MP for North Swindon

Justin Tomlinson MP

Justin Tomlinson MP Speaks In Youth Debate


Inner Flame, A Local Swindon Organisation That With Support
Makes A Real Difference To Local Young People

Justin Tomlinson MP Speech - Youth Provision Debate...

I congratulate Julie Hilling on securing this extremely important and interesting debate. I am not sure whether I will be able to share her passion, but I shall do my very best.

During my 10 years as a councillor before becoming the MP for North Swindon, this was one of the most important issues that came up in the residents surveys and in the public meetings that I held. Parents generally accepted that their children were well catered for during school hours, but there were often concerns about after-school hours and the weekends. I have very many happy memories of going to youth clubs in the 1980s, and I know that youth provision is essential. It channels energies, and provides support and opportunities to develop, and many hon. Members who have already spoken have gone into detail on that. I sympathise with those who highlight funding pressures, or even call for youth provision funding to be made statutory. However, I think that far more can be done without money, services and facilities, and so in my brief speech I shall touch on some positive suggestions based on my experience as a councillor and my work with the youth service.

Local authorities should do a lot more with their buildings. I recently secured a Westminster Hall debate on the future provision for libraries, and I think that councils could do a lot more to open up community buildings such as libraries to organisations for the provision of facilities. It does not cost much to put shelves on wheels and to push them to the side in the evenings. It is a great crime that we have many facilities that are open for only 10 hours for their primary function, with the community being locked out for the remainder of the week. More should be done also with schools. I was interested to hear the comments of Rachel Reeves about her experience in the '80s. Today, we have huge swathes of private finance initiative schools, but the communities that I represent cannot afford to access those wonderful facilities and, therefore, far more should be done to open up the schools.

Our leisure facilities-sports facilities predominantly-should do a lot more with the youth service. The Twilight Football schemes target children from challenging circumstances and promote positive engagement, and that makes a big difference. Also, where there is funding to build new facilities, those facilities should be accessible. I have seen many facilities that in hindsight were built in the wrong place, and I am delighted that the new £1.2 million youth facility in my constituency was built in the town centre, which is easily the most accessible place.

Many hon. Members have also talked about the big society, and Labour Members often try to produce scare stories about that being a way to cover for potential funding cuts. The reality is, however, that it is about empowering local organisations, and the Government and local authorities can do more to support them.

We cannot hide away from the current economic challenges, and I am trying to set out some areas in which we can make a positive difference. The shadow Minister will confirm whether it is the Labour party position to find some money-good luck if it can-and the Minister will set out the Government's position. We cannot ignore the situation that we are in.

I have talked about making more of our buildings accessible. Many organisations have said to me, "We've got willing volunteers and enthusiasm. We can see a problem and we want to tackle it, but we don't have access to facilities." Whether as Government, local authorities or local businesses, we could do far more to provide those facilities, along with advice and support. One challenge in getting funding is the need to fill in extremely complicated forms. When I set up the sports forum in Swindon, a lot of effort was put into filling in forms. Volunteers are keen to make a difference on the front line, but not to lock themselves away in offices for many hours with complicated forms.

The youth service also needs to be a lot more proactive in matching with the times at which children or young people actually want to use its services. I am delighted that many authorities have changed their hours to match when children are outside school, and they should also go to where the children are. Too often, I have visited youth centres where a service is being provided to just a handful of children. In my constituency, we have an ice-skating disco on a Friday night. There are 650 children there, and the youth service should be parked outside providing help and support to those children who require it. Not every town has an ice-skating disco, but the same principle would apply to a cinema or bowling, or to teenage nightclubs, which I am assured are still very popular. In communities where there are open spaces, the leisure or youth teams could turn up with footballs and bibs, or rounders equipment, and organise impromptu games. I am sure that all hon. Members see when out in their constituencies that there are lots of kids hanging around, and they feel that someone should go along and positively engage with them.  Engaging with certain children is very challenging, and the youth service must be as proactive as possible. If that means that it parks itself right in the heart of communities and engages directly, that is only a good thing.

Finally, the principle of the National Union of Students discount card, which applies to students, should be extended. A lot more could be done to get young people discounts so that they can make more of the leisure facilities that are accessible to them. As a consumer body, young people are huge in number. By being proactive, we can make those facilities more accessible, to tackle the problems of boredom.

Full debate text can be seen: g38.0


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