UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
To be published as HC 1547-ii

House of COMMONS

Oral EVIDENCE

TAKEN BEFORE the

Justice Committee

youth justice

Tuesday 18 October 2011

Frances Done and John Drew

Crispin Blunt MP and Michelle Dyson

Evidence heard in Public Questions 72 - 127

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Justice Committee

on Tuesday 18 October 2011

Members present:

Sir Alan Beith (Chair)

Mr Robert Buckland

Jeremy Corbyn

Christopher Evans

Ben Gummer

Mr Elfyn Llwyd

Claire Perry

Yasmin Qureshi

Elizabeth Truss

Karl Turner

________________

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Frances Done, Chair, Youth Justice Board, and John Drew, Chief Executive, Youth Justice Board, gave evidence.

Chair: Frances Done and John Drew from the Youth Justice Board, welcome to you both. We are going to ask you some questions about youth justice generally but also about the Youth Justice Board in particular. We have in mind that we might well produce a short, interim report to inform the continuing discussion about the Youth Justice Board and its potential abolition. If we are able to do that, we will do it in the next few weeks on the basis of evidence we have already received, evidence we will get from you today and that you have submitted to us already.

Q72 Elizabeth Truss: At the moment we are seeing a very high rate of reoffending among youth offenders. What steps are you taking to reduce that? What are the indicators you use?

Frances Done : I will hand over to John for the detail on the measures we are taking.

John Drew: I will just begin with a point about the measurement of reoffending. There are two ways of measuring reoffending. It is important that you look at both indicators because they tell you slightly different stories. There is the binary measure: has the young person reoffended or not? Yes or no-no ifs or buts. That is the one that is often referred to and the Committee will be familiar with the figures in relation to young people coming out of custody-a 71% binary measure of reoffending. The second measure is also published, which is the frequency or the volume which describes the number of offences that young people in the criminal justice system have committed.

There is progress on both measures but it is much more marked on the volume of offences. Over the last nine years, the volume of offences on average has reduced by 28% across the piece with slight variations, depending on where you are in the criminal justice system. In terms of the binary measure-the yes/no measure-the movement has been less pronounced, although we are now at 71%, whereas we were at 74% for young people coming out of custody. So there is some movement.

Coming on to the measures we are taking, reoffending is immensely important to the Youth Justice Board and it is at the centre of all that we do. Our particular focus at the moment is on issues in relation to resettlement of young people coming out of custody, because we recognise that is the biggest challenge in terms of reoffending. We have set up a number of resettlement consortia centred around each of the YOIs. That brings together all the local organisations, led by local councils-housing authorities, voluntary organisations, employers and the like-to try to make an enhanced offer to young people who come out determined to move away from crime but for whom it is difficult.

Q73 Elizabeth Truss: Are people who are reoffending generally committing less serious offences? Are you saying that there is a tailing off of the offences? Has the profile of reoffending changed, if the volume has changed, as well as the level of seriousness?

John Drew: No. It is more about the first thing you suggested-the sheer number of offences. Serious offenders are likely to continue to commit serious offences. Young people who have a less serious pattern in their background, if they commit any offences at all, are more likely to commit less serious ones. On other ways of looking at this, there is a general fall in the number of offences committed by young people, but certain high profile crimes, in particular, remain pretty constant and a big concern to us.

Q74 Elizabeth Truss: It is obviously cheaper for the overall system if the young person does not commit the offence in the first place, but the people responsible for making sure that does not happen do not necessarily sit within the justice system. For example, an effective intervention by a teacher or a social worker may help a young person not to offend in the first place. What are we doing to make sure that the money allocated to those resources flows in the right way rather than the justice system picking up the pieces of failure to act early on?

John Drew: You are absolutely right. Early intervention and prevention have been immensely important to the Youth Justice Board and it is not something that we do alone, though we do have a part to play in it. The current Government have a very strongly held view that local organisations should be responsible for making local investment decisions on where to concentrate their resources. Much of the money spent on early intervention is now concentrated in the Department for Education’s early intervention grant, which is one grant to local authorities to be spent as they see fit.

We have made sure within the Youth Justice Board that Youth Offending Teams are fully briefed on where prevention resources are and have a seat round the table so that they can help determine where that early intervention money is spent.

In terms of trying to mobilise the whole of the system, as you described-schools, housing authorities and so on-each Youth Offending Team is supported by a management board which consists of that wider range of senior officials and voluntary sector people who bring a broader perspective. The challenge, both from them to the Youth Offending Team and back, is how to mobilise those wider resources.

Frances Done: An important aspect of the prevention agenda from the very early days of its existence has been the Youth Justice Board with Youth Offending Teams focusing on prevention, especially around 8 to 13-year-olds, identifying with local police, schools and other partners which young people are most likely to offend. It is not too difficult to find that out.

Then it is focusing on Youth Inclusion Programmes, concentrating on Safer Schools Partnerships, the sort of partnerships we forge with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the work we have done with them, to focus on the group that is most likely to cause the difficulty. The inception of this goes back probably nine years. The effect has been that the number coming into the youth justice system has dropped dramatically, around 45% over the period of the existence of YOTs and YJB. That has fed through to some very specific changes in the number of young people in custody and the number of places we have to commission.

You are absolutely right. It is about cost-effective intervention early. The Government have decided to do it in a different way now, which is fine. That is a different approach to it, but the basic principles of early identification, making sure you focus on families where there are most likely to be difficulties, where the support is needed and where positive activities for young people remain the same. We are supporting the Youth Offending Teams to keep going on that.

Q75 Elizabeth Truss: How does the payment by results structure work with that? Do you think the payment and the incentives are in the right place or could there be further reform to further incentivise the relevant authorities to try to prevent young people from committing crimes?

Frances Done: That is a very important question. The Youth Justice Board was in a very good position to move quickly when the Government made clear their support for payment by results. For some time we had been leading on the whole idea of reinvesting the custody budget. This is a subject that the Committee has shown a lot of interest in and reported on several years ago.

We have invited local authorities, in groups mainly, to come forward and bid for up-front investment in activity that will reduce the likelihood of young people going into custody. In return, they have committed to reducing the number of beds, which is a first for local government because it is a risk. We have four groups of local authorities: West Yorkshire, Birmingham, which is one authority, East London and West London groups. They have committed to reducing the numbers in custody by 63 over two years.

