Sadly today I am Edinburgh for a roundtable at the Scottish Parliament, so not at the Salmon Youth Centre in Southwark with Lynne Feathestone to launch our Youth policy paper "Free to be Young". I had the great privilege to take over from Laura Willoughby as chair of the working group that produced what I think has turned out to be a brilliant paper! OK, we didn't get everything we wanted .........basically anything that cost anything (!) like 10,000 extra youth workers, but the principles that underpin our policy give us a sound foundation, and in my view the strongest policy position of all the parties.
Our starting point is freedom - our young people need to be given the freedom to grow and thrive. Labour is just interested in trussing them up in a straight jacket to force them into a mould of their making, or to demonise and blame them for society's ills. The Tories offer a "ladder of opportunity" - but don't tell you that the bottom rugs are broken and only the few rather than the many will manage to get onto that ladder. I believe we offer a genuine alternative - a ladder with no broken rungs but also a safety net for those who for whatever reason may from time to time "fall off" the ladder.
Our policy has already attracted attention from Children and Young People Now who were especially interested in our pledges to put Youth Service on a statutory footing and to create a cross departmental junior ministers committee to ensure a more joined up approach to youth issues. Also the response from my colleagues in the youth sector has been really positive - especially appreciating our theme of freedom. Please let me know what you think, you can read it here. I also hope you will join us for the debate at Spring Conference.
Special thanks must go to Laura, who did all the groundwork, to Debbie Enever, one of our many unsung heroes in the policy department, who did all the donkey work, pulled it all together and did the brilliant design, and to Lynne who has been amazing to work with, she is so supportive and encouraging and also such a fabulous advocate for young people . She also supported me to the end (along with Simon Hughes) in trying to get an agreement on the 10,000 extra youth workers, a battle I believe we will win in the end! But I am pleased about putting the Youth Service on to a statutory footing, this is something we in the sector have been calling for for decades (please note my old CYWU now Unite sparring partner Doug Nicholls - will you be advising your members to vote Lib Dem now?!). This won't produce the extra youth workers but it will go some way to arresting the hemorrhaging that is going on across the country as youth services are among the first to feel the cuts. Counter productive in the extreme and something that will end up costing us more in the long run, both financially and humanly.
Special thanks also to Faiza and the team at NCVYS who kindly provided many of the photos we were able to use in the document. Please visit their website to find out more about the residential opportunities they offer to young people.