Thank you for that kind introduction. I’m delighted to be here today.
As you all know, youth and children’s services have been right at the top of our agenda over the last year - and I’d like to start by thanking you all for your help and support.
There’s been a huge amount of positive engagement from the sector in our work around children in care and adoption, in particular. Thanks to the thoughtful and expert contributions of professionals like you, we’ve managed to create and implement real reforms that are beginning to achieve real results.
As we start 2012, one area right at the top of our agenda - mine, my Department’s and, hopefully, yours - is policy around young people.
For too long young people in this country have had a raw deal. The media seems to jump at any opportunity to trot out negative stereotypes and insulting cliches. According to research by ‘Children and Young People Now’, over three quarters of press coverage of young people is negative (2009).
But the overwhelming majority of young people are responsible, hard-working and energetic. They are determined to make a better future for themselves and for others, and they are working hard to make it happen. And I’m not exaggerating - it’s a highly creditable statistic that more young people volunteer for charities and good causes than any other group in society.
Even in the disturbances last August, the vast majority of young people refused to join in with lawlessness and looting. Some went further.
In Sheffield, for example, Sheffield Futures - the city’s main provider of youth services and youth engagement groups - established a panel of young people representing all the local participation groups including Young Advisors, Sheffield Youth Council, and the UK Youth Parliament to help prevent the disturbances spreading to their city.
These young people couldn’t understand why anyone would want to wreck their own hometown - so they came up with a slogan to show their pride in Sheffield, ‘Steel City NOT Steal City’ . They used social media networks to contact other young people and passed on any useful information to the police, enabling officers to target potential hotspots in a low key way. They put together a leaflet explaining young people’s rights and responsibilities, which was distributed widely throughout Sheffield; and were interviewed on local radio and in local newspapers to show that young people were leading the way in opposing the riots.
Young people are taking action like this - positive, responsible, community-spirited action - every day. And we need to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to support them.
That’s why I’m proud to say that, last month, the Government published our new vision for young people and youth services - Positive for Youth.
For the first time, it brings together in one place everything the Government is doing to support young people between the ages of 13 and 19; actively supporting their success, and helping them to achieve their potential.
This single vision is the result of months of work with a wide range of partners - local authorities, private companies, voluntary sector organisations, at least 9 different Government departments and Ministers, and of course, the real experts: young people themselves.
I’d like to take this opportunity straight away to thank the Local Government Association, National Youth Agency, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Confederation of Heads of Young People’s Services. They have all been incredibly helpful in developing Positive for Youth - and I know that we will depend on them over the coming months and years as we turn this vision into a reality.
Positive for Youth isn’t about creating something completely new; we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s about highlighting and celebrating excellent practice across the country. We’ve stuffed the paper full of examples from high-performing areas and I hope that these case studies will help all youth services to reach the level of the very best.
I’m delighted that expert organisations like the British Youth Council, the UK Youth Parliament, NYA, and 4Children, among others, are supporting our work and are ready and willing to play their part. They are also more than ready and willing to hold us to account if we don’t deliver on our ambitions - and I’m sure that many in this room would volunteer to do the same.
I know that many people are concerned that youth services have faced disproportionate cuts as councils look to tighten their belts in the current economic climate. And, I’ll be honest, I’m concerned too. But that’s why I want Positive for Youth to be a turning point in how we treat young people, and how we think about youth services.
It makes clear that there is no excuse to neglect youth services, or to treat them as an easy area to make savings. Prioritising youth services and young people is the right thing to do.
One area which has been proven to be crucial for young people’s success in life is educational attainment, and this Government has already announced - and made a start on - a significant programme of educational reforms, laid out in our White Paper, ‘The Importance of Teaching’. Just last week, we also set out a new strategy to increase young people’s participation in learning and work: ‘Building Engagement, Building Futures’.
We are raising the participation age for education or training to 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2015, and we will be depending on the support of Local Authorities in monitoring participation levels among 16 and 17 year olds, and working with the YPLA and providers to identify and fill gaps in provision.
As the participation age is raised, young people will need extra support - and the Youth Contract, in particular, worth over £1 billion, will support more 16 and 17 year olds to participate in education or training, expand opportunities for young apprenticeships, and help more young people find work.
But education isn’t the end of it. Young people don’t grow up in a vacuum - and their experiences outside school or college are just as crucial to their overall wellbeing.
Our goal is for all young people to have:
- supportive relationships;
- strong ambitions;
- and good opportunities.
