntary organisations. Its grants to national voluntary youth organisations amount to £ 8.6 million over three years. Some £ 1.2 million has also been made available over three years for youth work development grants administered by the National Youth Agency.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Wakeham)

My Lords, your Lordships have indicated that we shall probably want to return to this matter, but perhaps today we should move on.

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