That does not sound a lot, but when you multiply it by £80,000 on average per place it certainly pays for itself. This is very much part of something I have been working hard on with local government, the Local Government Association and with individual chief executives since I became Chair, which is to gradually transfer the custody budget to local authorities because that is where it should lie. The responsibility for young people under 18 is fundamentally with them.

When I first started talking to chief executives of the big authorities about this three and a half years ago, when I became Chair, they did not want to touch it with a barge pole. They were quite offended by the idea. "We don’t control the sentences. That’s for magistrates. How can we have the budget?" Over the years, we have been working with them and the Magistrates’ Association and there is now a general understanding that that is the right way to go about it. There are also real advantages for local authorities and when we put out the custody payment by results Pathfinders we had 12 bids for four opportunities. The whole landscape has changed. Local government gets it now and I am confident that with the proposals in the Government’s Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill, which include charging local authorities for remand places, we are moving in the right direction.

Q76 Karl Turner: The Government have said that Ministers should be responsible for youth justice, not unelected, arm’s length bodies. What is your response to that?

Frances Done: There has been an argument put forward that somehow, if there is not an arm’s length body, the Minister will have greater accountability. I find it difficult to understand that, because as Chair of the Youth Justice Board, I am appointed by the Secretary of State, and so are my board members. My objectives are set by the Secretary of State. Obviously, we are not independent; we are arm’s length-a completely different thing. Our whole budget comes from Government Departments, mainly the Ministry of Justice. We report to Parliament in our annual report and accounts. All our major initiatives are agreed and developed with the Ministry of Justice. We advise on policy. We do not make policy. That is for Ministers. John, our chief exec, is an accounting officer appointed by the Permanent Secretary at the MoJ.

It is very hard to see where the accountability deficit is. Arguably, it would reduce accountability: whereas I am appointed by the Secretary of State as Chair, if John were to transfer to being a director of the youth justice division, he would not be appointed by the Secretary of State. It is quite hard to get one’s head round that.

This was very carefully looked at by the Public Administration Select Committee. Their conclusion was that there was no case made for better accountability. There is a potential deficit of accountability around our relationships with key stakeholders like the Magistrates’ Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers. Many bodies have said publicly that there should not be a change and that the YJB should be allowed to carry on. There is a huge job to be done and it should be left alone. I struggle with it but that would be a matter for the Minister to answer.

Q77 Karl Turner: What do you say to the suggestion that the Youth Justice Board was needed in 2000 but is not necessary now?

Frances Done: That has been suggested. Perhaps the Youth Justice Board has made it look a bit too easy, but it has not been easy. You cannot talk about success in youth justice. You can only talk about improvement. How can you talk about success when there are young people still being killed on the streets from time to time or any children seriously offending? It is about improvement and there has been dramatic improvement.

Q78 Karl Turner: Do you think you are a victim of your own success?

Frances Done: Those who are suggesting that the YJB is not needed have to answer that. It has been a problem for us in that there is a lack of understanding about the key features of an arm’s length body that make the difference. We have an absolute focus on youth justice. If the decision is taken to move our functions into the Ministry of Justice, we will be part of a Department with 72,000 civil servants. We will be 0.002% of the operation. However much somebody says now that youth justice will remain a division and a focus, the truth is, compared to all the other things, particularly adult justice, that happen in the Ministry of Justice, it will be very hard to sustain that.

I represent a body where I can get into anyone’s diary. I can write to anyone and go to see anyone. I have 10 active board members, senior former police officers, district judges, head teachers, who can operate around the system and we do. We invite chief executives into young offender institutions so that they can see the reality of their young people in custody. This has had a huge, dramatic effect.

Our very direct, frank, open, productive relationship with the magistrates has reduced numbers in custody. That is very difficult to do inside a civil service operation, which is a totally different type of organisation. We are very front line and focused. Those who suggest that it is no longer needed probably do not realise the extent of the leadership role needed, the partnership with Youth Offending Teams and the secure estate. This is not a meeting about secure estate custody, but it is an area where there has been massive improvement and that needs to go on.

Q79 Karl Turner: You have probably answered this, but, in simple terms, what can the Youth Justice Board do that the Government cannot do, in your opinion?

Frances Done: There are a couple of key things. First, we only focus on youth justice. A Government Department could never say that. That has led to some huge improvement. Secondly, we have a board of members actively operating around the system. We do not just sit in meetings; we are out and about across the system. We bridge the centre to the front line. We can do practical things, whether it is a district judge on our board helping to train district judges in secure training centres or our former deputy chief constable talking to chief constables about not removing police from the front-line YOTs.

Also, our staff are totally different. They are largely practitioners on secondment or directly employed. They have experience of the front line and they focus on it. The nature of a Government Department is totally different. Over time, the transfer of our functions into a division in a civil service Department in the MoJ will dilute the expertise and the practical focus, and a huge amount of credibility and access to senior people across the system will be lost as a result.

It is very hard to prove what those things have delivered, but the truth is they have delivered results. Compared to the adult system, if you look at the custody numbers and the absolute focus on only using custody when necessary and not when it could be avoided by a robust community sentence, the results speak for themselves.

Q80 Claire Perry: I applaud what has happened. The focus on the secure estate and the flexibility of commissioning has been absolutely laudable. What we would all like to see is that being done not just by the youth justice system but by groups looking at female prisoners, or groups tasked with reducing crime among certain populations. I understand the concerns about being absorbed within the MoJ, but you will sit outside NOMS if the plan goes through. Is there any reason why that energy and focus necessarily have to be dissipated? Should we not be working to make the whole of the MoJ work and focus on its target populations? Could you not be a force for transforming the Department?

Frances Done: I am sorry to hog this, but on these questions it is probably best if I answer. John is in a slightly invidious position obviously. I would absolutely love to think that that could happen. I have come to a conclusion about this whole debate about the YJB. Because it has been so difficult to pin down an argument for making the change, there is a feeling that somehow youth justice can be a guinea pig for showing that a Department can change from the nature of civil service operation. My view is that is too risky for youth justice after all the progress that has been made. I have worked at senior level with the civil service for over 20 years of my career. I have been at work for 40 years now. I have worked in the private and public sector, local government and central. I have seen it change, but not very much. It is very hard for a civil service operation to do what we do.

