Speech to LGA Conference

Speech to Conference of the Local Government Association and the Joint Negotiating Committee for Youth and Community Workers October 26th 1999.

Some get the after dinner speeches, I am the after buffet lunch turn.

You have had the classical sonatas, now for some jazz improvisation.

CYWU has always seen itself as part of the solution to the perplexing problems that face some of the most important, but ignored aspects of the education system. We organise across the UK in three occupational groups - youth work, play work and community work. There is something of an English disease at the moment. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland these areas of work are more readily appreciated as being central to the new education agenda.

We meet at a time when the philosophical purpose of youth work is being reasserted eloquently and when we are reflecting on the history of the youth service.

In fact our Union was formed in this building by 10 voluntary sector women workers in 1938. They said simple things, so hard to achieve since. They said the emerging occupation of youth work needed separate training, therefore separate qualifications. They said if these qualifications were to be meaningful they should go alongside professional status through relevant terms and conditions. The successfully fought to establish national collective bargaining linked to qualifications and in 1961 the JNC for youth and community workers was created and this has been the main motor of the service ever since. The starting point, still relevant today, was that lots of people can work with young people but not many are qualified and paid to do it as a profession within education. The founders of our union said the state should be compelled to fund a statutory youth service.

It is quite surprising then to recognise that we and the Youth Service have survived since then. The Youth Service is the only part of education service not actually referred to in statute, except in Northern Ireland. The words simply do not exist. If we are to be genuinely convinced that there is a modernising agenda at play somewhere, perhaps the neglect of the 1944 Act can be attended to and a statutory Youth Service introduced. This would be truly new.

What of course is old fashioned and off message in our sector has been neglect and broken promises. There have only been two moments of impetus for the Youth Service. The Albemarle Report of 1960 leading to investment and a qualified profession and conceding national collective bargaining. In the seventies the formation of the Youth Service Development Council. Thatcher did away with this and then Joseph binned the Thompson Report. That’s really it in terms of government action since the second world war.

I am reading a poem at the moment called Letter to an Imaginary Friend. It’s felt a bit like that for our union since 1961. All government’s have said they are the friend of the youth service, but one suspects that they haven’t really existed. The poem also has a great line in it: “Nightmare, Nightmare, Despair, Struggle and Dream’. A good description of the history of the Youth Service.

The modern Youth Service is then, a creation of the voluntary sector, trade unionised youth workers and local government. But in the history of local government initiative only three local authorities have historically ever spent near a decent amount on their Youth Services - ILEA, Strathclyde and Sheffield. There used to be a Grant Related Expenditure Assessment figure from the government to local authorities. Nearly all spent less than 70% of this. Then the previous government removed GREA. Then local authorities reduced their funding drastically. The only source of drawing down revenues for youth, community and adult education has be the Other Education block within SSAs. This has been the most heavily cut part of education spending over the last two years with a further 250 million recently taken out - more than is spent on the whole of the Youth Service. Result - simple, the government’s audit says it all - a threadbare patchwork of provision remains and it is totally unacceptable that new Ministers survey the ruins and tut tut and condemn the Youth Service for not meeting needs. It is like complaining that we don’t produce much coal as a nation any more.

I have listened to the political party speakers carefully today a couple of observations may be appropriate. Our Conservative spokesperson is not committed to statutory funding. But interestingly he still used the word customers to describe the young people using our services. It is not a word we use in church for example - there are no customers in the congregation. Do we refer to prisoners as customers ? What about a judge saying ‘Customer in the dock.’ We run a free public service. Remember too the previous government said there was no such category as youth. If there was no such thing as society, how could there be such a thing as youth ? They refused completely to listen to our warning when we gathered the research together about status zero young people and the totally socially excluded. They ran down industry and public services creating the unemployment crisis which fundamentally altered the youth transition.

It was a strong contribution from the Liberal Democrats. Not surprisingly for the Liberal Democrats have been the most consistent supporters of the Youth Service and youth work. They have long advocated statutory funding balancing local and national priorities.

