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The Arts in Schools

What is the National Youth Guarantee (NYG)?

The National Youth Guarantee promises to ‘level up’ the delivery of youth service activities – including cultural learning – in target areas across the country. But is it meeting this objective? And what concerns about the fund persist? We answer these questions in this blog. 

What is the National Youth Guarantee?

In February 2022, the government announced the National Youth Guarantee (NYG), a  £580 million investment to ensure that “by 2025, every young person in England should have access to regular out of school activities, adventures away from home and opportunities to volunteer”. 

The total investment breaks down into a few different funding streams:

  • £180 million invested in the National Citizen Service (NCS) 
  • £22 million to the Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) and #iwill fund 
  • £378 million to create the Youth Investment Fund

How might NCS investment support cultural learning? 

While NCS is mostly focussed on youth volunteering, they have a longstanding interest in improving access to a wider range of enrichment opportunities for young people (including cultural learning). In 2020, NCS published ‘Enriching Education Recovery’, a report with The Centre for Education and Youth (CfEY) tracking how young people’s access to enrichment had been reduced by the pandemic and proposing policy solutions to restore access. NCS have also very recently embarked on new research with CfEY and UK Youth to investigate what makes for effective partnerships between schools and youth organisations for the delivery of enrichment activities. 

As such, NCS is using a small proportion of its funding to build the knowledge base around effective delivery of cultural learning in school settings and to show ‘ways forward’ for improving overall access at a policy level. However, as an organisation with large national reach and substantial funding, it could play a larger role in ‘levelling up’ access to cultural learning across the country. This may include adding cultural learning to its summer programme, using this procurement as a stimulus to expand the supply of cultural learning opportunities in traditionally left behind areas. 

How might DofE investment support cultural learning?

The DofE Award scheme does not focus on cultural learning. However, an ambition to scale up its delivery across the country to targeted ‘levelling up’ areas does offer the cultural learning sector similar growth opportunities. This emerged through the elements of the scheme that young people must complete: 

  • Skills – the requirement to learn and show improvement in a skill offers myriad opportunities for cultural learning instruction – from learning a musical instrument to a new visual art 
  • Physical – the DofE programme explicitly notes that dance programmes can be used for a young person’s physical section of the award 
  • Volunteering – cultural learning organisations can create opportunities for DofE participants to volunteer with them

As such, stimulus for the DofE does create opportunities for cultural learning organisations to partner with schools to support their young people in completing the award. 

What is the Youth Investment Fund?

The Youth Investment Fund (YIF) is a £368 million pot of funding announced in February 2022 as part of the government’s wider investment in the ‘levelling up’ agenda. Youth and community groups from 45 selected local authorities or 600 of England’s most deprived district wards are eligible to apply to this pot of funding for grants to support young people in their local area to access activities, trips and volunteering opportunities. 

A particular focus of the YIF is on capital investment in improved facilities in neglected, left-behind areas across England. Of the two phases that have been completed so far, the first focussed on emergency investment to repair damaged settings, while the second is focussed on funding for the construction of new settings. Phase two also has some funding for day-to-day spending on activities, staffing and other resources. Details of a forthcoming Phase three will be published soon. 

The overall target of the fund is for 300 youth facilities to be built or refurbished between 2022 and 2025 when the fund comes to an end. 

What has happened so far with the Youth Investment Fund?

In the first phase of YIF, running from February to August 2022, £12 million was awarded to 418 youth projects. In the second phase, £90 million of new funding was allocated to 43 youth services. 

The government’s evaluation of Phase 1 concludes that: 

  • Grants achieved good coverage, with the North West featuring the largest number of eligible areas and also making up a quarter of total funding awards 
  • Most applicants had found the grantmaking process relatively straightforward and had received funding quickly 

However, some challenges with the fund were also highlighted: 

  • Grants were handed out on a first come, first served basis to applications that met the relevant criteria. This meant that organisations with more capacity for the application process – and therefore typically had more funding already – were favoured over organisations with more resourcing challenges 
  • Grantees were given a very short time frame of as little as a few weeks to spend their grants. This put pressure on grant holders, especially smaller organisations with less flexible cash flow, to make hasty purchases of equipment and construction services that were lower quality and lower value for money. 

How has the Youth Investment Fund been spent so far?

The government’s review of Phase 1 of the YIF highlighted that a large proportion of grants were made for facilities that, at least in part, support the delivery of cultural learning activities. Examples from both Phase 1 and Phase 2 of cultural learning focused grants include:

  • Crewe Youth Zone – £8 million awarded to turn a car park into a multipurpose site for young people aged between 8 and 19 (or up to 25 for those with additional needs). Activities run at the site will include creative arts, music, drama, and employability training – all for just 50p per visit and £5 annual membership
  • Preston Youth Zone – £8 million awarded to create a centre for activities for young people, including arts, crafts and fashion workshop, a music studio, a radio booth, film and multimedia suite and a dance and performance studio
  • Gosforth Civic Theatre – £1.5 million awarded to create a community development trust with Gosforth Civic Theatre to enable major renovation and expansion of the theatre. These changes will make the space more accessible, sustainable and offer new activities to even more young people with learning disabilities. Once complete, the theatre space will more than double the number of young people it supports from 200 to nearly 500 per week.

Our analysis of the Youth Investment Fund

18 months into the delivery of the YIF, there are two enduring concerns:

Total amount of funding 

The YIF does not come close to remediating the impact of cuts that have devastated the youth sector in the last 13 years. With cuts of 75% between 2010 and 2020, the youth sector has experienced £1.1 billion in cuts. £368 million of primarily capital investment is insufficient to redress this damage. 

The focus on capital investment 

While funding for capital investment is welcome, the Institute for Government warns that there are several issues with such funds

  • Capital investment funds often experience significant underspend – this is typically due to a combination of factors. In part, grantee organisations experience tight timeframes for spending grant money. At the same time, the ability of these organisations to procure construction work depends on the size and quality of the construction industry in their local area, which varies across the country. As such, organisations may find themselves unable to spend grants within prescribed time frames, leading to the money being clawed back into the central fund and then clawed back further into the Treasury. There remains a major risk of this happening with the YIF.
  • Capital investment does not solve other funding challenges – in addition to capital funding, youth organisations delivering cultural learning, among other things, are in urgent need of revenue funding for day-to-day spending (for materials, staffing, outreach to schools and young people etc.). Similarly, the sector would also benefit from investment in workforce development to ensure a supply of cultural learning youth practitioners long into the future. This is vital to ensure that cultural learning is not just being delivered, but being delivered to a high standard of quality. Unless the YIF invests in revenue funding and workforce there are important questions about how sustainable its impact will be.

With these concerns in mind, we believe that ongoing monitoring of the YIF and its sectoral impact is vital. 

We want to hear from you

The NYG is a major policy so we’d like to understand how it is impacting cultural learning in your community. Please get in touch to tell us:

  • What is happening with NYG and YIF money where you are?
  • Are you and other local cultural learning organisations benefiting from this cash?
  • Are you forming partnerships, e.g. with schools or youth organisations, to be able to better access this funding and its benefits? 

Get in touch with us here