Ofsted is impressed with how voluntary youth groups are using government money. But some fear becoming just another state service, writes Tim Burke
National voluntary youth organisations are making good use of government funding, according to an Ofsted report. This is welcome news to voluntary groups since it suggests that the sector should therefore get a greater share.
The Ofsted report is on the 1999-02 voluntary youth organisations' grant scheme from the Department for Education and Science. The funding amounted to 12m over three years, shared among 80 organisations and nine joint projects. The money was awarded under two broad objectives: to combat social exclusion and improve the quality of youth work in the voluntary sector.
The headline news is that the grant scheme has been effective, raised standards and improved the quality of youth work. A high proportion of work observed was "well planned and effective, often reflecting the high standards already prevalent within an organisation".
Relatively few local authority youth service reports in recent years have such a positive tone. The current 2002-05 scheme has risen to 18m over three years. But this is still small beer compared with the 300m or so which found its way to local authority youth services last year (some of which, of course, went out to local voluntary groups).
Got what it takes
The National Council for Voluntary Youth Services feels the report shows that voluntary organisations have got what it takes to make a difference to young people and warrant the case for "substantial and sustained" funding in training and infrastructure. The council welcomes the raised investment, but points out that it is now split between 98 organisations and produces an average annual grant of just 61,000.
Susanne Rauprich, chief executive, says: "We need to work with local and central government to help build capacity."
These sentiments are echoed by Eric Finestone, deputy director of Jewish youth organisation Makor AJY and a former local authority principal youth officer. Although not funded in 1999-02, he is full of praise for the current scheme.
But looking at the bigger picture, he is frustrated at a general lack of funding for the voluntary sector, something he attributes to the increasing stress on tackling exclusion and the fact that commitment to partnership from some local authorities is mere lip service.
"The Government is trying very hard, but as to whether the voluntary youth sector is getting a fair crack of the whip then the answer is no," he says. "A youth officer told me he could access 3,000 a head to run summer schemes - we get nothing. We have some 3,000 young people in summer activities, and while our young people may not be falling off the edge of the world, they still have needs.
"I'd like to look at how much in total a typical local authority gets in various sorts of funding and then add up how many young people it works with and compare that with the voluntary sector. If the Government is serious about getting best value, it ought to take note.
"The local authority youth services are, of course, doing vital work.
But the split of the money between statutory and voluntary services is nonsensical."
The scheme is popular with many organisations however, says Bill Freeman, chief executive of the British Youth Council: "Money through the education department is our lifeblood.
We could not carry on without it, and it is especially useful now that we are able to put some towards core costs of the organisation."
Not a clamour for cash
But there is not necessarily a huge clamour for more state cash. Take an organisation such as Fairbridge, which offers personal support and challenging activities to young people in disadvantaged areas. It is set to reap more than 225,000 as one of the beneficiaries of this year's Guardian/Observer Christmas appeal.
Tamara Wilder, spokeswoman for Fairbridge, says: "It's great that there is Government money available for the voluntary sector. What is particularly brilliant is that we have been able to use a proportion of it for our core work, which has given us a lot freedom to raise money for other project work.
"But what we don't want is to lose our identity. Going to trusts and individuals means we retain our autonomy. That's particularly important for an organisation like ourselves that works with young people who most other organisations can't or won't worth with. If we become just like another government service, we might lose that ability."
- The 1999-02 national voluntary youth organisations' grant scheme supported some 80 organisations, ranging from specialists such as the National Youth Music Theatre to faith groups, uniformed groups and development organisations such as Weston Spirit L The scheme was worth 12m over three years L Ofsted says that "it has achieved ministerial objectives and provided good value for money"
- The full report on the scheme is available at www.ofsted.gov.uk, ref HMI 573.