Audit Commission wants better co-ordination, reduced waste and clearer accountabilities


The exact numbers of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has always been difficult to gauge.  Some academics and  researchers  don’t even use the term. Young people move in and out of the category on a regular basis, and this churn effect is a challenge to  both researchers and statisticians.  Some young people may be in  ‘training ‘ or indeed  ‘employment’  but it often  hardly merits the label.

Gap year students are classed as NEET, which gives some indication of the problems in taking figures at face value.

However, since 1990, a yearly government survey has indicated that between 9 and 10 per cent of 16 to 18 year olds is without a wage, schooling or training. National figures for 2009 show 9.2 per cent (183,200) of young people aged 16-18 were NEET. And 10 per cent of young people remain NEET for six months or more. There are also significant regional variations between, for instance, the South East and North East. No prizes for guessing where the NEET cohort is bigger. Local NEET levels range from  a low 2 to high of  14 per cent.

The depressed state of the economy is hardly likely to improve this figure. In fact quite the opposite.  The Audit Commission, which has just published a report, Against the Odds states that “Young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) at 16-18 have poorer life chances than their peers and are more likely to be a long-term cost to the public purse.” It estimates that the 2008 NEET cohort will cost an estimated £13 billion in public finance costs and £22 billion in opportunity costs over their lifetimes.  It is not though all unremitting gloom . Many areas have impressively reduced 16-18 NEET levels.  Although it is accepted that there has been is less success in tackling the increase in 18-24 unemployment.  So whose responsible for tacking the problem? And herein lies some confusion. As the Audit Commission report points out Government policy affecting young people NEET comes from three different departments: Department for Education, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and Department for Work and Pensions. Responsibility for young people NEET changes at the age of 18, with an overlap until age 19. The Connexions service (overseen by the Department for Education) works with young people to the age of 19. Jobcentre Plus (an executive agency of DWP) starts working with unemployed young people at the age of 18.   I would also suggest that the Ministry of Justice is in the frame too-and with it  the Youth Justice Board. So if you are looking for clear cut responsibility then it is pretty  hard to pin down.

For those looking  for scapegoats, the Connexions Service seems good enough for some. But the Connexions  service has actually pioneered joined up,  partnership  approaches to ensuring,  and with pretty limited resources,  and subject to fairly constant changes and shifting political agendas, that those threatened with exclusion are targeted  and benefit from personalised information,  advice and support. The main criticism of Connexions comes from those who want a universal information advice and guidance service and feel that Connexions is focused mainly on those threatened with exclusion.

It should be remembered though    that those who deliver Connexions advice are not responsible for the state of the economy, the job market, an education system that allows 30,000 pupils every year to leave school without any academic or vocational qualifications, the youth justice system or indeed  the way other government  programmes are being managed which seek to address the NEET issue. In any case the main responsibility for potentially disengaged youth has recently shifted to local councils.

From April 2010, councils took  responsibility for commissioning 16-19 education from the former Learning and Skills Council. The Audit Commission  believes this  change is an opportunity to remove waste and duplication, to involve schools and academies in partnership and to tailor provision to meet local circumstances.  So its message  is that it is   up to local councils to better understand the needs of teenagers in their area and target funding to effective schemes that encourage young people into training or employment.  Connexions services, schools and colleges, Jobcentre Plus and other youth support services do not at present  collaborate effectively, it believes. The result can be duplication, wasted effort and wasted money. The extent of this potential waste will vary too  locally.  It wants the Government review the three-way split in government responsibilities for 16-19 work and learning issues and calls on the government to ensure its proposed National Citizen Service programme builds on good practice in existing 16-18 education and skills programmes.

The Against the 0dds report recommends that through their strategic commissioning role, councils and their local partners should:

Use their new responsibilities for commissioning 16-19 education to review and redesign services to achieve further reductions in Neet levels and reduce waste and duplication;

Make their response to the circumstances of the most sustained Neet groups a core part of the local 14-19 strategy and funding plans;

Use local economic assessment to strengthen links between economic development, regeneration and Connexions services in increasing employment and apprenticeship opportunities for young people.

This, of course, comes at a time when local authorities are  having to cut  back on funding,  there is a question mark over Connexions longer term future and the number of young people in the NEETs cohort is likely to expand.  Nick Gibb the Minister who leads on Connexions stated in a PQ on 7 July ‘The Government are currently considering how to make sure that all young people have access to high quality careers education and information, advice and guidance that helps them to make choices about learning options and future careers’  The scientist Ernest Rutherford once said “ We don’t have the money so we have to think”  So, Thinking caps on.


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