Over the last 6 months there have been a number of exchanges between our Campaign and the National Youth Agency, focused in particular on a meeting held in Leicester back in February. After much to-ing and fro-ing we are posting the following statement from our steering group, which is self-explanatory. Whilst we have revised the statement to take account of NYA’s criticisms of earlier versions it is very much our own perspective on events It is not endorsed by the Agency. As to where matters might take us, our reference below to a revived Advisory Group may now be overtaken by the growing talk of an Institute for Youth Work - see the NYA’s response to the Education Select Committee Report.
REFLECTIONS ON A MEETING BETWEEN IDYW AND NYA , HELD ON FEBRUARY 7TH, 2011 IN LEICESTER.
Over the last two years discussions within IDYW had raised the issue of the direction and role of the National Youth Agency. Considerable disquiet had emerged. Given the Agency’s origins as the Youth Service Information Centre back in 1964 as ‘a clearing house for the transmission of knowledge and the fruits of experience’ there appeared today to be a palpable lack of confidence in some quarters about the NYA’s ability to act as an independent and critical voice for youth work in these troubled times. To be fair such misgivings were not new. Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith were suggesting a decade ago that under New Labour the Agency was insufficiently critical of the government’s targeted, instrumental agenda. However these feelings of serious concern were exacerbated by the apparent turmoil at the Agency over the past three years – several restructurings, substantial redundancies, the loss of experienced and skilled staff, stories of sagging morale and a fundamental change in the composition and accountability of the Trustees.
In this light and given that many IDYW supporters have been involved intimately and supportively with the NYA across five decades, we sought a meeting with the Agency, which was held on February 7th, 2011. Our focus was on where the NYA stood within the profound crisis facing our work and whether its structures of delivery, management and governance were up to the mark. To take but the example highlighted at the first meeting of the Education Select Committee Inquiry into Services for Young People, was the Agency capable anymore of fulfilling a serious research brief, given the decimation of its staff and resources?
At the meeting itself the NYA was frank about the problems it had endured in the last few years, which if left unresolved would have brought the organisation to insolvency. Its funding base had changed significantly and thus its business model. Nevertheless the Chair and CEO of the organisation declared emphatically their continuing commitment to youth work. However they recognised that the NYA’s relationship with and communications across the sector were not as extensive as they used to be. The management and trustees recognised that the field were unaware to the full extent of the issues that had to be dealt with to secure the Agency’s ongoing viability.
Against this background there was an agreement that the NYA needed to think afresh its relationship to and communications with the differing constituencies across the youth sector. From our point of view, given the Agency’s stated support for youth work, understood as open, voluntary and negotiated, this seemed urgent and very necessary. At the meeting itself the NYA pondered the prospect of regular meetings with IDYW, whilst worrying about the looseness of our structure and accountability. The NYA’s fears are understandable and well placed. We are are a particular, campaigning example of what Simon Bradford dubs the the expressive, romantic tradition in the work. Certainly though we welcome the NYA’s desire to resuscitate its relationship to the field, perhaps through a recreated Advisory Group, that draws on the plurality of traditions and organisations within our work. For our part we look forward in some small way to being involved in this process. We believe this would be an important step on the way to reforging from below an authentic and critical relationship between the NYA and the field, which in turn would act as a counter-balance to the inevitable pressures on the Agency from above.