Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Shadow Cabinet, FPC and Virgin Trains!

Ooops! Blank post courtesy of Virgin Trains - back in Bromsgrove now so let's hope this works.................

I’m just on my way back from FPC, on the train to Bromsgrove hoping that the train isn’t as late as it was last night, causing me to miss my connection with an hour wait for the next one! Anyway last night I was at Shadow Cabinet where, with Lynne Featherstone being the only woman, I was overwhelmed by the distinct white maleness of the brood. OK, a few women were missing, but it doesn’t take many to result in none.............Let’s hope this Speaker’s Conference really does do something to redress the balance...........but that really wasn’t my point – will return to this favourite theme in the future.

Now I may be accused of many things, but leaking isn’t one of them, so I will resist the temptation to dob Vince in about something quite amusing, or someone else about something not quite so amusing.

Last night and this evening Lynne and I were presenting the Youth Policy Paper – with many radical and fresh ideas, some of which will hopefully become policy, others which will fall victim to the fall out from “savage cuts”.

I turned up yesterday having just read an article in Children and Young People Now about the truly savage cuts that as ever, many youth services across the country are being faced with. In Nottingham it amounts to around £700,000, in Birmingham £1 million and in Oxfordshire they are consulting about a staggering £2.7 million in cuts. This is what truly does my head in. All the parties nationally make commitments about preserving frontline services – BUT – when it comes to the crunch it is the non statutory services that suffer, in particular youth service. I have lived with this for most of my youth service career – year after year of cuts –when we got rid of the Tory government I naively thought things might change. Did they? Did they heck! I used to manage a youth service where once I had paid all the fixed costs (salaries, buildings etc) I had £2,000 a year to spend on work with young people - £2,000 – that equated to about 10p per young person per year!!!

The Youth Policy Working Group has been united in the need to invest more in services for young people. So we have been arguing long and hard for additional youth workers – 10,000 to be precise. There is a reason for this.........a few years ago we had two expert witnesses to our Crime Policy Working Group who both said – what we need is not 10,000 more police on our streets but 10,000 youth workers. One of the arguments our party has for investing in police rather than youth workers is that this is what the people want. They want the police to cut crime. The fact is that young people are not only disproportionately the perpetrators of crime, they are also disproportionately the victims of crime. When I was in Bedford the crime people were most worried about was abduction.....this despite the fact that no one had been abducted for 20 years. There is a notion that more “bobbies on the beat” will help cut crime. But the truth is that a police officer actually comes across a crime once every 8 years!

Anyway, excepting a few notable parliamentary supporters, Lynne, Simon Hughes and Evan Harris – we have failed to convince the parliamentary party, or FPC of our case.

My frustration, whilst I appreciate the need to have some popularist policies, is that they must be evidence based. Also, while it may be true that people are worried about crime, if you look at the results of most citizens’ panels you will see that facilities for young people is also a hugely important issue, often topping the poll!

A few years ago my local authority commissioned a report into youth crime. An academic study was carried out by the local university. The study convincingly demonstrated that in one particular area (an area I managed) of high youth crime, the crime rates went down markedly on the evenings our youth club was open. The report was never formally published because it didn’t say what the politicians wanted it to say – I wonder how many other unread, unpublished reports would say the same thing? Actually, its not rocket science is it? “The Devil makes work for idle hands” hmmmm yes – innit?! If we actually listened to young people for a change we would hear this, again and again, but unfortunately it seems we have lost the ability to think long term or strategically, to recognise that we must invest to save. The real tragedy of this recession is that something that should have been seen as an opportunity will doubtless be squandered – and that squandering will result in yet another generation of young people who have been totally let down by our society. A society that bleats about “feral youth” but then is prepared to allow the environment to exist that reinforces their so called “feral” ways. A society that has not made the connection between effort and reward – that wants everything on a plate and doesn’t see why it should pay for it – a malaise that is being passed on to our children.

OK, I am in rant mode, but I want our party to tell the truth. Tell the truth about what the consequences are if we don’t invest in services now. Tell the truth about how the obscene inequality that exists now has resulted in our children being the unhappiest of all OECD countries, us having the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe, close to 1 million young people unemployed, us locking up more children than almost anyone else and the equally obscene human and financial cost of this.

Despite my rant, and my passionate belief that we really should be investing in our young people’s futures – I do think we have come up with a great policy paper. It will be launched soon and hopefully will get through conference without too much flak (especially since it ain’t gonna cost much!) It is head and shoulders above anything the other parties have come up with and is rooted in our core belief that "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity"


Stephen Robinson said...

Hi Linda. Agree with your comments about the simple need to find something good for young people to do (before they find something bad).

You might be interested to know that in Chelmsford we have a brilliant charity working with local young people called Kids Inspire, modelled on KidsCo: http://www.kidsinspire.org.uk/

Foregone Conclusion said...

I did a bit of work for my local MP sorting through some 'family surveys' sent back from the public, which asked questions about (amongst other things) youth crime. The most common comment was not 'castrate the bastards!' or anything else (although the nutter count was pretty high). It was, in fact, that the Government ought to provide 'something for kids to do in the evenings.' For every ten of those, you might get one man (and they usually were men) demanding more police/the return of National Service. Bear in mind that this was totally unprompted. So, from this entirely unrepresentative survey of one marginal (!) constituency, the idea that the public wants 'more police' rather than 'more youth workers' is untrue, although if you framed it in those terms you're likely to get a different answer.