If young people are already getting those things from their families, communities and schools: great. If not - Local Authorities and services can step in.
That’s why we are retaining the statutory duty on local authorities to provide sufficient services for young people.
This duty is about improving young people’s wellbeing, not just providing leisure activities. We’re keeping this legislation because it reflects the fact that a wide range of services for young people outside of school and college can have a significant impact on their life chances. We will be consulting soon on shorter, more concise statutory guidance that will make our expectations much more explicit.
It’s important to stress that we will not be defining a minimum standard or expectation for the offer to young people in each local area. Local areas are best placed to decide on what services they need, not central Government.
And when it comes to deciding what those services should be, there’s an obvious way to find out. After all, anyone who tried to buy Christmas presents for their teenagers will know that they have very definite views about what they want and what they don’t.
Our vision is for councils and young people to work together much more closely. Young people must be at the heart of planning local services - driving, shaping and reviewing everything they do.
Many councils are already doing this brilliantly. In Sheffield, for example, young inspectors use ‘mystery shoppers’ to review services for young people, from sports facilities to youth clubs and social venues and give them a star rating.
We want this to become the norm rather than the exception. And as well as improving services, this approach brings huge benefits for the young people themselves. One young inspector from Central Bedfordshire, quoted in our paper, said
I am gaining confidence as I can do things that I usually wouldn’t feel able to do. It is also beneficial because, being a young person, I benefit from improved services as a result of the inspections.
From now on, we want Local Authorities to commission an annual audit from young people - whether through a youth council or young inspectors or whatever works in that area.
And as well as the views of young people, Lead Members can use any available local and national data to keep track of their progress, benchmarking results against other areas like participation in education and training.
I would like all councils to publish the results of these audits. That way I’ll be able to recognise and celebrate the best examples - and ensure that those which are falling behind have the support they need to improve.
And I’d like to assure you that we are also giving young people the metaphorical keys to our kingdom.
As part of £850,000 funding to the British Youth Council in 2011-2012, a new national scrutiny group and youth select committee will monitor and advise on government policy, giving young people the chance to ‘youth proof’ government policy.
To help in demonstrating the impact of services for young people, we’re funding the Centre for the Analysis of Youth Transitions to develop standards for evidence. Catalyst is also going to develop an outcomes framework.
And centrally, we will publish annual data on measures for young people. At the end of this year we’ll publish a ‘one year on’ progress update to see how far we’ve come.
Because Positive for Youth is a positive paper, we won’t just be looking at problems averted, although that’s obviously vital. We also want to monitor the good things that have been achieved, the improvements that have been made and the opportunities that have been created.
In a tough economic climate, bringing in charities and businesses to help develop and provide youth services is an approach with huge potential.
There are already some superb projects going on all over the country, building links between local and national businesses, young people and their local communities. To give just a few examples:
- O2 is running O2 Think Big - a social action programme that provides funding, training and support for young people who are running projects across the UK to improve their local communities
- Starbucks is giving funding and training to young people in 12 cities across the country through their Starbucks Youth Action Programme
- The Co-Operative’s Truth about Youth programme has brought over 36,000 adults and young people together from seven UK cities over the last two years, to tackle widespread negative perceptions of youth.
This work is reinforced by the Co-Operative’s Apprenticeship Academy and Inspiring Young People campaign. I was fortunate enough to visit a Truth about Youth project at Oval House in South London last month and it was inspiring stuff - so I have seen the sort of impact these schemes can achieve.
These are just a few examples of the sort of innovative projects which are springing up all over the country; and we are investing in brokering many more.
But the people who will play a pivotal role in turning Positive for Youth into reality - the real agents of this Government’s ambition to improve the lives of every single young person in the country - are Local Authorities.
We will depend on Local Authorities to use Positive for Youth to transform local services. To make that process a bit easier, as requested, we have clearly explained what Positive for Youth means for Local Authorities - and published it under the imaginative name, ‘Positive for Youth: What it means for local authorities’.
As this document sets out, our expectations for Local Authorities are very clear. And our approach promotes local leadership and encourages local cross-sector partnerships- particularly important as local authorities take on new public health responsibilities.
We expect Local Authorities to give young people a voice in decisions that affect their lives. There are many ways to do this, and Local Authorities are best placed to decide on their chosen method. But we are funding the British Youth Council to promote the youth voice at a national and local level, to sustain the UK Youth Parliament and to provide information and advice to councils. And each local authority area will soon have an organisation called Local HealthWatch to ensure that young people have a voice in shaping local health services.
