The SDLP Education spokesperson South DSown MLA Séan Rogers has strongly criticised a decision by the Education Minister John O’Dowd to shut down the “highly valued” Youth Council.
“Minister O’Dowd tells us he has carefully considered the responses before coming to this decision, therefore he must explain why he is doing something that 94% of the people questioned warned would result in an adverse impact on regional youth services.
“The Minister blames a tough financial context which is all the more reason why the Youth Council should have been retained. Let’s look at the facts. For every £1 the Youth Council gets, it generates £5 of additional income for frontline services. 22,000 volunteers work with the Youth Council in 37 regional youth organisations – saving almost £12m. Cutting YCNI means the Minister has a choice – find that additional money from the budget or not provide the service at all.[caption id="attachment_32260" align="alignleft" width="200"] Séan Rogers MLA is deeply concerned about the coming changes to the youth service.[/caption]
“The YCNI has helped 126,000 young people and given them improved life chances. That is another statistic the Minister ought to have taken into account. Under John O’Dowd’s plans to merge the YCNI with the Education Authority, the 37 regional groups would not meet the EA’s criteria for funding and would be shut down.
“I am alarmed furthermore that the Minister would display such disturbing short-sightedness and risk the very groups which give targeted support to young people who face challenging circumstances – those outside education and training, those who live in poverty, who are ethnic minorities or LGBT+. The regional groups won’t be able to use grants from the EA to leverage wider investment.
“The Minister is making a mistake which will have devastating consequences for the tens of thousands of young people who benefit from the work done by the Youth Council. Sinn Fein has form on making drastic changes when it comes to education that end up failing to work out. This is a terrible decision and I am not alone in opposing it. We will all feel the impact of this but none more than our young people who deserve better.”
Minister O’Dowd Announces Outcome Of Youth Council Consultation
Education Minister John O’Dowd has decided that all youth services funded by the Department of Education will in future be provided through the Education Authority.
The Minister made the announcement in a Written Statement to the Assembly.
He also published a Summary Report of Responses to the Consultation on Proposals for the Future of the Youth Council.
Acknowledging the work of the Council over the last 25 years, Minister O’Dowd said: “I want to record my appreciation for the excellent work the Youth Council has provided in supporting regional youth services and I thank everyone who responded to the consultation for their valuable contribution.
“I have considered all of the views expressed in the consultation including the concerns which have been expressed. However, I have decided that the creation of the Education Authority presents an opportunity which we should not miss. The establishment of the Education Authority earlier this year means there are two statutory bodies responsible for youth services, both now operating at a regional level.
“I have therefore decided that the Education Authority will take over full responsibility for the provision of all youth services funded by the Department. I will be moving to put in place the necessary legislation. However, in the interim and with effect from 1 April 2016, funding for Regional Voluntary Youth Organisations will be administered through the Education Authority.
“I acknowledge that this has been an uncertain time for staff in the Youth Council, many of whom have delivered long service and shown the highest level of professionalism. Therefore, whilst TUPE arrangements do not apply, I have decided that staff currently employed by the Youth Council may transfer to the Education Authority under the TUPE principles. I also intend to launch a Voluntary Exit Scheme (VES) as soon as possible for Youth Council staff who would wish to consider it.
“The Board of the Youth Council will remain in place to provide advice to me and my Department until the legislation to formally dissolve the Youth Council is passed in the Assembly. The Department will chair a partnership involving the EA and other key stakeholders to inform the development of an effective working arrangement within the Authority. While the Youth Council continues to exist in statute, its Council Member should also have a role to play in advising and supporting that partnership, recognising their responsibilities in relation to providing encouragement and advice.
“It is my intention to seek Executive agreement to the drafting of a Bill to repeal the Youth Service (NI) Order 1989 to resolve the administrative effect of the creation of the EA. The effect of this legislation will be to wind up the Youth Council.”
The Minister added: “I am confident that the new working arrangements for Regional Voluntary Youth Organisations under the EA will provide the impetus for further improvement across the youth sector. I acknowledge that there will be a period of transition and I would ask for the support of all sectoral partners to ensure that young people’s needs continue to be met through a range of high quality youth provision.”