Can it suddenly transform? How could it? John, for example, has been offered a 12- month contract when he comes into the civil service-if that happens. Within 12 months of the transition, what will happen? Will John be replaced by a practitioner, which, to me, is absolutely essential? John has been involved in youth justice from the age of about 22. Will he be replaced at all? Will that post be downgraded to deputy director? These things are all possible. We are talking to you about this because we are an arm’s length body. Parliament is interested and able to discuss what happens to us. Once the YJB is abolished, at the stroke of a pen within a departmental reorganisation, that focus on youth justice could be lost. Of course, one would like to think it could carry on, still be vibrant, and have the relationships we have now and the very passionate activity that has made a difference with Youth Offending Teams. It is a partnership that has delivered this. It is not just the YJB. The secure estate, the Youth Offending Teams and the YJB have made things work.

Q81 Mr Llwyd: How will the proposed new Youth Justice Division work? Is it going to be entirely independent of NOMS, because that is a concern?

John Drew: The Secretary of State and the Youth Justice Minister have made a number of very clear public statements on this point. The proposal is that the Youth Justice Division, if it is to be created, would be entirely separate, reporting to a different director general. NOMS has its own director general. The Youth Justice Division would report to a separate director general. That would create that organisational separation.

We have been running a transition programme for the last nine months, looking at the specifics of how we would deliver all of this, if it happens. All the current functions of the Youth Justice Board would lift into the new division, so it would be kept separate. My Chair has referred to some of the distinctive things that the Youth Justice Board has at the moment, in terms of its personnel, ethos, culture and the like. We would be very keen as part of any transition to take those values into the Ministry of Justice. I have talked to most senior level officials within the Ministry of Justice about what has made the Youth Justice Board distinctive and in particular the points about the source-the recruitment-of staff, secondments from the Youth Justice Service and so on. I know there is a commitment to try to facilitate that but the proof of the pudding will have to be in the eating.

Q82 Mr Llwyd: When vacancies arise, are they likely to be filled by internal candidates from the MoJ or NOMS, or will there be a trawl externally for people who have worked in youth justice in other fields?

John Drew: We have looked at that as part of the transition. If the Youth Justice Division comes into existence, at that moment, all the staff transferring from the YJB will become civil servants and therefore we will be bound by the usual arrangements for recruiting civil servants. However, as I mentioned before, I know that from the Permanent Secretary down there is an understanding of what has made the work force what it is at the moment. That is this ability to draw in people not only from NOMS and the civil service but also from local government, the voluntary sector, the youth justice world and so on.

My understanding is that that fits with the ambitions of the civil service generally to open themselves up more than they have in the past in terms of recruitment. I have been given assurances that there will still be opportunities for secondment and recruiting from outside. All of that is taking place in the context of the civil service shrinking, so those assurances will need to be tested because there are other pressures at work and I am conscious of what those are.

Q83 Mr Llwyd: In response to Ms Truss earlier you said that much of the money in early intervention goes to the Department for Education. It has been put to us that this new division or board-call it what you will-would be better within the Department for Education rather than the MoJ. Otherwise, there might be a tendency to look entirely through the prism of justice, and that could fail young people. What is your view on that?

Frances Done: Can I answer that, because of the slightly invidious position that John is in? I read that evidence with interest and I can see the point being made. We take the view that one of the things the Youth Justice Board has been able to do, standing just outside the Departments, is to join up the agendas of the Departments-obviously working very much with the sponsor Department-in a way that is difficult to do across Government Departments, and it has been able to balance out the children and young people agenda and the justice agenda. They are not opposites but they are different perspectives on the same thing.

The youth justice system fundamentally has to fuse both those sets of issues. If the YJB were not to exist, there is an understandable case for saying that the sponsorship should not be in Justice. There are obvious links with Justice, but if your biggest concern-and mine is-is that youth justice will be drowned out by adult justice very quickly in the MoJ, then there is an argument for putting it in DfE. There are other arguments for not doing that. Fundamentally, there are youth justice issues across a whole series of Departments. It was one of the reasons why the YJB was introduced because it was very incoherent and was not working. One way or another we have to find a way of making that join-up work. It is not so much a question of which Department it is in; it is about how you effectively join it all up.

Q84 Mr Llwyd: Mr Drew, will the Advisory Board be a talking shop or do you envisage that this will have teeth and be hands on?

John Drew: The plans are very much in their early stages. There has been no ministerial sign-off and I would not expect that for some months to come. The current thinking is that the Advisory Board should be a small body of permanent people who do not change from one meeting to another. They should be drawn very much from the youth justice and related fields: Youth Offending Teams, the secure estate, children’s services, local authorities, the judiciary and other organisations with a direct stake in matters of youth justice.

I cannot describe the precise terms because they have not been agreed as yet, but the particular remit would be to focus on effective practice in youth justice and to advise Ministers directly on how the youth justice system is working and what changes are needed to policy and operations to deliver an effective youth justice system. I cannot emphasise too much that we are in the very early days in our planning in respect of that.

Q85 Mr Buckland: Youth justice is delivered in the main by Youth Offending Teams. You have talked a lot about the board’s work in the past in helping to co-ordinate a response to youth offending, but the delivery is actually done by the teams on the ground, is it not? What can you offer in the future in terms of a role in the delivery of youth justice? What more can you give Youth Offending Teams?

Frances Done: This is probably the crux of the issue. The improvement over the last 12 years has been very significant, first of all, in establishing YOTs successfully as a multi-agency model. All of those who have lived through it have seen that that model has transferred to other parts of the way we do things locally, which is really good. The relationship depends on the Youth Offending Teams, which are the local delivery element of a national justice system, having a clear framework within which to operate, having guidance and standards, which are set by the Minister on our advice, and having access to effective practice, and being allowed and encouraged to innovate.

