Blogging for and about Youth Work and Young People

Communities in controlFor those of you who haven’t picked it up yet Hazel Blears is blogging this week here on Communities and Local Government.  An interesting exercise where she is looking for information and feedback on the Communities in Control, real people, real power (white paper).

I’ve been very interested to see the white paper and in particular to note what has been written concerning young people. There is an element that I am confused by in the statement in 4.19 where it states that

“The Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) has provided discrete funding for young people to control – the Youth Opportunity Fund and the Youth Capital Fund. These funds will enable local authorities to develop new approaches to strategic investment in youth activities and facilities, particularly in deprived areas.”

As a local authority managing the YOF & YCF we have worked extremely hard to ensure that the funding has gone to grassroots level and engages with as many young people as possible. To this extent we have 24 young people led forums which are true to the nature of the fund where young people have the responsibility for bidding into and allocating such funding. What I am confused by is the second part of the statement concerning the use of such funds to strategically invest in youth activities and facilities? This leads to some interesting conversations concerning who has control of such funding and how we involve young people in making decisions that are truely theirs or token only? Or indeed how do we influence and encourage them to make strategic decisions? It just leads me to wonder whether there is a true and clear understanding of how these funds are managed across the country.

I was also interested in the section about Empowering Young People . It mentions social networking but doesn’t seem to know where to go with this. There is discussion regarding the work of the Young Advisors charity and some emphasis on developing this work. Whilst I am not trying to dilute their work or the impact it has I believe recognition should also be made of the many fora currently available for young people to show community leaders and decision makers how to engage young people in community life, regeneration and renewal. It seems that much of the participation work that many, many people are involved in has been overlooked and I would be disappointed if funding and the way in which this work should operate is driven by one model.

Within our local authority we have a Youth Cabinet, local youth councils run in conjunction with the District and Borough Councils (including a youth mayor in Worthing), the Locality Youth Forums (part of YOF), and other fora where groups of young people (particularly from hard to reach communities) can participate and are empowered to show community leader and others not only how young people are affected by decisions being taken but also how they can be involved in any decision making process. 
Overall I think that there are some positive messages coming out of the paper however, as usual, I am disappointed to see citizenship focused primarily at schools and little thought being given to the work and role of the statutory youth sector within this area. What do you think?









Comments on: "Communities in control, real people, real power!" (5)

  1. Chris Cook said:

    From what I have read so far in Hazel Blears document it all seems to be about tokenism. When local council receives 75% of their funding from central government along with diktats and targets how can democracy truly be local?

    Within Ifield Youth Wing we are developing an Advisory Group which has replaced the Management Committee and consists of about 6 young people and 5 adult community members. We have just appointed young people as vice-chair, treasurer and secretary. True, they will be supported in these roles and the only budget they can manage at the moment is the subs, tuck and occasional grant money – but its a start.

    But the starting place for us are the junior leaders – who are encouraged to help plan programmes, run the tuck shop, collect subs, lead activities.

    From this and the Advisory Group we already have young people on the Locality Youth Forum and the Crawley Young Persons Council. Hopefully we can encourage participation in other groups.

    It all takes time to build. But if we’re serious about young people managing these funds and making decisions we need to get away from models where targets are set at too high a level based on concerns that do not reflect local needs.

  2. Chris – I wouldn’t necessarily deride the white paper as Tokenism so readily simply because of the structure of council funding. That doesn’t help us look for the opportunities in this paper to moe forward. (Although I would argue that government ’empowering’ people isn’t quite the right set-up as it implies power lies with government not with people. Government ‘enabling’ people to hold their local authorities to account by removing barriers and supporting capacity building may be a more apt description – with a recognition that sometimes the best way to enable people is to get out of the way).

    Targets are a way of ensuring a consistent service across the country (removing the ‘postcode lottery’) – and if we want to avoid them, we most likely have to accept some sort of postcode lotteryesque difference in service levels across a wide range of provision (this may be something we can accept – but it’s important to be aware of the trade-off). The key in the white paper is looking for the chance to balance central targets with more vibrant local community action and pressure to make local authorities accountable. There is a risk that government only wants to enable bottom up pressure on local authorities in order to further their agenda when top-down pressure can’t work (no new burdens etc.) – but at a glance I think there is also a space in the paper for some positive, step-by-step, progress towards increasing the power in the hands of local communities.

    Hilary – I think you’re right to identify a risk that area of government may misunderstand both the intention and the actual operation of Youth Opportunity Funds and Youth Capital Funds – but I’m not sure that YOF/YCF can’t or shouldn’t ideally be delivered in a strategic way. That doesn’t need to mean that the decisions about funding are taken in order to fit with some strategic plan developed without young people’s involvement – but it may mean looking to provide young people with increased skills, information and encouragement to be strategic in their funding decisions. (Where strategic is (a) the opposite of being reactive; and (b) involves fitting grant making activities into a wider programme of activities and change). Taking a strategic approach to decision making may only be relevant for grants about a particular sum, or for YCF grants.

