Headlines: March 9th, 2006

Young people around the country are being given responsibility for deciding how more than a hundred million pounds of public money is to be spent. It will be available over two years through the Youth Opportunity Fund and the Youth Capital Fund and young people aged from 13 to 19 will be able to bid for funds from their local authorities to improve facilities and activities in their communities.Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes has announced that the 115 million pound fund will be ring fenced. On average a local authority will have half a million pounds available, rising to more than two million pounds in the very largest council areas and where the need is greatest over the next two years.

The fund is part of a package of reform for young people in ‘Youth Matters: Next Steps’. Other measures include placing a statutory duty on councils, in the context of national standards, to ensure young people have access to a wide range of positive activities. The Government hopes that in future these national standards will, for example, include access to two hours a week of sporting activity and access to two hours of other constructive activities in clubs, youth groups and classes.

The reforms will also see 10 pilot projects around England to develop the Youth Opportunity card, which will give 13 to 19 year olds access to discounts on activities and entry charges as well as from high street shops. The pilots will run in Bolton, Cambridgeshire, Camden, Durham, Lincolnshire, Liverpool, Nottingham, Suffolk, Sunderland and Tower Hamlets. Schools and colleges will also be encouraged to work in partnership with children’s trusts on new arrangements for delivering ‘Improve Information, Advice and Guidance’. This could include existing good Connexions services. New quality standards will be introduced to ensure that young people are aware of all the routes open to them, that advice is truly impartial, and that it raises aspirations.

The proposals also aim to improve and simplify ways in which young people who lead complicated and troubled lives can get early and continuous support. Pathfinder schemes are already underway with14 local authorities redesigning their services for this group of young people.

Beverley Hughes said no Government had ever put so much responsibility into the hands of young people to let them decide what activities or facilities they needed but the steps reflected the desire to put power in the hands of local people. “This is a new form of Government devolving right down to local people including teenagers as young as 13 having influence over a multi-million pound package,” she added.