Lots of things that have happened in youth justice have been innovations from the grass roots but very much in a framework set by the Youth Justice Board. There are still huge things to do. Many developments that still need to take place require national level overview and support. For example, John mentioned resettlement consortia, bringing local authorities together to work with a young offender institution, as we have done, in a very practical way by opening up the YOIs for chief executives to come in so that they and the directors of children’s services get the whole idea and start supporting their teams much better. We have those in the north-west, around Cookham Wood and Medway. We have one in West Yorkshire. We have a big event in Wales in a couple of weeks’ time when we will have 10 authority chief executives and children’s services directors coming in to get the idea of what they need to do. This can only be done by a body like us. There isn’t anyone else who can do it. YOTs cannot do it.

If we want to drive further improvement in reoffending from custody and drive the whole development of custody budgets to local authorities and the commissioning of an improved secure estate, which is a national function and always should remain so, you need a body at the centre. The issue is about which body it is rather than whether there is a need for that national framework.

Q86 Mr Buckland: More is going to be devolved down to a local level, is it not? That is an inevitable and quite correct process, is it not?

Frances Done: The delivery of youth justice is already pretty devolved. It is a national system but delivered locally. There is a fair amount of discretion. We are working with YOTs, and John knows more about this than I do, to make sure that we maximise that discretion and that there is peer support from other areas, but you still need a national framework, support, sharing of effective practice and development of new ideas. What cannot be underestimated are the relationships we have nationally, which mirror the relationships that the Youth Offending Teams have locally with magistrates courts, police and so on. We do that nationally with the Magistrates’ Association and ACPO.

You will have seen, hopefully, that there are letters of support from the Magistrates’ Association and the Association of Chief Police Officers very clearly making the point that there is no evidence that this change is going to improve things. They are very confident in the way we have been operating with them. These national relationships with the Local Government Association and so on deliver things that the Youth Offending Teams individually cannot produce. All of that must carry on. If it does not, we will see rising numbers of young people coming into the system and in custody.

Q87 Mr Buckland: But it is not just national and local, because you have regional teams as well, do you not?

John Drew: We do.

Q88 Mr Buckland: What do they do?

John Drew: The current situation is that we have 10 regional teams, one covering Wales and the others the English regions. They work with specific YOTs. Each YOT will have a Youth Justice Board employee, who will cover more than one YOT, but they will be their local contact. They will offer them performance advice if they have particular problems in respect of custody or whatever. More importantly, something we are doing more of is bringing together clusters of YOTs in localities who have common interests, so that one can learn from the other. We have downsized significantly. You are absolutely right. The Government has been very clear that it wants less central direction and more local leadership. We have downsized our regional staff by 30% over the last 18 months. The focus from now onwards is much more about bringing YOTs together to encourage their own learning, one from another, than about directing them to do particular things. But where there are really strong performance deficits, we get engaged. There is a national inspection programme going on and roughly a dozen YOTs have come out of that particularly poorly. They have agreed an action plan with us to work on things that are needed so that when they are re-inspected, they reach an acceptable standard. We will continue to have a function in that regard, but it will be smaller.

Q89 Mr Buckland: Could that regional work be done by the new proposed Government division?

John Drew: All of this can be done by any of a number of different organisational forms. I do not think the argument about whether there should be an NDPB or whether it should be part of the Department is around the particular tasks. It is around the broader issues that my Chair has described.

Q90 Mr Buckland: Youth Offending Teams have streams of funding, local and national. To what extent is ring fencing a factor? What is your view about continued ring fencing?

John Drew: There is one youth justice grant from central Government, which comes via the YJB these days, called the youth justice grant. That is ring-fenced specifically to the purposes of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, which is the prevention of offending and reoffending among children. It can only be spent on those purposes. The reason why it is ring-fenced is that the money comes from the YJB and we only have the statutory power to provide money for that purpose under section 41(5) of the Act. I do not know that this is an argument for or against the continuation of the YJB as an NDPB, but if we cease to exist, as things stand, the Government would not have the power to ring-fence that grant for youth justice. It would have to decide it wanted to continue it.

There is a strong case for ring fencing because I see daily, monthly and annually the benefits derived from that. The youth justice system that existed in the 1990s was a shambles. There is ample evidence in respect of that. The way in which we have managed to turn it into something which is not perfect-there are a lot of areas for improvement-but a lot better than it was is because we have had that degree of focus, both nationally and locally. I really believe that we need to keep the very strong local shape that the possession of the grant enables us to.

Q91 Chair: Does your success or improvement locally depend on getting local authorities to use money that might otherwise have been ring-fenced if the system was not changing in the rest of local government work and apply it to things that reduce offending among young people? You are trying to have your cake and eat it; you are trying to keep ring fencing for a slab of money that comes from the MoJ, but depend on local authorities not being ring-fenced to get money out of them for things that help to keep young people away from crime.

John Drew: I understand the argument. I am a complete advocate for the youth justice system, so I guess I would want to have my cake and eat it. That is true. A very large part of what we try to do within the Youth Justice Board is around hearts and minds. We have very rarely had many direct levers, even under the old arrangements, over what happens locally, but we have been a very active intervener in trying to make the case for youth justice. From time to time we will do something very specific. For example, we have just given each of the 158 Youth Offending Teams a grant of £4,000 to ginger up their work in restorative justice. It is recognised that more could be done and should be done in respect of that. But you are absolutely right that much of what we do is about hearts and minds.

Q92 Mr Buckland: Sir Alan has asked the question I wanted to ask about contradiction. You talked earlier about the need to concentrate more on early intervention, and there is some work going on in Youth Offending Teams, as you said, Frances, with regard to identifying young people who are at risk of ending up on the criminal justice pathway. A lot of work goes on in various communities, including mine, but some of it is done by voluntary not-for-profit organisations and a lot of them are struggling for funding. They start off with Government funding, but it ends after a couple of years and they are then in a year-to-year struggle for survival. They are delivering the work that you quite rightly praise. How do you see the future of funding in terms of embracing these organisations and making them part of the partnership when it comes to dealing with this early intervention?

Frances Done: That is a very important point. One of the more innovative things about youth justice, which it probably does not seem to be now because people take for granted what becomes common practice, is that because of the national framework/local delivery model, we have always encouraged local Youth Offending Teams to use the third sector-the voluntary sector-and they have in very large measure. There are far more intensive supervision and surveillance programmes or prevention schemes going on in youth justice from the third sector than in the adult sector by miles. As soon as there are cuts, it gets very difficult but we are totally in favour of that.

