For me - and I would say this wouldn't I - one of the most disturbing aspects of the current cuts is the impact on Youth Services. Even at the height of the Thatcher regime we never faced the Armageddon we now seem to be facing. Today I spoke to an old union colleague who said we are looking at melt down, the decimation of a service that so many of our most vulnerable young people rely on. If it were just about old pals of mine losing their jobs, that would be one thing, but it is the wider impact on the young people they work with in particular, and communities in general, I worry about. I have much more to say about this, but in the mean time I was thoroughly heartened by this speech by Simon Hughes this week in Parliament.
"I am ashamed to admit that I have been involved in the youth service for nearly 40 years, since I was a teenager, particularly in detached youth work, which is, for me, one of the most important areas of youth work in urban Britain and many other places, too. I want to say a few words and join other hon. Members in pleading for the Government to ensure that they understand the importance of Government and local authority support for the youth service.
I have always believed that there ought to be a statutory youth service. That is my party's policy, it is still my belief, and I hope that before long that can be the position. It has always been a Cinderella service, although it is the bit of support for young people that is needed to complement parental and family support, and school and educational support. Other role models who are not authority figures can often be far more influential in ensuring that young people have the development, security and safety they need.
I welcome the Education Committee's inquiry. The Government are looking forward to introducing comprehensive proposals in the new year. I welcome that. The Minister has often been well received since taking on his job. I thank him for that. I am keen for him to be bold and ambitious, both in his Department and across Government, because this is not only the responsibility of the Department for Education.
The national citizen service is a good idea, but as colleagues have said it is a time-limited, specific activity for some people at some time. It will grow slowly. The reality of the youth service is that it can be found by and is accessible to everybody in every community. That is the difference. The youth service is there now. We have to ensure that we do not lose any of its validity or accessibility.
May I make a special plea to ensure that the funding for people to be qualified and trained as youth workers is increased, not decreased? Some of the best, most talented people, who may not have a great academic background, come through the youth service as volunteers, then realise that it is their vocation. They have just the sort of skills that are needed. Often, they are women or people from black and minority ethnic communities. They are really good role models who have been where the youngsters are now. They understand the score, because they have been in the front line and have come through. We need to ensure that they are given the educational support to go on and do practice-based qualifications.
I have said that my engagement has mainly been with detached youth work, but that is not to underestimate club-based or specialist youth work. The benefit that the hon. Member for Bolton West mentioned in being out on the street, engaging with youngsters where they are, not expecting them to come to where the service is, is fundamentally important. If people are to gain the confidence of young people, they do not say, "Come and do it my way"; they say, "We're going to come alongside you and understand what you want."
We know that local government will have a hard time, as will central Government, because the settlement is difficult. But local government does not have to find all its savings by cutting grants to the voluntary sector and does not have to cut equally across the board. I plead with every council, no matter who runs it, to make sure that they do not think that the implication of a severe spending cut means cutting the voluntary sector rather than reducing the in-house services. Often, the latter needs to be done, because money for the voluntary sector can multiply in terms of its benefits in the community.
I am keen to ensure that evening and weekend work is supported. One of the problems with a lot of traditional youth services is that they were there-fantastically-on Monday to Thursday evenings, but not on Fridays, Saturdays or Sundays. That is exactly when young people need places to go to.
A good example of a youth service was a place I went to in south Wales a few years ago. The kids wanted somewhere to hang around safely. They were given support locally in the valleys and they were able to build a shelter. It was a very simple shelter, but they built it and it was their place. It was a sort of glorified bus shelter, but it meant they had somewhere they could go, supported by individuals. Often, simple things that cost small amounts of money can transform people's self worth and allow them to have a place they can call their own and build on.
Lastly, the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) pointed out that there are often many unused buildings. In difficult financial circumstances there is an imperative for organisations to work together complementarily, to ensure that facilities are shared and that people do not just do their own thing. That is often a danger in the statutory youth sector if there are schools that do not stay open after school hours or youth clubs that open only in the evenings. Local authorities need to lead on that, and my plea is for the Minister to say to every council, "You lead with the voluntary and faith groups. Do the work on the ground."
The Minister must also ensure that we have funding for youth workers whom we need to do their job, and that we do not lose them; we need them now more than ever. We must not lose key services, which are often the glue that keeps communities together as well as keeping young people and their communities safe."
So if you share Simon's concerns, please sign the For Youth's Sake pledge.....that's if you haven't gone off the idea of signing pledges at the moment!!!