Senator Power Opposes Cuts to Youth Services

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Senator Averil Power: I welcome the Minister of State. I raise this matter because the Department of Children and Youth Affairs is currently considering proposals from the City of Dublin Youth Services Board on the funding for youth work services announced in the last budget. I want to draw the Minister of State’s attention to the devastating impact the proposed cuts will have on youth services. I would like the Government to reconsider them. The youth work services provided to young people are invaluable, particularly in disadvantaged areas. I am sure the Minister of State knows that a small investment can have a huge impact. This country spends just €4 per week on each young person who is served by the youth work system.
Indecon undertook an economic assessment of this sector last year. It showed that for every €1 the State invests in this area, it saves over €2 in the long term. Obviously, this investment has a positive social impact on young people who benefit from these services. The figures show that it makes economic sense to invest in youth work because it saves the State more money in the long term. It is important to remember that for every paid member of staff who works in a youth service, there are dozens of volunteers. The paid staff are needed to leverage, manage and train the volunteers, particularly following the recent move towards greater professionalisation in this sector. Staff are trained to ensure they deliver a quality service. I know from the services in my local area that a significant emphasis is placed on reviewing and undertaking needs analysis of what is being provided. The whole sector has become much more professionalised over the last few years.
This sector is struggling as a result of the substantial cuts it has suffered in recent years. While groups and services initially responded as best they could by trying to rationalise and do more with less, they have had to cut hours and staff. Over the last year or two, they have increasingly had to cut programmes. As a result, some young people are not receiving the services they used to receive. In my local area, I am familiar with the services that are provided in places like Darndale, Kilbarrack, Kilmore West, Donnycarney and Coolock. I understand the impact that services like St. Monica’s service in Edenmore and the Trinity service in Donaghmede can have on the confidence of young people in some of the most disadvantaged parts of the country. The needs of young people who have left school and are not in education and training are not being met by the State in its other areas of activity. Young people from disadvantaged areas who are at risk of leaving school early often do not have the self-confidence or self-esteem to take up the opportunities that are available to them. I have seen how the staff and volunteers involved in youth services and youth work have been able to boost the self-esteem and confidence of young people and get them to take up formal education, apply for jobs and have confidence in their own ability to take up opportunities.
It is shame that cuts are being imposed in this area at a time when unemployment is such a problem, particularly among young people. This country’s rate of youth unemployment is shockingly high. I appreciate that cuts have to be made. I understand that the Government has to make savings somewhere. The imposition of cuts in this area is particularly short-sighted, however, given that the Indecon report and other research shows that youth services save more money in the long term. The services have not yet been told exactly how much they will lose. There has been a great deal of speculation and there is a great deal of fear. According to rumours in north Dublin, cuts of between 2% and 14% will be made. I am not sure if the Minister of State can confirm that. Such cuts, particularly at the upper end of the scale, are of concern. For many of these services, a cut of 14% would result in the loss of a member of staff. They might not be able to continue to offer a programme that currently serves young people who badly need it. I would like the Government to reconsider its approach and to find savings elsewhere. There is a social and economic case for doing so. I do not doubt that cuts of this nature would have a devastating impact on youth work services.

