Comment: Help youth by providing a future free of short-term spending

By Emma Scowcroft

Substantial budget cuts to services are making it increasingly difficult for children, young people and families in need to get any help.

Their problems are becoming more serious.

For example, 51% of our projects surveyed for our annual The Red Book reported that they were supporting children and young people facing more severe issues than in the previous six months. In addition, of our project managers surveyed about child neglect, 95% said they had suspected a child they had worked with or come into contact with had been neglected.

We work with 50,000 children and young people across the UK and our projects are still seeing increasing numbers of families who are at breaking point and children who are at risk of neglect, entering the care system, or are getting into trouble with the law.

We need to raise the debate on how we reform our political system to support long-term thinking over political and spending cycles.

The all-party parliamentary group for children and NCB are right to consider how we can prevent the impact of current spending decisions affecting people today. We must also take this time to 'think big' about the lessons learned from this recession, and how to protect services that will be needed the next time a recession hits. More specifically, it is time to consider reforms that ensure public spending delivers results in the longer term.
The Labour party introduced the comprehensive spending review system in 1998 after a year in office, and quite rightly sought to move away from a hand-to-mouth or 'short-termism' budgeting culture. In reality however, the spending review process has only served to enforce a slightly longer but equally arbitrary timescale for the delivery of public services.

Commissioning contracts for local services at the local authority level tends to be only two or three years long, with the vast majority being far less.

The spending review system is now 14 years old, and it is clear that it does not meet the needs of services or service users. In social care, children's services, mental health services, and so many other arenas, results take time. Outcomes are driven by stable professional relationships, fidelity and security. Now is the time to look to a future free of short-term spending rounds for children's services provision and to look to modernising the way we spend money, and not how much we spend.

We will continue to make the case for an alternative method of passing budgets down to local areas and providers, and will publish new research and recommendations in Red Book 2012 at the end of the year.

Emma Scowcroft is the Policy Manager at Action for Children.

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