By Daniel Hunter
The Government's flagship £1 billion Youth Contract scheme is not doing enough to get the most vulnerable young people into education and work, local government experts are warning.
It comes as figures released last week relating to the first year of the three year scheme, which aims specifically to get hard to reach 16 and 17 year olds back into work, training or education, has only managed to get 27 per cent of participants into a job or learning.
However, in contrast, pilot schemes being run by councils and local providers in Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield over the same period have seen almost three in five young people (57 per cent) who have taken part get into education, training or employment.
A similar local approach in Newcastle and Gateshead has resulted in almost half (47 per cent) of participants who were previously categorised as Neet — not in employment, education or training - successfully helped into a job or training course.
Based on what these local areas are achieving, a devolved Youth Contract across England could have helped twice the number of young people receiving support into work or learning.
The Local Government Association, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is now calling on government to work more closely with councils to successfully tackle youth unemployment because national approaches alone are not the solution.
The LGA's evidence demonstrates that personalised, flexible and local approaches are most effective in reducing the number young people out of work and training, and that Whitehall is poorly placed to bring all these services together around individuals with complex needs.
"Getting young people into work and helping them to make a positive contribution to their communities is a priority for local government, one that unites the sector and transcends local party politics," Cllr Peter Box, Chair of the LGA's Economy and Transport Board, said.
"Government cannot be complacent, below the headline figures long term youth unemployment is rising at a worrying rate. It's clear that the current nationally driven attempts to tackle youth unemployment aren't helping the long-term unemployed.
"While there are good initiatives, government has incentivised a series of services like schools, colleges, third sector providers to work in isolation of each other, with no clarity on who is responsible for leading the offer to young people on the ground.
"Local authorities and their partners are best able to bring together services that help young people into work and learning.
"Our success with the Youth Contract in the Leeds City Region is proving that, and we are lucky because across the majority of England local communities have little or no influence over the Youth Contract like we do, and so it is failing them.
"With the greatest will, Whitehall cannot do it all from the centre and so we now urge government to work with local authorities and their partners, giving them the powers to ‘own the problem' and become the link between young people and local employers.
"In return we will integrate services around the most vulnerable young people, match the training young people get with the skills demanded by local employers. We will look to combine these services with current employment schemes such as Jobcentre Plus, and help the Work Programme to maximise opportunities for the hardest-to-reach young people."
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