Devolve National Citizen Service funding, says LGA

The Local Government Association has stressed that urgent investment in youth services is vital to help young people as the country enters a second lockdown.

Council leaders say that funding needs to be devolved to councils from the National Citizen Service (NCS), which receives an estimated 95 per cent of the government’s youth services budget. This is despite only one in six eligible young people taking part and a fall in participants in the past year. The NCS, which offers two to four weeks of voluntary activity for 16 to 17-year-olds, received £1.26 billion in government funding from 2016 to 2020.

The LGA is also urging government to make its £500 million Youth Investment Fund, first announced in September 2019, available as soon as possible to help boost youth services, including improving facilities and training youth workers. They believe that the funding is vital to help young people avoid long-term unemployment, mental health problems and being lured into criminal activity.

Due to funding reductions for local government and increased need for urgent child protection work, council spending on youth services has had to be cut by 69 per cent since 2010/11, from £1.4 billion to £429 million. More than 4,500 youth work jobs have been cut and 750 youth centres closed.

To mark Youth Work Week, the LGA wants the government to use the forthcoming Spending Review to devolve some of the NCS funding to councils to help plug the shortfall in youth services spending and reverse some of the cutbacks in local youth service provision. This would help to provide more youth workers to help young people struggling to find employment during the pandemic and to make positive life choices. In turn it would reduce young people’s exposure to long-term unemployment, mental health problems and online recruitment by criminal gangs seeking to exploit those with increased vulnerabilities as a result of the pandemic.

Judith Blake, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Youth services have a vital role to play in providing young people with safe spaces to go and trusted relationships with adults who can help them make positive life choices and avoid being drawn into negative situations during and after the pandemic.

“However, councils have been forced to cut or scale back important services for thousands of young people in recent years as their budgets have shrunk. The £500 million Youth Investment Fund was announced over a year ago and as we enter a second lockdown needs to be made available as soon as possible, if we are to help prevent young people from becoming a lost generation.

“While the NCS programme has value and should continue, it is wrong that nearly all of the government’s funding for youth services is being spent on a time-limited programme which attracts only a small number of participants and cannot replace year-round provision for young people of all ages. The government needs to devolve some of the funding from the programme to councils to enable them to provide the services that local young people want and need all the time, such as giving them safe places to meet, diverting them away from crime or supporting them to succeed in school, training or employment.”