The Youth Justice Board (YJB), which helps fund YOTs, has been told to slash its budget by the Ministry of Justice, prompting it to propose withholding £12m, equivalent to 14 per cent, of the £91m it allocated for YOTs for the current financial year.
The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM) has said in order to make the necessary in-year savings, YOTs will face no alternative but to scale back on non-statutory work such as crime prevention.
Gareth Jones, chair of AYM, said: “The success of the youth justice system in the last 15 years has been due in large part to the investment in preventing youth crime at an early stage, and in ensuring young people face up to the consequences of their offending for their victims through restorative justice.
“These innovations are likely to be the first to be cut if YOTs only have sufficient funds to carry out their statutory work for the courts.”
Jones said job cuts are another “inevitable consequence” of the cuts, but warned that redundancies within the current financial year will be difficult.
He said: “Given the consultation on these funding cuts hasn’t even started yet it is going to be tough to do make redundancies this year as that process takes around six months.
“What a lot of YOTs will have to do is look at natural wastage in the wage bill such as retirements.”
The AYM also fears the cut in YJB funding could provoke further in-year cuts from other sources of YOT funding – local councils, police, health trusts and the National Probation Service.
“Despite the pressures they all face, local partners in the main stick to the commitments that they have given for each financial year,” a statement issued by AYM said.
“They recognise that it is totally unacceptable to reduce their contributions midway through the year.
“We are concerned that if the YJB is forced to take such unusual action it will give licence to our local partners to follow suit.”
YJB chief executive Lin Hinnigan has already raised concerns to the MoJ about the scale of cuts and the potential effect on crime prevention and youth reoffending.
In a letter to YOT managers she said: “We strongly believe, and have advocated to the MoJ, that it would be detrimental to further reduce investment in the youth justice service, which can be considered as the preventative, and currently the most successful, arm of the criminal justice system as a whole.”
Campaign group the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) has also condemned the cuts.
SCYJ secretary Pam Hibbert said: “Cutting the YOT budget is shortsighted; it could damage the valuable work YOTs do preventing children from coming into contact with the youth justice system in the first place.
“This means increased costs to the taxpayers, and damage to children's lives, when greater numbers end up in the justice system, court, and possibly even custody.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said there is no evidence that the proposed savings would lead to an increase in youth offending.
“We must find savings in order to cut the deficit and bring the nation into surplus,” he said.
“No part of the department can be immune from that effort.”