Labour’s position is more interesting. In 1991 they had no spokesperson on the Youth Service, Following lobbying at Party Conference by CYWU’s previous President they immediately created one who then came to our Conference and said he did not believe in a statutory Youth Service ! This rapidly changed with a succession of motions being passed at Labour Party Conferences. This led to the two Private Members’ Bills to Parliament and the huge lobbies that we organised. In turn this led to the Labour Youth Task Group which produced a comprehensive and holistic approach to young people and included the key commitments to statutory funding, greater interdepartmental collaboration and a Minster for Youth.

Just prior to the 1997 General Election David Blunkett publicly promised pump priming for the Youth Service. This never materialised and the Task Group report was shelved. We were then promised a White Paper several times, as was Parliament. This is yet to arrive. Though it has been written. Its best bits were exported and implemented in Wales under the new Assembly. All the new government has done in fact is to complete an audit which is being used as an autopsy.

What happened throughout the nineties was that CYWU helped create a consensus within the field about the urgent need for statutory funding and investment. Everyone in the Youth Service is now united around this demand. There is even TUC support for our view that one of the best ways of securing social inclusion is to lower the voting age to 16.

But the neglect of the Youth Service has been matched by a surfeit of youth policies. It is almost like confusion marketing - a new brand a day with slightly different gizzmos and a different price structure. No one is quite sure what is happening or who is running what. There are more youth policies requiring youth workers’ interventions than there are youth workers left in some areas. Even the Social Exclusion Unit is promising an overarching new policy to bring together all of the new youth policies ! I am reminded of the phrase “If intentions were the criteria of excellence every sermon would be a masterpiece.”

Added to the current rich brew there are unnecessary battles. The government is blaming local government for the neglect of the Youth Service and vice versa. In reality both are to blame and they need to sit down together to plan investment - how would that hurt either of them. The battle is fierce and the government actually wants to remove the Youth Service altogether from local government control. Local government says it wants to keep the Youth Service, but it simultaneously proposes to get rid of the JNC for youth and community workers the one committee that gives it authority and power in this sector.

We also still struggle with the professional ignorance of youth work within formal education which still sees us as a kind of remedial activity with trouble makers. Our sophisticated and advanced educational techniques are insufficiently appreciated.

I conclude that we are at one of those key cross roads, there is a forked road ahead, and plenty of forked tongues.

CYWU is clear of the road we think should be taken in the interests of young people. We want youth work and play work and community work more closely related and centre stage to the lifelong learning and social inclusion agendas.

To achieve this the partnership of providers need to be based on publicly identifiable funding streams leading to local authority bank accounts. Immediate investment of 500 million is needed through a separate funding stream. The provision created needs to be generic and universal if it is to target successfully. There needs to be a new policy architecture and a strategic approach with more government level inter communication and collaboration. To achieve the necessary levels of professional skills we need training based in university courses which achieve professional recognition through the existing system of peer led endorsement linked to JNC terms and condition. Mirroring this for part time workers we need the Regional Accreditation and Moderation Panels. Untie this string and hark what discord will follow. There will be de-professionalisation at the time of greatest need. Keep Soulbury and keep JNC. A Code of Ethics is needed to be adhered to by all those working with young people. We need a new national youth pledge and a charter in each area to guarantee rights and entitlements for young people. We need a strengthened and reflated Youth Service Unit and greater emphasis within the HMI on Youth Service inspections.

Against this coherent vision based on democratic accountability at local and national levels is a route of de-professionalisation and fragmentation. We run the danger of no elected representatives owning the youth service, but a farrago of market driven quangos taking over, with some private companies getting interested. Instead of coherent skill related training based in professional values and shared beliefs, we are offered the pathetic alternative of a collection of off the shelf standards soon to be NVQ competences managed by a non peer led NTO. Professional standards, qualifications and pay will be reduced to the lowest common denominator. Enter single status. Instead of planned provision competition. Instead of universal provision targeted provision. Instead of a Code of Ethics instructions on ethical behaviour and principles. Instead of policy led by deliverers and front line workers, bureaucrats and academics separate from the field. Instead of youth workers - youth brokers, breaking youth up into segments of behaviour and need instead of seeing them as whole people to be engaged in moral and educational dialogue through professional youth work practice.

The choice is stark, we hope you will come with CYWU down the first road and reject the latter. Rebuild or demolish. Really modernise, or take the Youth Service back to where it started in the name of the new ?

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