By Elizabeth Harding, on behalf of and with contributions from members of, the Children’s and Young People’s Network

The real answer of course is both subtler and more complex. We see in one area that no cut to the VCS will be higher than cuts to the local authority in general and in another, the VCS have taken the brunt of the cut to the Area Based Grant. Both of these situations are set out in contributions to this blog by members of the Children’s & Young People’s Network.

This is why it is difficult to make definitive statements on the effect of cuts on the voluntary youth sector. Just like local authorities the sector has responded in a variety of ways; where some have seen opportunity, others have seen threat. In many cases though the flexibility and pragmatism of the sector has enabled them to absorb, change and survive.

We know that the majority of services delivered to young people aged 13-19 outside of school continue to be delivered by voluntary groups that have very little or no funding and so are relatively unaffected by cuts. “We get a small amount of money from the council. Our funding is primarily from personal donations, so the big cuts from the government haven’t impacted us. However, the general poor economic climate is cutting the money we get from donations so in that way we have been impacted financially.”

Some larger organisations have found themselves in the ‘perfect storm’; facing cuts to statutory funding, in grants and foundations due to reduction in returns from the stock market, and a reduction in funding and support from business at a time when demand on services is increasing. The mixed response to growing demand on VCS services when funding is reducing is also clear. “Where LA clubs have closed or reduced opening hours, we have noticed an increased desire by young people for our projects and a recognition of the skills and services we offer”. Others feel resentful – “local youth services are requiring more from the sector for a lot less and they don’t have a clue about the terms and conditions the sectors staff and volunteers operate in”.

One contributor has seen inevitability in the cuts – “Since the introduction of Connexions at the beginning of the new millennium, the days of ‘associative youth work’ provided by a local authority and paid for by local taxes have been numbered in my view. Youth services have continued to struggle to show the direct and tangible benefits they provide to young people and the local economy, and will always find it hard to justify perceived high levels of spend on relatively small populations of young people when considered against other ‘blue light’ services. The cuts to such ‘non-statutory services’ in the present climate of cuts are therefore inevitable”. Others bemoan the disappearance of support from local authority youth services.

Cuts to youth services have seen reductions in specialist services to young people, therapeutic group work, and work with young men and young women, as well as a reduction in training and accreditation. Local VCS groups are seeing the impact of this, “The larger impact we have felt from the cuts is the reduction in specialist services. For example, the closing of the Drugs Intervention Service means that if we work with young people who have some drug issues, we no longer have a local service to refer them to. There are no specialist early intervention teams that we can refer young people to. This is the biggest need since the cuts to have more options for early intervention with young people before they get to the point of needing the high end services”.

Support for VCS groups in demonstrating quality as well as help in developing and implementing policies and procedures is also being lost. In some areas, cuts to local infrastructure organisations have been even higher than cuts to front line services. “At the youth infrastructure level, the cuts are particularly acute. It will be unlikely that any funding will be provided for pure youth infrastructure in 12 months time. Transforming Local Infrastructure is giving local authorities the ammunition to offer a single pot for a ‘combined generic, specialist and thematic support service’ offer from LIOs. Lottery funding similarly switching to a demand-led approach for support services through models such as Big Assist. This at a time when need on the ground and the call for VCS groups to be involved in delivery is increasing.”

We could let the situation created by cuts cause greater divisions and clearly the ways some local authority areas are dealing with them can add to these divisions. Yet for local authorities the past two and half years have been very traumatic with some dismantling their youth services completely and it can seem the VCS is enjoying seeing them have to make reductions. All of this can cause tensions. Recognition that most local authorities are doing their best in incredibly difficult circumstances and recognition from local authorities that the VCS make the biggest contribution in providing services to children and young people and that voluntary does not mean amateur may help heal wounds allowing us to focus on the needs of young people.

Networks such as the Children’s and Young People’s Network can offer the space to share ideas and experiences. If we can do that then we can look forward to see how we can collectively make an offer in the shifting landscape.