The Youth Justice (YJ) system has enjoyed immense success since the creation of Youth Offending Teams. For example, the number of young people entering the YJ system has dropped dramatically, and the number of young people in custody has also dropped dramatically.
The current funding arrangements are part of this YJ success. Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) are funded through a variety of sources, locally and nationally. Local funding comes from Police and /or Police and crime Commissioners, National Probation Service, Health and Local Authorities. National funding comes from the Youth Justice Board (YJB). This YJB funding means that YOTs are held to account for their performance, and ensures that all local agencies contribute meaningfully to the local YJ partnership. Moving all funding to the local area will run some risks to consistent national performance criteria and to YOT resources. So it is critical that the success of YJ needs to be protected to ensure further continued reductions in youth crime.
The consultation document states that it is government policy to achieve 100% local retention of business rates, so the issue is whether YJ is funded locally through business rates, or remains as now with a mixture of local and central funding.
It is of note that in recent years the YJB tried to re-model the grant to YOTs across England and Wales. They concluded that it was of considerable complexity and could detract attention from performance, and so chose to leave the existing formula in place. YOT Managers had varying responses to this, but most were hopeful of finding a fairer and more transparent funding formula
Moving from a mix of local and national funding to purely local has the same potential to undermine best practice. So if this is to happen it needs to be delivered in ways which protect and support reducing youth crime, with appropriate safeguards in place. For example, should a Local Authority (LA) vary funding from year to year to YJ, or vary local focus and services away from YJ, then outcomes will be adversely affected. If this is replicated in differing parts of the country then YJ results will suffer, with crime levels, custody costs and other associated costs rising nationally.
Youth Offending Services have already experienced significant cuts when central government funding streams have been devolved to local areas. For example the introduction of the early intervention grant which included YOT resources and the previous Home Office grant aid for substance misuse which was devolved to Police and Crime Commissioners. in many case were not transferred to YOTs.
We would also want to note that YOTs have not been directly involved in the Fair Funding Review which preceded this consultation.
A national formula is now in place for Probation funding, the other local Yot funding sources of Police, Health and LA vary enormously across England. Some areas prioritise YJ while others contribute the minimum possible. Bringing all funding to the local area will perpetuate and potentially exacerbate this situation. It is government policy to let local areas decide on their priorities and funding, but this needs to be borne in mind with the impact such local decisions can have on national outcomes, as well as on other services which are funded nationally, such as youth custody and adult custody (as some young people transition to adult services).
So our conclusion is that central funding via the YJB is probably the best model. However, if government contributions to YOTs are reduced due to changes within central funding then it may be best to move to local funding with proper safeguards in place.