Deputy Ciarán Cannon: I welcome the opportunity to address this issue. I thank Senator Power for raising it. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs is providing €53.173 million in 2013 to support the delivery of youth work programmes and youth services to all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities, by the voluntary youth work sector. Youth work programmes and youth services are delivered to approximately 400,000 young people by over 1,400 youth work personnel, who in turn support a large volunteer base of approximately 40,000 people. Like all areas of the public sector, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has had to find savings as part of the Government’s collective effort to reduce this country’s unsustainable day-to-day deficit.
The comprehensive review of expenditure, which was published in December 2011, clearly sets out the savings required from the Department in 2012, 2013 and 2014. The review, which is available on the website of the Department of Public Expenditure, contains a detailed seven-page chapter outlining the savings required from youth work funding schemes. The overall level of savings required under the comprehensive review of expenditure in respect of 2013 amounts to almost 10%. The funding allocations for 2013 were notified to the administering bodies in recent weeks. The Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, and officials from her Department have met representatives of the youth sector in recent months with a view to determining how best to minimise the impact on youth services of the 2013 budget reduction in the challenging budgetary situation that we currently face. Administering bodies have been advised to consider salary levels, conditions and administrative costs across their projects and services, if these have not already been addressed. Every effort is being made to safeguard front-line youth services and services for the most vulnerable young people as far as possible.
The Department, in trying to maximise the use of the available funding for youth services and programmes, has given the local grant administering bodies – normally the VECs – the flexibility to propose the reconfiguration of the allocations provided, having regard to the knowledge available to these bodies about the needs of young people at local level. In this context, the City of Dublin Youth Services Board, as the local grant administering body in the Dublin city area, submitted a proposal to the Department last week requesting that percentage reductions, different from those outlined in the comprehensive review of expenditure, should be applied to projects in the Dublin city area. The proposed rationale of the board is to seek to minimise disruption to front-line youth provision and to protect smaller projects. It should be noted that under the board’s proposals, most projects would receive a significantly lower reduction. However, the City of Dublin Youth Services Board has also proposed that some larger projects should receive greater reductions. The Department is currently examining the board’s proposals. At the request of the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, officials from her Department met representatives of the board last Friday to discuss the proposals. The Department will advise the City of Dublin Youth Services Board of the outcome of its examination shortly.
It should be noted that no cut in the funding provided to support local voluntary youth clubs has been provided for under the comprehensive review of expenditure. This modest funding of more than €1 million plays an important role in supporting volunteer-led youth groups and promoting and leveraging valuable voluntary activity in youth work. Some €1.5 million in capital funding is being provided in 2013 for youth cafes and youth projects. The Department will announce further details of the application process for the 2013 funding programmes soon. Funding of €500,000 was provided in 2012 for the development of a number of youth cafes which had applied for previous youth cafe funding schemes. With respect to future funding provision, the Department has commenced a comprehensive value for money review of youth funding. The outcome of that review is expected by the middle of the year. The Department has also prioritised the improvement of quality provision in youth work through the publication and ongoing implementation of a national quality standards framework for youth work. The Department has also developed national quality standards for volunteer-led youth groups. Those standards were launched by the Minister, Deputy Fitzgerald, on Monday of this week.

Senator Averil Power: The Minister of State said that the Department is considering the proposals that have been made by the City of Dublin Youth Services Board. I sought a debate on this matter to ask for the whole approach to be reconsidered in that context. One of the problems is that greater cuts will be imposed on some projects than on others, as the Minister of State mentioned. The VECs and the City of Dublin Youth Services Board have essentially been placed in the invidious position of having to try to choose between equally worthy initiatives. I invite the Minister of State and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs to visit the projects I mentioned to see the work they are doing in communities that have struggled for a long time. A great deal of work had to be done to get these projects off the ground. They built up a position of strength over the years before the succession of funding cuts of recent years. It is unfair for projects to be pitted against each other.
The Minister of State suggested that this process will be good for smaller projects because a smaller cut will be imposed on them. That does not assist larger services like Sphere 17 in Darndale, which is one of the biggest projects in my local area.
Under the rationale set out by the Minister of State, the project will suffer severe cuts, despite serving one the most disadvantaged areas in the country. The City of Dublin Youth Services Board faces an impossible choice as it weighs up the merits of the various projects, each of which deserves continued support in its own right. I urge that the Minister would reconsider the approach that has been taken to this issue. I invite the Minister and Minister of State to visit the projects in question to see for themselves the work that is being doing in the areas concerned, the difference the projects are making and the amount of money they are saving the State in other areas.

Acting Chairman (Senator Terry Leyden): That is a nice invitation.

Deputy Ciarán Cannon: Perhaps I will be able to take it up at some point and I would certainly like to do so. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is actively engaging with the providers of youth services in each of the relevant areas and the City of Dublin Youth Services Board, the entity responsible for the overall administration of services. She is obliged to find a 10% saving in her 2013 budget. If she had not undertaken this engagement, she would have been accused of being dictatorial and irresponsible. The implication of the Senator’s contribution is that by carrying out this engagement, the Minister is somehow pitting one service against another. This was not the Minister’s intention and it is not the outcome of the engagement. She is seeking to use the wisdom of the City of Dublin Youth Services Board and its experience in administering services across the city of Dublin to determine how exactly we will implement the required saving across the sector in a manner that minimises its impact on front-line services. Her engagement was important and will prove fruitful. It did not have any negative elements and its outcome will be available shortly. With the co-operation and collaboration of the City of Dublin Youth Services Board, we will succeed in minimising, as best we can, the negative impact of this saving in 2013.

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