A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
Last month, Michael Heseltine unveiled his recommendations for creating national wealth and stimulating growth in a weighty 233 page report, No Stone Unturned, commissioned by Downing Street.
One of the key themes to emerge from this report surrounds the empowerment of local communities, and crucially, the devolving of power from Whitehall. Lord Heseltine acknowledges that too many decisions are taken in London, without a real understanding of the communities they will affect.
This isn’t exactly a revelation – for decades, regions such as the North East have been on the periphery when it comes to decision making, much to the detriment of our local communities.
But as we muddle through what is an unprecedented, turbulent economic meltdown, we have to ask ourselves, how do we respond to this on-going situation as a region and what can we do that will have a real impact?
The Government is wielding an axe of extraordinary cuts, something that directly impacts on our sector. Proving your worth has never been more important.
With this in mind, we decided to host a regional conference in partnership with Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council focussing on impact and outcomes frameworks and tools.
The event attracted over 110 delegates, but in some ways it was the informal chats in between workshops that provided real food for thought, with local authority staff discussing startling details of job losses and cuts to youth service provision.
In light of these cuts, it’s important for youth services to support one another by sharing best practice, working collaboratively, and similarly, fostering relationships with other organisations and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs).
Indeed, Lord Heseltine recognises the pivotal role that LEPs could play in the future; he even proposes the devolution of funding to the LEPs, with cash being used for apprenticeships, the work programme, affordable housing, the youth contract and so on.
Lord Heseltine’s report also makes reference to a survey carried out by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills, which found that 37% of employers said that 16-17 year old school leavers were poorly or very poorly prepared for the world of work. Hestletine recommends that businesses should have greater involvement with schools so that young people’s decisions can be informed by real and early exposure to the business world.
This integrated approach is something that we advocate, too, through our Reducing the Skills Gap campaign. Our North East Youth Network identified youth unemployment as a regional priority and intends on raising awareness of the issue through pledge cards and a pilot training programme that will equip young people with the relevant skills that employers are looking for.
The NEYN believes that there is a real need for employers, young people, and education and training providers to collaborate in order to combat the issues identified in the Network’s research and to contribute to increasing youth employment in our region.
Young at heart
Amidst this kaleidoscope of pessimism and gloom, it’s also important for us not to lose sight of what lies at the heart of what we do – the young people. We need to shout about all the positive stuff that’s going on despite the difficulties we are all facing.
For example, our Truth About Youth programme has received funding for a further two years and we’re kick-starting year four with a Pie, Pea and Press event, where a group of young people will dine with local journalists to discuss the portrayal of youngsters in the media.
Getting good news stories out there can inspire our local young people and provide them with hope in these stormy times and we’ll be looking to raise the profile of the RYWU-NE and its activities on a regional level to help achieve this.
The future is indeed an uncertain one, but what is clear – and what Lord Heseltine’s report recognises – is that a century of centralisation has led to ‘functional monopolies’ that don’t work. Local government needs to be simplified and our regions must have greater autonomy. To have any chance of success, or indeed survival, our destiny must be in our own hands.
Regional Youth Work Unit – North East