The answer to your question is probably more fundamental. The difficulty I have always struggled with in looking at the future of youth justice and where we need to go next is about strong, detailed family intervention and permanently keeping at the bottom end. You have to deal with all the young offenders going through the system and those who are seriously offending. You have to stop the flow intensively.

Whereas Government-this is any Government-funds schools or hospitals on a permanent basis, for some reason we still fund early intervention on a three-year or sometimes a one-year basis. I am afraid that the question is a bit more fundamental than the current situation. Tomorrow morning at 8.30 John and I will be at a breakfast briefing with chief executives of the leading children’s charities. We meet with them regularly to discuss their ideas and share ours. They are organisations such as Nacro and Catch22 working across our system. They need to have confidence in what we are doing and how we are moving things forward with Youth Offending Teams. We encourage our Youth Offending Teams like mad to work with them, and equally in the secure estate, which is not a topic for today but a really important part of what we do.

We completely agree with you but we are at a time of much reduced budgets. We had to reduce our grant to Youth Offending Teams by about 20% last year. Everyone is having to draw back and that puts the third sector under pressure, but we always emphasise the importance of using those local organisations because they are so good. They can be very flexible, useful and innovative, so we are very much in support of that.

Q93 Chris Evans: A 2010 NAO study concluded that practitioners in the youth justice system do not know which interventions have the most impact on reducing reoffending; 76% of youth managers agreed with the statement. Why is so little research being done? In the present climate, if you do not know what works and what does not, have you not put yourself at a disadvantage? Is that a fair statement?

John Drew: Can I answer that in two ways, first, on the amount of research? Since its inception, the Youth Justice Board has published 73 research studies. We have about another dozen in the pipeline, and 31 of those have been outcome-based, looking at the consequences of interventions and the like. Over the last six years, we have spent about £1 million a year on research. I do not think the contribution to research is negligible, although it is true that there is an immense appetite for this and we could always do more. It is a fine balancing decision to decide what proportion.

Effective practice is probably the area of the YJB where we have met our mandate least satisfactorily. We took that NAO report, the subsequent PAC hearing and the internal review conducted by Dame Sue Street as a real wake-up call to raise our act in relation to that. We are in the process of reformulating our entire offer in relation to effective practice so we will be much more focused. But we know quite a lot about what works. All our major programmes have been evaluated in terms of their effectiveness. We piloted intensive fostering directly on the learning from America in relation to its effectiveness as an alternative to custodial care. Although the numbers passing through the scheme are small, the results are promising.

There is always more that you can do. We would all like to find the silver bullet that if it were applied would stop reoffending. Offending by young people is immensely complex. I am sure you know that. I do not think we will ever find the silver bullet, but we are very committed to improving. We recognise the criticism implicit in the NAO study and in that part of the PAC’s hearing in relation to this.

Q94 Chris Evans: You are telling me that within a year you have turned it round completely and now 76% of your Youth Offending Team managers do not agree with the statement any more.

John Drew: I could not tell you that. If I wanted to split hairs, I would refer back to the question they were asked and their answer, which I believe was that they did not know the complete picture in relation to effective practice, but that is the fine detail of it. You are absolutely right. It does point up that there is more that we can, should and will be doing in relation to effective practice.

Q95 Chris Evans: If you do not know what interventions work and what is effective or not effective, if it comes to a point where you have to stand your ground and fight your corner for different parts of the budget, which may be cut, are you not in a very weak position if you do not know what works? That is the point I am trying to drive at.

John Drew: It is a very good point, and if it were true, we would be in that very weak position, but it is not true. We know that our intensive surveillance and supervision programme, our intensive fostering programme, multi-systemic therapy and a whole series of interventions will have an effect. We know the connection, for example, between the importance of reducing the number of first-time entrants at the beginning of the youth justice system and the knock-on two or three years later in terms of numbers of young people in custody. The whole system is geared around those things that we know, but there remain some specific interventions that have not been properly tested and evaluated. Those are our big focus. That was what the youth justice managers were trying to highlight in their answer to that questionnaire.

Q96 Chris Evans: It seems to me that the one thing that does work across the board is prevention. Are you fearful in this climate that prevention will fall by the wayside in terms of budget cuts?

John Drew: Yes. Our grant reduced last year by 19%. There were cuts also from the local funding sources for YOTs, which account for about 60% of the system. The system as a whole depends on the existence of vibrant housing, vibrant children’s services and vibrant early interventions. We are fearful for it.

There are bits of good news in the picture. Because of the successes of the youth justice system, the workload within it has reduced over the last two or three years, which has mitigated to a degree some of the effect of the cuts, but we are extremely fearful. We are trying to make absolutely certain in that climate, therefore, that Youth Offending Teams are linked together better. If we have less resource, where should we be spending it? How do we manage to safeguard some intervention, some prevention money? We know that 60% of Youth Offending Teams were successful in bids that they made for the early intervention grant. That indicates that they are still able to secure some resources.

We have also worked with other finance sources such as the Big Lottery. We have helped them reach a decision that they wish to invest £25 million across five years in a series of prevention interventions. We are always on the look-out for other funding sources from outside the conventional ways that local and national Government find their money, linking them to YOTs and other people to make successful bids for such funding.

Frances Done: That is a good example of what the YJB does and needs to keep going on doing. Sometimes things go in a direction you do not want them to go for very good reasons, such as the reduced budgets, but we are always on the look-out for wherever next we can help YOTs carry on.

John talked about the Big Lottery. We are working hard with the Department of Health on getting their money into what was called triage, which is basically diversion, and mental health in young people and so on, which is hugely important because these are some of the most desperate cases. We are ahead of the game already on police and crime commissioners. Parliament has decided there will be police and crime commissioners. Some of the early intervention money is going to head in their direction from the Home Office. We have already been in talks with the Home Office about making sure we secure that until the police and crime commissioners come in. We are already starting to prepare Youth Offending Teams for getting in first with police and crime commissioners as we want them to regard prevention as a top priority.

This national element is always there. There are some things that Youth Offending Teams cannot do on their own. They need people on the case all the time about youth justice, totally focused on how we can get the best results.

Q97 Chair: Given the very high prevalence of communication problems among young offenders, have you done enough to identify that issue and ways of dealing with it?

