Don’t take more … give it back!

I awoke this morning early; the echoes of a vivid dream burning in my mind! I was at a conference about young people’s policy. The whole tone of the conference reeked of ‘Do more, with less”; one of the more absurd notions of our times!  It has been sold to an unsuspecting populace by a focus on phrases like being more innovative; working smarter, not harder; being more focused on specific needs; and meeting clearer targets, both of the latter usually of the Government’s direction, not young people’s!

In my dream I was sitting beside a colleague, who I hugely admire for her work as a third tier local government officer in Children’s Services. She cares passionately about young people receiving a quality service, clearly within the constraints of modern austerity measures! She works tirelessly and effectively … and yet always appears stressed, tired and harassed! She was asked a question by a senior government official, in front of the assembled audience, who clearly thought their view would be supported by her! After a brief thought, she gave a diplomatic, though not wholly supportive, reply.

Unfortunately, the desire to respond more vehemently welled up inside me! I could not resist the impulse and leapt to my feet and gave an impassioned rejoinder to the startled official. What ‘more with less’ generally means is diluting or reducing, in some cases completely removing, the infrastructure of delivery; limiting the possibilities for quality delivery; focusing on very limited outcomes [though more usually outputs]; and largely ignoring, and, in increasing cases, not providing for large swathes of the youth population, who still need access to services!

It has also meant the wholesale destruction of tiers of senior and middle managers, especially in local government services, particularly those focused on providing quality services to young people. This has stretched the effective span of control for those remaining! It is now either something wholly unmanageable by a single person, however skilled, experienced and talented; or, it has left a gaping void in knowledge, skills, experience and the capacity to respond effectively.

This has been sold to the populace by a mantra of focusing resources on front-line service delivery, which would be great if those people could increasingly lead themselves! Whilst, this may be true for some … it is very definitely not for all!

I asked all those in the audience to raise their hands if they were a principal or lead officer for services for young people. Many did so! I asked if they managed one, two, or even more services. Many did so! I asked if they were proud of the quality of the services to young people they were delivering. Many were not! I asked if they believed they could do more with less. Many did not!

At this point, large sections of the audience rose to their feet in a tumultuous outcry at what was being expected of them now … and in the future! The response from the government official … a look of incredulity … and a fish-like gasping at the mouth!

The narrow ‘schools-only’ policy perspective of this current government with regard to young people is seriously undermining the ability of local services to deliver an effective service, to our young people, many unemployed, way beyond the parameters of those most in need!

This is largely because central government has clearly abdicated its strategic policy imperative about ensuring all of our young people have proper access to quality services that meet their needs, not those determined by adults in central government; or, maybe worse still, by local politicians caught between a rock and a hard place on the children and adult social care agenda and its ever escalating cost!

Whilst not ignoring or dismissing the sheer impact of austerity measures on the provision of local services to young people, it is surely long past time for adults to own the very real impact that their decisions are making now … and to recognise more fully the problems they are storing up for the future, when better times economically return! We will have removed much of the previous infrastructure by then … and replacing it will require a gargantuan effort, not to mention cost! A question grows stronger as to whether this would be possible at all?

It is also true that, in times of austerity, the demand for services rises  across a wider cross-section of our communities, including from young people. False economies, patchy commissioning practices and an increasing tendency to ask individual leaders and managers to do more than is humanly possible or reasonable to expect are taking their toll. That much is very evident!

These questions remain … what do you want to do about it, either individually or collectively … and what are you going to do about it?

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