HL Deb 08 October 1998 vol 593 cc569-71

3.13 p.m.

Lord Aberdare asked Her Majesty's Government:

What are their intentions for the future of the Youth Service.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, we have just published with the National Youth Agency an audit of youth services in local authorities in England which gives a wealth of information on all aspects of the youth service including current activity, the quality of provision, expenditure, partnerships and relationships with other services and future plans. We shall be taking the findings carefully into account before publishing a consultation paper on the future of the Youth Service. We have also encouraged the Youth Service to contribute to the Government's policies and programmes for young people, in particular New Deal and New Start.

Lord Aberdare

My Lords, I am most grateful for the answer provided by the noble Baroness. Is she aware that there are certain anxieties among the voluntary bodies in the Youth Service which may be allayed if the Minister says that those voluntary bodies will be fully consulted during the discussions and that their views will be received sympathetically? I declare a particular interest in the YMCA. But a number of other bodies in the voluntary sector also believe that their worries can be assuaged if they can be told that they will be fully consulted. There are over 700,000 volunteers in the Youth Service whose splendid work should be well remembered. If it is intended to take new initiatives can that occur without any disruption of the present services now provided by voluntary bodies?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government enormously appreciate the contribution of the voluntary sector in providing youth services and recognise the extent of volunteering by a large number of people who put time and effort into this hugely valuable work. The Government will consult widely when they produce their consultation document. In particular, they want to hear the views of the voluntary sector about the future of the service.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, does the Minister believe that there are sufficient youth leaders trained in the problems of drug and alcohol abuse among the young? If not, can the Minister do something about it?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, I welcome the question put by the noble Baroness. The Government believe that the work of the Youth Service in crime prevention generally and dealing with the problems of drug and alcohol abuse is very important. The training of youth service workers is supported by my department but is carried out largely by local authorities. I shall find out whether more work needs to be done to train people to deal with those particular problems.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, will the Government bear in mind when they carry out the consultation that it is not just the effort that goes into voluntary youth work that is so important, but that the expertise that resides within it is much greater than many people who are not involved recognise? I refer to expertise in working with young people, but also the training of youth leaders. Much of this work is done, admittedly financed by the Government and local authorities, at minimal expense and at a high level of competence. Will the noble Baroness bear that in mind and really listen to what they say, not just for the sake of listening but to learn from them? There is much to learn.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government would not dream of just listening for the sake of it. We shall certainly take into account the views of experienced workers in the voluntary sector. I very much recognise the importance of what the noble Baroness has just said about the contribution of the voluntary sector to the training of youth workers.

Lord Tope

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the 1998 Youth Service audit, to which I believe she referred in her Answer, states that local authority expenditure on the Youth Service is now only 1.2 per cent. of general education expenditure by local authorities? Further, does she accept that part of the reason for that is the pressure exerted on local authorities who have felt the need to protect schools' budgets often at the expense of the Youth Service budget? Does the Minister also accept that the Government's welcome pressure on local authorities to passport money on to schools' budgets is likely further to reduce youth service expenditure? What practical steps do the Government have in mind to enhance and improve the funding of the Youth Service? In particular, what do the Government have in mind when they talk about placing the Youth Service on a statutory basis?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, the Government are currently considering the future funding of the voluntary sector in the Youth Service. Currently it is funded to the tune of approximately £3 million per annum. As to local authority provision, the Government are aware of the very wide variations to which the noble Lord referred. It is for local authorities to decide how to allocate the funding that is provided by central government and it is up to the Youth Service to make representations. Part of the variation is due to different levels of voluntary provision in different local authorities, but I hope the noble Lord will recognise that the Government have increased the funding that is available to local authorities for spending across a whole range of services.

The Government are considering the statutory basis of the Youth Service. They will do so further in the light of consultation on the document that they will publish later.

Lord Elton

My Lords, when the Government review the development of the Youth Service, will they bear in mind that it is part of a much larger spectrum of voluntary services relevant to young people? Will they bear in mind the importance of keeping young people in step with, informed of, and co-operating with the youth offending teams which the Government are setting up, so that there is a co-ordinated strategy to keep young people out of crime rather than many strategies going off in helpful but diminishing useful directions?

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes, joined up policy in this area is as important as in many other areas.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, may I ask the noble Baroness to express the Government's appreciation—as I do the last Government's appreciation—of the excellent leadership given by the chairman of the Wales Youth Agency, Mr. Gerald Davies, who is now retiring after six years in that office? He brought to it many of the skills that he had shown on the rugby field. Perhaps I may say how delighted we are that he is to be succeeded by a talented and lovable broadcaster, Mr. Roy Noble.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, yes, I shall be delighted to pass on the Government's gratitude to Mr. Gerald Davies for all his hard work and effort in the Youth Service in Wales. I should also like to say how much I have appreciated his prowess on the rugby field.