John Drew: We have led a number of particular projects taking best practice in places like Milton Keynes and Newcastle, areas that have a good track record in relation to that, showing other YOTs what they have been capable of doing. Our current work in relation to communication difficulties is on the review of Asset, which is the overarching assessment system. We are very keen to see, 10 years on, a new assessment system for youth justice introduced-a refined model. As part of that, we would like to see a screening of all young people coming into the youth justice system in terms of their communication difficulties. Our whole system is based on an oral code. If young people are struggling to play into that, not only are our treatment programmes likely to fall down but, in terms of justice, they are not likely to understand what is going on around them.

From the exemplars, it is very clear that a lot of progress can be made that can have a direct, tangible impact on reoffending down the line.

Chair: Thank you very much. We have reached the time when we are going to invite the Minister to answer some questions. We are very grateful to you both.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Crispin Blunt MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice, and Michelle Dyson, Deputy Director, Youth Justice, Ministry of Justice, gave evidence.

Chair: Welcome. Elizabeth Truss will open the questions.

Q98 Elizabeth Truss: There was a very strong point made by my colleague Claire Perry in the previous session about the expertise of the Youth Justice Board when it is brought into the Ministry of Justice. How can we ensure that those strengths of youth justice, the expertise of people who know what they are doing, the focus, the culture and the parliamentary accountability are widened across the Ministry of Justice so that we see the same kind of focus in adult justice? The youth justice representatives were concerned about the culture within the civil service overall. What plans do you have to change that culture so that we can see more of the specialist expertise in every part of the Ministry of Justice?

Mr Blunt: Rather in the manner of John Drew, I am going to try and have my cake and eat it. I want to improve accountability significantly by bringing youth justice within my direct purview as the Minister for Youth Justice in the way you have heard explained. With the Youth Offending Teams and the way they work collectively with different agencies on delivery on the ground, there is a significant amount to learn in the adult justice area. I do not want to suggest we are going to be diluting the oversight of youth justice, but we are in the business of creating a much more holistic social justice policy that is focused on early intervention. Some of the weaknesses in our system are around the transition points. Those need to be addressed and they will be addressed more effectively if we have youth justice policy firmly and directly answerable to me, with my responsibility for the whole of the offender management part of the system feeding into a wider social justice agenda.

Q99 Elizabeth Truss: Can you answer the specific point about expertise within the youth justice area? A general criticism of the civil service as a whole is that it has tended to focus on generalists rather than specialists and has, in the past, been reluctant to bring people in from outside. Could you explain what the Ministry of Justice is doing to change that culture so that we can have more subject specialists doing the relevant jobs within the Ministry of Justice?

Mr Blunt: The delivery on the ground does not change. Youth Offending Teams remain as they are. We are talking about the future of the board and the people directly employed by it. It is proposed that the board will disappear, but everyone who works for the board transfers and becomes a civil servant and part of a discrete Youth Justice Division within the Ministry of Justice.

We take that expertise as it is now, and one is extremely odd in sustaining a focus on youth justice if you allow that to dilute. You heard John speak about future recruitment into that division. There will need to be a strong weather eye on sustaining the expertise that currently exists on youth justice in the people who deliver it.

Q100 Elizabeth Truss: I am talking about beyond youth justice in the other divisions of the Ministry of Justice. Do you think there is too much of a generalist skill-set there? Could there be more done to recruit specialist expertise and learn lessons about why the youth justice element has been successful?

Mr Blunt: You are turning to the wider question of the National Offender Management Service, which is discrete from the Ministry of Justice. Sometimes it is quite difficult for me, when officials come to brief me, to identify who is from the Ministry of Justice and who is from the National Offender Management Service. As a new Minister 18 months ago, trying to work out who did what was a rather interesting exercise, because at the policy level to a degree they are interchangeable. There is a very close relationship between the justice policy officials and those leading NOMS at a senior level who are engaged with policy as it affects the National Offender Management Service.

Those who work for NOMS tend to be subject specialists who have risen through either the Prison Service or the Probation Service to the senior level of NOMS. That does not mean that external people have not been recruited into NOMS at a senior level to bring discrete expertise functions around finance and other management skill-sets. It already exists at the Ministry of Justice. One only has to look at the background of the director general of justice policy. Helen Edwards was not a career civil servant.

Q101 Yasmin Qureshi: Good morning, Minister. Thank you for coming to the Committee. You were present when Ms Done and Mr Drew were giving their evidence about the Youth Justice Board. It has been accepted that when it was established there was a need for it and the Ministry recognises that, but you are now suggesting it should be changed because the dynamics of delivery of youth justice have changed. Bearing in mind that it is working and the Youth Justice Board introduced leadership and coherence in the youth justice system, would abolishing it now risk losing all the qualities that it brought in?

Mr Blunt: It has to be seen in two ways. First, there is a wider exercise about how Government had changed over the course of 13 years, perhaps longer. The creation of non-departmental public bodies and arm’s length bodies was a widely acknowledged feature that dissipated ministerial accountability right across Government. There were then general tests applied to every arm’s length body. Are they equipped to perform a technical function? Are they required to be politically impartial? Do they need to be independent to establish facts? Based on those tests, the YJB, along with a significant number of other arm’s length bodies for reasons of establishing greater ministerial accountability and exercising Government functions, we felt it appropriate to bring them back within clear accountability to Ministers. In the first instance this is not simply a narrow discussion about the YJB. It is about the function of Government as a whole and ministerial accountability. That is the first point.

However, the longer this debate has gone on, the stronger has become my conclusion that it is appropriate to bring youth justice within my direct ambit as the Minister for Youth Justice. You are quite right; I am on record, as is the Secretary of State and the Government, about the achievements of the Youth Justice Board in transforming the delivery of youth justice on the ground, getting in place the Youth Offending Teams, getting the ground level delivery sorted out and it being much more effective than it used to be, but we are not in the business of just standing still. Having got the framework for the delivery of youth justice right, is it correct to keep the bureaucracy as it is? There are a number of reasons, in my experience, why it is appropriate to make this change, quite apart from the wider issue about ministerial accountability generally.

