More local flexibility in the design and implementation of policies to address youth unemployment can deliver greater efficiencies and better outcomes for young people. Different cities will require different polices to effectively address the core issues they face. They are also more likely to have a good grasp of the barriers young people face in the city, how to target the most disengaged, what training and employment opportunities are available and which organisations are best placed to deal with them. Local organisations are better placed to build relationships with young people, employers and education facilities and so provide a joined-up approach to tackling disengagement and unemployment, as is increasingly recognised by government policy.
The report draws out a number of lessons from initiatives run in cities around the world and highlights the importance of: preventive measures; strong partnerships between local institutions and employers; targeted intervention; tailored and continuous support; a coherent package of measures; quality labour market intelligence and robust evaluation. Policies to promote strong and sustainable growth are a vital part of improving employment prospects for young people – so that there are more and better job opportunities available. There is no one definitive approach to any of this and there are no quick fixes.
Enabling cities to respond and build strong partnerships
National Government should ensure local partners (including voluntary organisations working with young people and strategic bodies such as Local Enterprise Partnerships) have access to long-term funding to create greater certainty for local programmes. Local partners need greater flexibility to respond to the needs of their local labour market. City Deals and the creation of a Single Local Growth Fund (SLGF) mark a step forward towards greater devolution but processes have been fragmented and the SLGF is substantially smaller than the £49 billion that Heseltine recommended. Central government needs to further devolve funding to local authorities, who in turn need to devolve it to organisations working with young people, with all levels of government ensuring they can provide local partners with longer term certainty about funding, which helps to ensure programmes and support can be sustained over the longer term.
National Government should enable local public service providers to coordinate support for young people by pulling together services in a way that works for individuals. Implementation of the Community Budgets would allow partners to join services up around young people to support them into sustainable employment. The approach is also estimated to lead to significant savings – potentially up to £20 billion. The scale of benefits will only be realised if the Budgets are implemented and properly evaluated. Budget holders should also be able to retain savings and reinvest them locally, rather than seeing them siphoned back to Whitehall spending departments. Government departments also need to commit to sharing more data as part of this.
The Department for Work and Pensions should devolve commissioning of the Youth Contract and Work Programme to cities post-2016. Councils that have had responsibility for delivering the Youth Contract68 have demonstrated their ability to produce better results compared to national providers. Devolving the Work Programme to city level would allow local partners to embed services in the wider institutional system with a city, joining up with other local employment support providers and employers.
Evaluating impact and sharing best practice
Local partners need to invest in robust assessment and evaluation of programmes to understand what works. There is a crucial need to improve the evaluation of youth unemployment interventions in order to improve existing programmes and to establish what works. This needs to involve tracking participants after they have left the programme to determine if they experience future unemployment spells. A programme that worked in one locality will not necessary work in another and it can be difficult to replicate past success. More work needs to be done to understand the impact of specific components or features of different programmes, as demonstrated by the Harlem Children’s Zone and Career Academies case studies. Good national and sub-national networks should be in place to identify and share best practice between providers, cities and other stakeholders.