We expect Local Authorities to work with young people in commissioning; and for local leaders to decide about local services in response to local priorities and needs. We’re not going to ring-fence funding, nor tell councils which services they should commission and how they should be delivered.
Non ring-fenced funding of £2.365 billion in 2012-13 will help Local Authorities to provide Early Intervention services for vulnerable children, young people and families. And for the particular needs of young people and their families, Local Authorities can also draw on the Revenue Support Grant and, from 2013, the Public Health Grant.
We’re also providing £320,000 to Business in the Community to build links between businesses and young people in their local areas, working in partnership with National Children’s Bureau and UK Youth; and we’re providing capital investment to complete 63 myplace centres by April 2013, developing a national approach to exploit their potential to be led by communities and businesses.
If any Local Authority already has a myplace centre in its area, I hope that Positive for Youth will inspire you to ensure that the centre is at the heart of transforming local youth services, exploiting every ounce of their potential.
In Bradford city centre, for example, an old cotton mill has been transformed into an incredible myplace centre called ‘Culture Fusion’. Over 5 floors, it offers young people a wide range of activities including a climbing wall, gym, recording centre, dance studio, hostel accommodation, IT suite, and cafe. Existing services are working together much more effectively, providing all the services that young people need under one roof. A steering group of young people has been involved every step of the way, from drawing up the very first plans through to day-to-day activities and planning for the future. The project also enjoys the support of members of the local business community, offering pro bono legal advice and a range of volunteering opportunities.
One of our major individual proposals in Positive for Youth is the expansion of the National Citizen Service. It will offer 30,000 places to young people in 2012, 60,000 in 2013, and 90,000 in 2014 - by that point, we expect it to be one of the largest personal and social development programmes for young people in the world.
As it grows, we want more local authorities to get involved: by working with providers to ensure their local young people benefit from the scheme; and by embedding NCS in their local area. This is particularly important in ensuring that looked after children can participate, so we are offering extra support to ensure that vulnerable young people and children in care can take part.
We’re also exploring opportunities to expand Cadet Forces, particularly in maintained schools; and encouraging volunteering for all age groups, including young people.
Beyond giving young people a voice, improving commissioning and supporting NCS, we expect that Local Authorities will adopt a sector-led approach to improving services for children, young people, and families.
The Local Government Association will play a huge role here, and funding of £780,000 in 2011-13 will support local authority commissioners. This work is led by the Children’s Improvement Board - a partnership between SOLACE, ADCS, LGA and DfE - and the funding comes on top of the £900,000 p.a. funding that the Local Government Association provides from a top slice of the Revenue Support Grant to the National Youth Agency.
Four new Youth Innovation Zones will develop and share new, creative approaches to youth service right across the country. The first four areas, Devon, Hammersmith and Fulham, Haringey, and Knowsley will each get £40,000 to set up the zones - and I look forward to seeing how they get on.
Beyond these zones, there are a huge range of support services offered by the National Youth Agency, and we are giving much greater priority to identifying and disseminating good practice between local areas through the Centre for Excellence and Outcomes.
Community Budgets will be made available in all local authorities over the next two years to remove the financial and legal restrictions affecting how services intervene early to avoid poor and high-cost outcomes for vulnerable families and young people;
A new Troubled Families Team will work alongside local areas to ensure that these families are supported; and an Ending Gang and Youth Violence Team will provide practical advice and support to up to 30 local areas with a gang or serious youth violence problem.
We’re funding 18 innovative voluntary organisations with £31.4 million over the two years 2011-13 to pioneer and evaluate innovative approaches to early help. And we’re promoting work to prevent and tackle youth homelessness, including strengthening the Homelessness Safety Net so that it will include young people under the age of 21 who are vulnerable as a result of leaving care, and 16 and 17 year olds who find themselves homeless.
So that’s a quick canter through some of the highlights of Positive for Youth. There’s lots more in the document - and I commend it to anyone here who has already finished the books they were given for Christmas.
As we consider the future needs and ambitions of our young people and the role that councils can play, I hope that Positive for Youth provides a clear signpost showing the direction that this Government is heading.
And I hope you’ll agree with me that we’re heading the right way.
We are positive that youth services can be improved. We are positive that young people deserve a voice in society. And we are positive that, with your help, we can build a society which gives all young people the opportunity and support they need to flourish. Thank you.