Wales politics

Youth services suffering alarming decline, AMs warn

Boy using a computer Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Councils cut nearly 150 youth work staff - a fifth of the total - last year alone

Urgent action is needed to address an "alarming" decline in the range of services available to young people, assembly members have said.

An inquiry into youth work also heard concerns about a lack of leadership and strategy by the Welsh Government.

Council funding for youth services has fallen by almost a quarter over the past four years, AMs reported.

The Welsh Government said "tough decisions" had to be taken because of UK government cuts.

All young people in Wales aged 11 to 25 can access youth services including youth clubs, information and advice centres, or specific projects in their area.

But the assembly's children, young people and education committee found fewer were taking part in council-run activities since youth service budgets have been cut.

It also found local authorities had cut nearly 150 youth workers' jobs - almost one in five - in 2015-16.

One group representing voluntary youth work organisations told AMs almost a third of its members feared they would not survive beyond the next financial year.

Responding to concerns about "a lack of engagement" by the Welsh Government, it called on the minister responsible, Alun Davies, to hold "urgent discussions" with youth organisations and young people about the services available.

Image copyright Thinkstock

Committee chairwoman Lynne Neagle said youth work provision was "essential" and allowed young people to reach their full potential.

"Our inquiry shows an alarming downward trend in the number and diversity of services across the country," she said.

"We believe that the Welsh Government is facing a considerable challenge to deliver a universal, open access, youth work provision through the medium of both English and Welsh."

She added a national model combining services provided by councils and voluntary groups would be "the best option if the Welsh Government is serious about delivering a service that is accessible to all young people in Wales".

The Welsh Government said it gave council almost £2.8m a year to support youth work, but cuts to its own budget had led to "tough decisions".

"We recognise that there is a need to adapt to these funding challenges and we will be exploring how youth work is delivered over the next 12 months", a spokesman said.

"Local authorities should also be innovative and look at different methods of youth work delivery in their areas."

Llyr Gruffydd, who speaks for Plaid Cymru on children's issues, said it was "a shocking critique of the Labour Government's handling of the youth service in Wales".

Darren Millar, Welsh Conservative education spokesman, said: "The decision to withdraw funding from this sector is short-sighted and will come with a much higher cost later down the line."

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