    Introducing a strategic component into YOF/YCF decision making might, for example, involve:

    * Making sure the group has a clear sense of its goals for the next year/five years/ten years. These might include goals for certain changes they want to see in the area, goals for who should be applying for and accessing funds, and goals for how many grants they will make and to what areas of the locality.

    * Regularly reviewing grants that have been made as a group and asking ‘Were these the most effective grants to make to reach our goals?’, ‘What gaps are there in terms of the applications we’re receiving and how could we encourage more young people to come up with ideas/applications on these issues/in these areas?’.

    * Looking at the local authority strategic plans (sounds dull – but if you can get hold of executive summaries of various plans and then give each document to two or three members of the group – giving them 15 minutes to read through the document and plan a creative 1 minute presentation back to the group about the key point in it you can often get through a lot of content very quickly and make it accessible). Getting the group to think about how they can tap into wider local authority plans to amplify the effect of their grantmaking.

    Providing the above are done in a way that does not impose strategic priorities on young people – hopefully they can lead to more effective grantmaking that remains youth led at its core.

    Would these sorts of approaches work with the panels in your area Hillary? (I’ll try and blog them slightly more clearly in the next few days…)

    Finally (sorry for such a long comment!) – in response to your question about the lack of recognition of the informal sector – I’d agree with you. This seems a real problem across government policy. Perhaps every youth service in the country needs to invite a team from Whitehall to visit them and to see what it is that youth services and informal educators really do and can offer…

  3. Chris Cook said:

    Governments getting out of the way is by far the best way to enable people! Targets seem to skew best practise that is suited to a local situation and are often set to fit the latest reaction to a media frenzy.

    I will try and read the document with a less biased view but my concern is that targets and white papers such as this seem to be short-term approaches. What are our plans for our youth centres for five, ten or twenty years time? Or are we trying to follow the Tesco’s model for youthwork and homogenise every culture to fit a central plan?

    Having been a church youth worker – I am growing more aware of a huge cultural difference between youth work in the state sector and that in the voluntary and faith based sectors. There seems to be numerous schemes launched with funds to target this and that special project – all supported by their own bureaucracy. If youthwork is important (I believe it is), why not fund it properly and monitor its effectiveness instead of creating lots of mini-schemes with short timescales and lots of paperwork?

    Still – I’m still getting to grips with all this. Perhaps once I understand it all better I may change my tune. But for now I will try and read this white paper with the points you raise in mind.

  4. billybean said:

    Chris – I appreciate your concerns around targets however I do feel that, as Tim says, they are one way of ensuring that there isn’t postcode lottery. it is important that we are able to measure and demonstrate our effectiveness (which I feel is important in all sectors) and part of the way in which we can do this is through targets. Most of the time when I encounter people who disagree with targets it comes down to the fact that they personally don’t agree with the target and not always what is best for young people.

    (For instance one of thh consistent discussions I have is around accreditation for young people and the fact that there shouldn’t be a target for it, wthout the target many people forget that part of youth work is about education and recognition of that education….and the fact that many, many young people themselves are asking for it.)

    The other ‘beef’ that I tend to have is the cry that this or that scheme doesn’t fit ‘local need’ and that there is a need to do things differently here because of this. Whilst I appreciate that there are some differences locally most areas and issues are not that dissimilar. I am more than happy to take regional and local differences into consideration (and have t when wrking with v. rural communities versus more urban areas etc) however when I usually come across this phrase it is generally because individuals do not want to work with / disagree with a more common directive and once again it comes down to their personal views, not always the views of the young people they are working with.

    Finally – I agree that culturally there is a huge difference between the statutory and voluntary sectors. Having always worked in charities prior to this job I still see it on a daily basis, however I’m not sure it’s a funding / paperwork issue, for me it’s more about the ability to be quickly reactive (or even proactive) and effect change without it taking a few years to get the cogs spinning!

  5. billybean said:

    Tim – I thought I’d reply on a seperate comment as I managed to get a bit long winded in my other one.

    Thanks for the ideas and thoughts on how to encourage young people to think and work strategically. When I was blogging I was conscious that I didn’t want to say that we couldnt do it, only that it was quite a broader (and different) concept to take on than the one we currently have in terms of grant making. Your thoughts are definately something I can take up with our participation team, especially for our County Wide YOF group.

    The blog re Barnsleys YOF at also made me reflect how differently Local Authorities are using the funds. I don’t know if there is anywhere which shows how they are all being administered, this would be helpful.

    And finally, yes, I agree that maybe we need to all be making more of an effort directly with Whitehall to showcase informal education, I just don’t get why it’s always overlooked?!?!

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