Youth Unemployment and the Youth Contract - Work and Pensions Committee Contents

8  Coordinating the Youth Contract and youth employment and skills policy

210. Delivering employment and skills services to young people is an exceptionally challenging task, given the diverse range of young people to be supported, who have widely differing needs and aspirations. Policy and delivery is overseen by several government departments and agencies and a growing number of public, voluntary and private sector providers. This chapter looks at how responsibilities for young people's services within the Youth Contract and related policy areas are divided up and considers whether reforms to unify responsibilities and consolidate and simplify provision are necessary.

Division of responsibilities and accountabilities

211. Publicly-funded support for young people's employment and skills includes: pre- and post-16 education; learning grants; work placements and training; the Work Programme and Work Choice; benefits; and careers information, advice and guidance (IAG). As noted by Inclusion, at least five central government departments are involved in overseeing policies in these areas. Broadly, departmental responsibilities for provision are arranged as follows:

·  BIS: apprenticeships and 19 plus further education; IAG post 18 (via the newly established National Careers Service)

·  DCLG: Early Intervention Grant (EIG, central government grants for funding of Sure Start centres, and youth and family support via local authorities)

·  DfE: Schools and further education to age 18; learning grants (including the 16-19 Bursary Fund and Care to Learn support for young lone parents); IAG in schools to age 18

·  DWP: Benefits, work experience, employment programmes. [193]

The case for greater coordination

212. It is clear that the problem is not a lack of provision for young people and employers but rather over-complexity and confusion about where to begin looking for appropriate support and information. The full complexity of services supporting young people was most clearly set out in evidence from the Local Government Association, which listed 33 separate services and funds. Excluding school funding, and some programmes where the budget was unknown, the combined estimated annual budget for these services in 2010/11 was around £16 billion.[194] In its recent report on the fragmentation of services for young people, Inclusion identified 40 separate funding streams and concluded that there was "considerable complexity, duplication and unclear accountabilities". In particular, it found "significant overlap between funding agencies at ages 16-19, and particularly at age 18". In Scotland and Wales, where education, training and skills policies are devolved, the national administrations each have several of their own initiatives.[195]

213. Several witnesses felt that provision could be better coordinated. Kirsty McHugh of ERSA cited the Big Lottery's announcement, in June 2012, of a £100 million Talent Match programme to support NEETs in 21 "hotspot" areas as an example of "policy layering" of the kind that left employers confused about what was available. She felt that such announcements, which the then Minister for Employment told us he was unaware of in advance, were indicative of a lack of joined-up thinking.[196]

214. The FPB reported that small business owners find the current range of youth skills and employment provision confusing and consequently often do not know where to start. It argued that many small businesses lack the administrative and financial resources to trawl through the available options. It recommended the establishment of a single call-centre to "signpost businesses to an appropriate provider".[197] The CBI supported this idea. It highlighted that JCP staff had been entirely unaware of the Youth Contract when businesses had phoned them for information.[198]

215. Inclusion believed that the Government should make it "an urgent priority" to "set out a clear accountability framework for supporting young people from learning to work, and then to ensure that the funding and performance regimes across public bodies support this".[199] It has recently argued that, in the longer-term, there is a case for a single Youth Employment and Skills Service to combine all provision in this area for 16-24 year-olds.[200] A similar recommendation was made in a recent report by The Work Foundation. It called for a "dedicated national unit" in Whitehall headed by a Minister responsible for oversight of youth unemployment policies across departments.[201]

216. Ministers were fairly dismissive of these ideas. The then Minister for Employment argued that Whitehall reorganisations can be "hugely disruptive". The then Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning acknowledged that there was a "challenge" in avoiding duplication but felt that there was not a case for a single agency "at the moment" as it may "interrupt progress". He pointed out the existence of a joint ministerial advisory group and that each department's civil servants worked closely together on overlapping polices.[202]

217. There is a plethora of services and funding streams aimed at increasing young people's participation in education and employment. We do not doubt that it is all well-intentioned and some of it works well. However, we are not convinced that public money is being used in the most cost-effective way and the scale of duplication must be contributing to waste as well as complexity and confusion for young people and employers. The Government seemed reluctant to tackle this by appointing a single Minister or delivery agency and we have some sympathy with this reluctance to introduce machinery of government changes which would not necessarily resolve the problem. Nevertheless, we believe that there is a very strong case for consolidation of funding streams and delivery bodies and improved cross-departmental working. We recommend that, in response to this Report, the Government sets out how it plans to deliver a more stream-lined and cost-efficient system for providing youth employment and skills services both in the short and longer-term.

218. We identified one specific current weakness which needs to be addressed if the Youth Contract is to succeed. There is currently no single information and support service, either locally or nationally, for employers who wish to offer opportunities to young people or to find out about government employment and training schemes. We recommend that DWP sets up a dedicated telephone helpline for employers looking to offer young people employment, training and work experience opportunities. The helpline should be staffed by trained employees with a full knowledge of the Youth Contract offer and all related schemes. A parallel single online information service should also be established.

193   Inclusion, Hidden Talents: Analysis of fragmentation of services to young people, January 2012 Back

194   Ev 146 Back

195   See and  Back

196   Q 301 [Kirsty McHugh]; Q 433 Back

197   Ev 141 Back

198   Q 81 Back

199   Ev 104 Back

200   Inclusion, Hidden Talents: Analysis of fragmentation of services to young people, January 2012, p 2 and attachment 3. Back

201   "Government's fragmented approach not enough to tackle crisis of long-term youth unemployment", The Work Foundation press release, 19 June 2012. Back

202   Qq 436-439 Back

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Prepared 19 September 2012