Councils slam new powers to tackle failing youth offending teams

Council bosses and youth offending team leaders have criticised new powers allowing the government to intervene in failing youth offending teams.

Under the powers, introduced in the Youth Crime Action Plan yesterday, the government will be able to send in “expert teams”, remove staff and impose targets.

Lack of consultation

Council chiefs claimed the government had failed to allow for “rigorous consultation” on the powers, which were not included in the draft Youth Crime Action Plan put out for consultation last July.

Les Lawrence, chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, pointed out that the “vast majority” of Yots did “excellent work” and said the powers were unecessary.

Andrew Webb, of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said there was “no evidence” to show the powers were required.

“Inspections of YOTs have generally been very positive in the past and, in those cases where action has been required, this has always been completed to the satisfaction of the inspectorate involved,” he added.

Inspection system ‘flawed’

Mike Thomas, chair of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, claimed a “flawed inspection system” could lead to Yots being unnecessarily punished.

He said that, since inspections changed in April to focus on safeguarding issues, they did not show a true picture. “The new system doesn’t take account of problems with partnership arrangements and won’t tell us if or why a Yot is failing,” he added.

Custody budget

Campaigners also criticised the government’s failure to devolve the youth custody budget, but the Youth Justice Board said the idea was “still an option”.

The proposal was floated before the draft Youth Crime Action Plan was put out for consultation, but council opposition is understood to have convinced ministers to drop it.

“There seems to be a powerful case for devolving some or all of the custody budget locally, and we are discussing this informally with local authorities,” YJB chief executive John Drew said.

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice, made up of youth and penal reform groups, called for “serious consideration” of the proposal.

Incentive for local authorities

Sally Ireland, SCYJ chair, said: “We would like to see the government running a consultation with properly costed ideas that could be piloted in small areas through children’s trusts.”
And Penelope Gibb, director of the strategy to reduce child and youth imprisonment at the Prison Reform Trust, called for decisive action. “It’s a pity that no new measures have been introduced that are likely to make a significant difference to the numbers of children in custody,” she said. “A year on and we’re very little further ahead. Let’s see some concrete proposals.”

Frances Crook, director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, called for wider reforms to the system. “Focussing on the devolution of custodial budgets in search of a ‘magic bullet’ solution masks the real problems of policy, law and attitudes that contribute to children being failed by a dysfunctional justice system,” she said.

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