I would point to the operational response to the August disturbances, for example. It became apparent to me, as we had the first meetings of COBRA to deal with this, that I was thoroughly well briefed on what we needed to do in the adult justice area, but I found myself rather unbriefed in terms of what we were going to do with the under-18s. There was an immediate area of vulnerability because if there was going to be a major arrest operation on the Tuesday, if the riots in London had continued from Monday into Tuesday, we were preparing the operational response to that. It took rather longer to get youth justice properly engaged in the operational response to that than I would have liked. It is one symptom of the fact that they sit at one remove from me.

In terms of the operational response in circumstances like that, we were contemplating having to re-designate different institutions if we were going to find ourselves with a significant number of under-18s having been the product of a major arrest operation to take the heat out of the riots, had that been required. We would have had to be managing the custodial estate in those emergency conditions collectively. We were slightly behind the power curve on the under-18s side. Fortunately, we were not put to the test because nothing happened in London on the Tuesday night. I raise it as an example of where this differential management of youth justice in one particular silo and the rest of the system can throw up problems. There are others.

There are clear things that have to apply to children, and different duties apply to children, but the delivery of youth justice is a critical part of the delivery of a social justice agenda and I see it as part of Iain Duncan-Smith’s Cabinet Committee on Social Justice. The passage of individuals through our system from birth into care, through pupil referral units and all the flags that are then flown in the development of someone who is a likely traveller into the justice system, should be dealt with by a system that is as coherent as possible, so that we are delivering earlier and earlier intervention to try to prevent people from falling into the clutches of the justice system. It should not be managed in isolation.

I spoke in my first answer about the management of transitions. This is where we are weak when someone in the youth system is moving out of custody back into the community. This is an area that needs attention. The management of the age group from 18 through to 24, particularly, presents its own challenge. You have challenges about maturity. We had these discussions in the Committee stage of the Bill. I do not think a silo approach with a discrete YJB sitting at one remove from the Ministry of Justice helps here.

You then have, quite importantly, the relationships with other Government Departments. There was a discussion about finance. I have direct accountability for the delivery of youth justice. I am very conscious that part of my role is making sure that other Government Departments and local authorities step up to the plate to play their part in the delivery of this, and that is at its most acute in terms of resources. I need to be engaged much earlier in the process, making sure that other Government Departments are not losing sight of the youth justice priority. I am afraid I was engaged rather late in the process last year. I am concerned that I am being engaged later than I would wish to be now in the process to ensure that there is proper financing for Youth Offending Teams on the ground, to make sure that before the local authority and other departmental budget settlements are cleared, youth justice is getting a proper shout from inside the Government rather than from an arm’s length body.

Finally, I come to your question about the operation of the Youth Justice Board. I was struck on taking over these responsibilities by the level of complaints from YOT managers about the prescriptive level of oversight from the Youth Justice Board. I was told that they were spending more of their time managing the relationship upwards with the Youth Justice Board than on exercising leadership of their Youth Offending Teams downwards. That has been commented on. The Youth Justice Board has recognised that and is changing in the same way that the Ministry of Justice is changing the way we manage probation trusts, probation officers and prison officers. We are becoming less prescriptive, less target-driven, and the same is applying in the youth area.

If you establish a separate bureaucracy, not directly accountable to Ministers, don’t be surprised if part of its exercise is to make sure it justifies its existence. We can get the best of ministerial accountability, making sure there is direct advice to me through an advisory group who will stand on their merits as individuals, who are prepared to advise me and meet formally and regularly with me. Since they will be my advisory group, they would come to me and say, "You, Minister, need to pay attention to this in the system", with the credibility associated with the membership of the existing board to make sure that I have proper access to external experts as well as the expertise sitting within the Ministry of Justice and the expertise that has been transferred across from those who deliver youth justice now.

I am sorry, Mr Chairman, that was much too long.

Chair: I do no t normally encourage long answers, but that was a statement of case that you needed the opportunity to make.

Q102 Yasmin Qureshi: You mention ministerial accountability and the fact that you want to know what is going on. Surely by now your Department would know what the Youth Justice Board is doing and of course you have your advisers. How is ministerial accountability lessened? What is currently unsatisfactory about the ministerial accountability of the youth justice system? Youth justice bodies give ideas, find out what is going on and provide information to the Ministry of Justice and the relevant bodies. You can still direct, as Minister, whatever changes you want to effect in the youth justice system. Why would you necessarily need to bring this system in-house?

Mr Blunt: In theory, but it is all at one remove. The effect is that the exercise of ministerial direction is at one remove. As it sits now, there are two sets of youth justice policy advisers. There are mine, sitting in the Ministry of Justice, and the Youth Justice Board, who have their own people producing advice to them. Bringing these two together seems a rather obvious way of better co-ordinating things, meaning that I am directly responsible to this Committee and Parliament for the delivery of youth justice. Ministers are slightly schizophrenic about this. There is some comfort in there being a sandbag-the Youth Justice Board-between me and practical accountability if things go wrong, but it is plainly the position of this Government and this team of Ministers that we are going to reclaim ministerial accountability and responsibility to this Committee and Parliament.

Q103 Yasmin Qureshi: People might also be concerned whether if they are just advisers, and I have respect for all advisers, are those people going to be practitioners? It has been suggested that the youth justice body is composed of ex-police officers, head teachers, district judges, people who really know what they are doing, who often have had 20 or 30 years’ experience in these fields. What inevitably often tends to happen in Government Departments is that you get people who may be academically knowledgeable about these things and may have some idea of what is going on, but are they necessarily the best and most effective people to give really good advice and direction to a Ministry as to what it should do with the Justice Department?

Mr Blunt: You heard John Drew’s answer that we have not exactly set out the terms of reference of this advisory board. The model I am examining and am inclined towards-we have not taken any decisions on it-is that I should have a ministerial advisory group that is a standing group of people who should reflect all the expertise to which you have referred. If that group is not credible because it does not have a proper representation of the necessary skill-sets and experience on it, that will reflect on me as the Minister for Youth Justice. You will be able to draw your own conclusions about whether or not I am getting a satisfactory stream of advice directly, independent of my own officials.

Q104 Chair: Will we be able to ask that group in what direction they want to take policy in a particular area, or will you say to us, "These are my advisers. Only I can answer for what they are saying"?

