A Network of Regional Youth Work Units, in England, collaborating across regions to promote good youth work and young people’s voices.
In this week’s blog, Jamie Mercer from Youth Focus: North East explores devolution, cuts to powers and local authority, the role of communities’ voice, and how the voluntary sector can support them.
The voluntary sector should “adapt or die”, writes Craig Dearden-Phillips in January’s edition of Third Sector magazine. Facing heavy cuts, local government spending will shrink faster than at any time since 1945. Last year’s Kids Company revelations have damaged the reputations of charities to the point that funding from traditionally ‘safer’ forms of charity fundraising is no longer guaranteed. As Dearden-Phillips suggests, the third sector appears to have lost its voice and finds itself in a bit of a predicament.
In 2010, David Cameron triumphantly announced Big Society as a way of empowering communities to fill in gaps left behind by local authorities, but now Big Society is nowhere to be found. Instead, the buzzword is devolution; powers released to local area authorities that agree to follow the model outlined by the Conservative government – a model similar to the GLA or the GMCA. But in the face of another round of wholesale funding cuts, what these powers ultimately look like is up in the air.
Further cuts to youth services, as well as other local authority departments, means now more than ever that young people are getting a raw deal when it comes to access to vital services and support to encourage their development and personal growth. But if devolution is the route we are going down, how can we make sure that the voices of young people and communities are present and that they are helping to shape the debate?
Furthermore, what role will the voluntary sector have in this process? Alex Whinnom, writing in Charity Finance magazine, suggests that the voluntary sector must demand not a mere share of the money but rather a share in the leadership and decision making in shaping new thinking. Devolved powers to local authorities could radically reshape the role of local councils, so getting this right – and involving young people, communities, and all service users in a co-production model – is paramount.
It feels like we’ve been discussing the importance of this for some time, it’s acknowledged knowledge, yet there still doesn’t appear to be a firm suggested way forward. The Talent Match project encourages 50% of the decision making to be determined by young people. If this can be adopted in a £108m Big Lottery project, why can’t local government adapt a similar model where young people, members of the community and service users, would make 50% of decisions?
Co-production, which is essentially what we’re looking at with this model, can be scary at first, but it makes perfect sense. It recognises the skills and experience of those that regularly use and access services and that information is invaluable when it comes to making wholesale changes, as devolution would invariably allow. This means the necessary changes are brought to the forefront and can: i) save money long-term; ii) save time in making sure the correct decisions are made first time, and iii) make service users feel important and acknowledged. It’s a win-win.