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NEETs at risk of being left behind by government, warns LGA

Councils are calling for the government to return key powers over careers advice, skills and national engagement programmes to them, as councils have a better track record of getting young people into work, education or training than Whitehall.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said councils have reduced 16- to 18-year-old disengagement over the last 15 years down to 7.1%. By contrast, government has struggled with its responsibility to reduce 19- to 24-year-old disengagement, which is stuck at 14.7%.

The LGA is warning that this shows teenagers not in employment, education or training (NEET) are at risk of being left behind by growth if services are not reformed.

An LGA survey has revealed that just 7% of councils say they have powers and funding to meet their legal duties to identify and reduce teenage disengagement and secure suitable education and training places for all 16 to 18 year olds.

It follows a combination of 40% funding cuts from central government since 2010 and the removal of council responsibility for services such as careers advice and further education.

Careers advice became the responsibility of schools in 2012 and the local authority-run Connexions services was one of the first areas cut by the coalition government.

Councils have also lost control of post-16 education and schemes to tackle young people's disengagement, but the LGA points out that local authorities still have a statutory duty to encourage 16 to 18 year olds to stay in education, employment or training.

However, results from the LGA survey show nine out of 10 local authorities have been forced to reduce spending on support for 16 to 18-year-olds.

Nearly all councils (97%) say that without service reform and a return of key powers to councils, a continuation of cuts will put vital services for vulnerable teenagers at risk by 2020.

Cllr David Simmonds, chairman of the LGA's Children and Young People Board, said: “The message from local government is clear. Cuts without reform risk undoing all of our collective good work, putting thousands of promising futures at risk.

“Councils are uniquely well-placed to help young people access the opportunities created by the local employers increasingly frustrated by remote national institutions. It is important that we have the powers, levers and funding to fulfil our legal duties to young people.

"The new government has a real opportunity to build on recent successes and meet its ambition of full employment by enabling local partnerships of councils, schools, colleges, jobcentres and employers to locally coordinate a single youth offer. It will ensure every young person is either in work or learning.”

Four-fifths (82%) of councils responding to the LGA survey agree that greater devolution would enable them to further reduce youth disengagement. Nine in 10 (86%) said they could deliver better value for money with the resources going into their area.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Thanks to our essential reforms, there are 64,000 fewer 16- to 18-year-old NEETs than there were in 2010.

"We have ended the historic and unfair funding difference between schools and colleges from the 16-19 funding formula, and are maintaining funding rates for 2015-16 so they can plan their future offers for students.

"We are also reforming academic qualifications and vocational education to ensure young people get the knowledge and skills that they need to move into a job, apprenticeship or to continue their education."

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