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Hundreds of millions of pounds of promised government cash for ‘collapsing’ youth services shelved

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 30 January 2021 17:21 GMT
The £500m was due to start flowing last year - but there will be no money for services until at least April 2022
The £500m was due to start flowing last year - but there will be no money for services until at least April 2022 (AFP via Getty Images)

Hundreds of millions of pounds of promised government cash for devastated youth services has “gone missing” prompting warnings that many more will disappear.

Anger is growing over the failure to open up the flagship £500m Youth Investment Fund – amid fears the money will be redirected to other crisis services as part of a “review” of priorities.

Meanwhile, organisations helping vulnerable young people are facing closure on an unprecedented scale, even as the Covid-19 pandemic fuels a surge in the numbers in critical need of help.

And a requirement on local councils to reveal spending on youth services has been suspended – triggering fears of a fresh round of cuts, piled on top of the closure of at least 763 youth centres since 2012.

“Just at the time young people need it most, youth services are being hollowed out,” the National Youth Agency (NYA) warned, adding they “cannot afford to wait” for the promised rescue.

Another organisation said a small pot had been announced for new buildings, but said: “It is no good building spaces that will be empty if there are no services to put in them.”

The fund was first promised in September 2019 and the Conservative election manifesto, three months later, pledged: “We will invest £500m in new youth clubs and services.”

Cash was expected to start flowing last year, but there will be no money for services until at least April 2022 – with just £30m of capital spending in the 2021-22 financial year.

The adventurer Bear Grylls, and actors Thandie Newton, Kathy Burke and Michael Sheen, have joined criticism that vital youth services are being neglected.

However, despite the pleas, no money is being released for running youth projects – and the Treasury was unable to say when it would be.

Leigh Middleton, the NYA’s chief executive, told The Independent: “The promised funding for youth services has gone missing.

“The pandemic has hit young people the hardest, now and for their future. However, just at the time they need it most, youth services are being hollowed out.”

Warning an April 2022 start would be two-and-a-half years after the fund was announced – “a huge part of a young person's life” – Ms Middleton added: “We simply cannot afford to wait that long.”

Sarah Staples, chair of the British Youth Council said: “Given the demand for youth charities is likely to increase as we exit this period, it’s essential that we have guarantees about when we’ll finally receive the highly anticipated Youth Investment Fund.”

In September 2019, then-Chancellor Sajid Javid said: “This investment will help build 60 new youth centres across the country, refurbish around 360 existing youth facilities, and provide over 100 mobile facilities for harder to reach areas.

“The fund will also support the provision and coordination of high-quality services for young people, and an investment in the youth workforce.”

The backdrop was almost £1bn of funding cuts to youth services in England and Wales since 2011, forcing more than 1,000 children centres and 760 youth centres to close.

Critics said the consequence was spending skyrocketing on emergency help – such as more young people sent into care.

Fresh NYA research has found that one in four youth charities are on “the brink of collapse”, unable to meet their costs beyond this March.

A £16m fund for the youth sector was announced as part of the Covid-19 response, but it is still to be distributed and strict criteria mean many groups will be unable to apply, the organisation said.

A government spokesperson said: “We will invest £30m capital this year through the Youth Investment Fund to provide new and refurbished safe spaces, so young people can access support from youth workers and positive activities out of school.”

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