Leadership: Let young people decide on the services that meet their needs

The services that support young people outside of school are relatively small and there are few statutory requirements to deliver them. In times of austerity, they are often extensively and disproportionately cut back. The consequences of cutting ineffectively can be disastrous - expensive in both human and economic terms.

In Islington, rather than fight to preserve the remnants of the old ways of providing services, we have decided to be bold and have begun to work with a wider range of partners in new ways and to use our assets to greater effect. One example of this has been a partnership between a residents' group and the council that brings together resources and expertise while at the same time supporting and encouraging local ownership of the programme.

While many local authorities have scaled back their youth provision over the past 18 months, Islington has invested £8m to create two high-quality youth hubs. One will focus on health and wellbeing and the other on performing arts. Both hubs will offer access to a wide range of opportunities for young people to develop enterprise and employability skills and access a range of support services.

We have attracted investment by having a thorough understanding of the needs of young people. This has been gained by undertaking a comprehensive needs assessment process that has engaged more than 3,500 stakeholders. Young people themselves have been employed to undertake research with their peers and act as young advisers. Such an approach has enabled us to develop a clear set of commissioning priorities.

Resources and budgets have been pooled with local community groups to procure services, and we're supporting organisations to explore options such as creating community interest companies. Importantly, we are building a new model for youth provision and positive activities that does not rely solely on public finance.

Undertaking outcome-based commissioning and using outcomes-based accountability in our monitoring is helping to ensure that we get value for money. It also assists us to secure investment from a range of sources as we are able to clearly show the impact of our services. We are now looking at options to take the concept of strategic commissioning a stage further and draw on a wider range of expertise and perspectives.

A key element will be to explore the feasibility of creating a youth mutual, a model of working that will allow young people to be shareholders and to direct profits from entrepreneurial activity back into services for young people. We'll do this through a dedicated "task and finish" group that will support us to access expertise from external and internal partners. By offering the chance for young people to jointly own an organisation, they will have a chance to take real responsibility and will be provided with a vehicle to build leadership skills, volunteer and link with their communities.

In Islington, we strongly believe that young people need to play an active role in all phases of the commissioning cycle to get the services they want and deserve.

Rachel Egan, strategy and commissioning manager for integrated services for young people, Islington Council



  • Ensure that you understand the needs of the young people in your area. This can be achieved by undertaking a rigorous consultation process with them
  • Ensure that you have a full picture of the current resources and assets that can be used to support young people in the area. This will allow you to identify any gaps in provision or identify areas where there is overlap
  • Focus on outcomes rather than on outputs. Make sure that projects have clear objectives to achieve
  • Have a clear strategy that you've developed in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders. This strategy should be based on a comprehensive needs assessment
  • Stay alert and open to new opportunities. Different ways to resource and support your work arise from time to time, so be ready to take advantage when they do
  • Involve young people in all elements of commissioning. That way they will have genuine ownership of services
  • Have robust commissioning, decommissioning and recommissioning processes
  • Be curious about what others are doing and look outside your sector and usual networks

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