Youth unemployment: councils can save a generation

12 Apr 13
Paul O'Brien

Local authorities can do a lot to encourage young people into education, training or employments, helping rescue them from a life of long-term worklessness. But Whitehall needs to recognise this role and invest the necessary funds.

With almost one million 16-24 year olds neither working, studying or training, there is general agreement that youth unemployment is a grave national problem. But it is a problem that local authorities are well placed to tackle – and they are already taking the bull by the horns in many areas. This is why we are calling upon central government to give local authorities the recognition and funding required to help save a generation from a life of long-term unemployment.

The Association for Public Service Excellence and De Montfort University undertook research among local authorities to determine the extent to which youth unemployment is an issue in their area and what they are doing about it. The results show that, as might be expected in the current climate, 94% of respondents consider youth unemployment a problem locally and 91% believe it has got worse in the past five years. Our mapping exercise indicates that, as might also be predicted, youth unemployment is affecting areas with higher socio-economic deprivation disproportionately.

Whilst our research found that 73% of authorities had a strategic plan to tackle youth unemployment, we also wanted to establish what practical steps councils are taking to help ensure a generation of young people are not consigned to life on the dole, with all the social and economic consequences this brings.

On a practical level, 70% are helping young people find work experience, 80% are providing in-house apprenticeships and 40% are inserting social benefit clauses into contracts to promote local employment opportunities.

Our report contains numerous examples of local authorities across the UK playing an active part as local stewards to help address this burning issue. One such example is City and County of Swansea ‘Keeping in Touch’ scheme, which provides targeted support to pupils who may be at risk of leaving school without a qualification. Another is South Ayrshire’s ‘Work Out!’ initiative to enhance employability amongst young people through work experience and vocational training. Bolsover Local Strategic Partnership’s ‘Raising Aspirations’ project works with young people to help develop skills and qualities that will help them move into education, employment or training. There are many more illustrations of good practice in our report Youth unemployment: local authorities leading the response.

What more could local authorities do? We have come up with ‘four C’s’ to answer this question. These are: ‘convening’ links with local businesses and trade unions; ‘co-ordinating’ a response to youth unemployment that links up information and funding sources; ‘collaboration’ with partners and employers; and acting as ‘custodians’ of local communities, creating opportunities within in-house services to provide support and employment opportunities for young people.

Councils can achieve better outcomes in tackling youth unemployment because they are ideally placed to develop strategies which suit their unique local circumstances and there is clear evidence of them doing so. But recognition by central government of this key role is vital, not just for inter-generational justice, but for our national economic survival. Failing to ensure young people have sufficient skills and experience will disadvantage us in global markets and will cost the national purse dearly in the long term in the form paying benefits instead of collecting tax on earnings.

Central government departments need to recognise the strategic function of local authorities and invest the necessary funding to enable them to fulfil this important role. Our research shows councils have achieved a great deal in this important area with limited budgets and we are not necessarily calling for massive additional resources. However, central government does need to invest in the strategic capabilities of local authorities and establish a policy environment in which the multiplicity of schemes, regulations and funding mechanisms are channelled towards local leadership of initiatives that help ensure a brighter future for young people and allow them to contribute economically.

Paul O’Brien is chief executive of the Association for Public Service Excellence


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