Why councillors should steer clear of commissioning youth services

By Linda Jack

| 01 February 2012

The news last week that Labour councillors in Worcestershire have refused to take part in commissioning youth services caught my eye. I have a particular interest with a background in youth work and also having served as a local councillor.  So, were I a councillor in Worcestershire I may well have been the only person reasonably qualified for the task. However, I have to say I support the Labour group's position on this for a number of reasons.

Firstly, local councillors are there to represent their community and set policy - NOT to deliver it. They may well take a view on HOW they want to deliver in terms of values and principles. For example, I am old enough to remember a time when the Labour Party would have totally rejected the delivery of public services by private companies. But once the decision on budgets, along with the services to be delivered, have been taken, they have paid officers whose job it is to ensure the delivery of said services.

Secondly, the responsibility to represent their constituents means that they need to be far enough removed from services in order to be able to challenge how they are being delivered. How many fellow youth workers have found themselves subject to the whims of local councillors, particularly those in the ruling group? How much more difficult will it be for a councillor who has been involved in commissioning a service to then challenge that service when it fails to deliver?

Thirdly, and for me probably the most important issue in all of this, is the apparent lack of involvement of young people in this decision. It makes me wonder whether the council is operating in line with the principles outlined in "Positive for Youth" and if not why not?

Finally, I would in principle dispute the ideologically driven push to marketise public services in general and youth services in particular, driven not by a genuine desire to get best value and improved opportunities for young people but rather the desire to save money.

We would be horrified if we were operated on by a doctor with no training, or taught by a teacher who had only ever helped their own children with their homework and yet, there is a belief that anyone can be a youth worker, hence cut costs by employing an unqualified workforce. I believe we should all be worried about the deskilling and de-professionalisation of youth work and the consequences, particularly at a time of high youth unemployment, for our young people.

As a commentator on CYP Now pointed out - "Looking forward to the rehash of the Albermarle report in about 3 years' time."


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