Mr Blunt: That is a question we should consider. I do not want to say to people I want to advise me, "By the way, you are going to suddenly be accountable" in a way that might make them hesitant about coming to advise me. I want to look at those questions, but in principle, I am open to that. I want it to be clear that I am getting a stream of advice that stands on the credibility of the people who are my ministerial advisory group, who are separate from the Ministry of Justice stream.

Q105 Yasmin Qureshi: It is suggested that one of the reasons the Youth Justice Board is being abolished and a body is being set up within the Ministry of Justice is to save about £250,000. Is that correct? Is that the motivation behind its abolition?

Mr Blunt: Savings are not the motivation. It is to deliver ministerial accountability and to do better what is currently done. There will be savings in any event because we are looking at the whole operation of the board and its team of people. If Parliament decides to insist on the board remaining in existence, then it will remain in existence with the costs associated with it. They are not enormous in the scheme of things, but in any event we would be looking to make the savings that the Permanent Secretary indicated to the Public Accounts Committee, simply by delivering youth justice more efficiently, whether the board exists or not.

Q106 Karl Turner: Is this about saving a few pounds at the expense of breaking something that works very well? I think we would all agree that the Youth Justice Board functions pretty well. Is it not just about saving a few bob, Minister?

Mr Blunt: No, it’s not about saving a few bob. It is trying to make sure that I am properly accountable for the delivery of youth justice. In making sure that other Government Departments are properly focused on the delivery of youth justice as well, because the execution of this does not just sit in the hands of the Ministry of Justice, as a Government Minister more directly accountable for this, I would hope to achieve more resources for the delivery of youth justice on the ground than are delivered at the moment.

I am conscious that I am making that statement in a time when we are not resource-plenty. The relative judgment about my success or not will be rather difficult to score. I am extremely conscious that one of my responsibilities is to make sure that other Government Departments are stepping up to the plate and that we are intervening early enough in the bureaucratic process around funding and money to make sure that we have a proper focus on youth justice.

Q107 Jeremy Corbyn: If the advisory group you have is not open to scrutiny by the Select Committee because they are your advisers, does it follow that their advice to you would be given in private, they would be total employees of the Ministry of Justice, and there would be no publicly independent view being put to you that we could question? In other words, are they going to be house-trained advisers that tell you what you want to hear, or are they going to give the robust advice you get from the Youth Justice Board?

Mr Blunt: It would be pretty hopeless if they were house-trained advisers.

Jeremy Corbyn: It has happened before.

Mr Blunt: It has. Subject to us putting requirements on them that might put them off being my advisers, I want as robust a group as possible.

Q108 Jeremy Corbyn: Will that be in public?

Mr Blunt: Yes. These will all be people who have some kind of public reputation or expertise in youth justice. Otherwise, what is the point of having them as advisers? Their credibility as a group of advisers to me will be closely associated with my credibility. Will you be confident that I am getting a line of external advice, in addition to what I am getting from my own officials, which carries credibility? The more public exposure they are open to about what their views are, the better from my perspective. I enter the hesitation now because it is in my interests that they are prepared to be publicly accountable.

Chair: I welcome what you say on that. We have had a very useful dialogue with the Youth Justice Board. There might be occasions when we ask them awkward questions about issues in their record. But, like many other bodies, I am sure they find it extremely valuable to have some public dialogue with Parliament about what they consider is important in the direction of policy. On the whole, most public bodies with whom we have a relationship see that there is a lot that is positive and beneficial to what they are trying to achieve in being able to have this dialogue, so I welcome your comments.

Q109 Ben Gummer: Minister, to carry on from Mr Corbyn’s point, I do not think we, on this Committee, doubt your wish to have independent, robust advice, but in your instance, or your successor’s instance, what is stopping us getting to a situation, as with the previous Home Secretary, who selected advisers on drugs policy according to the outcome that she wanted?

Mr Blunt: I imagine that this Committee would be only too anxious to point out, if I appointed a bunch of patsies, that they were a bunch of patsies who were incapable of giving me independent advice. As I would be directly held accountable by you and Parliament, it would be clear that I was not getting a stream of advice that has credibility in the field. I can assure you-without wanting to get into the precise parallel that you draw-that if you are not getting good, strong, independent advice, you pay a reputational price for it.

Q110 Ben Gummer: Do you know the time scale for naming the advisers that you are likely to have?

Mr Blunt: We need to see what decision Parliament takes on the future of the board. It will be part of the transition process.

Q111 Ben Gummer: Might there be an opportunity for the Select Committee to look at those nominations prior to their appointment?

Mr Blunt: There is a certain threshold one gets to by having witness sessions and your approval of people in the domain. I am not sure it would jump that threshold. I am very happy to look at it because I am conscious that it is quite appropriate. There is real anxiety in the people who deliver youth justice that there is going to be a proper, independent stream of advice on youth justice available to me as the Minister for Youth Justice. This is important. We not only propose to attend to it with this independent ministerial advisory group, or board-whatever it gets called-but also with the oversight we are putting in place. John Drew will be coming across to lead the division, and there will be the initial involvement of Dame Sue Street, who did a review of the operation of the Youth Justice Board and is now a non-executive director of the Department, so she will be engaged with this as well. We have made it absolutely clear that this does not sit within the National Offender Management Service. It is a discrete division within the delivery of justice policy, reporting bureaucratically straight to the director general of justice policy.

Q112 Ben Gummer: On that matter, may I ask Ms Dyson a question? Obviously, the creation of NOMS was not a happy experience, and I think everyone concedes that now. What processes will you be putting in place within the Department to stop the youth justice function being subsumed by the all-powerful prisons element within NOMS?

Michelle Dyson: We are absolutely guaranteeing the separateness of the Youth Justice Division outside NOMS. We will bring across all the expertise, and all the functions that are currently performed in the Youth Justice Board will move across. John Drew talked to you about how we plan to maintain the expertise. We will have an advisory body reporting to Ministers which will be looking to protect the youth justice system and the Youth Justice Division. We will have Dame Sue Street whose role is the same. There are a lot of checks and balances to safeguard youth justice in the Ministry of Justice.

Q113 Ben Gummer: The Minister has made a fair point for making this decision and has also pointed out one of the inadequacies we have heard about, that YOTs and those running secure units are having to report upwards rather than doing their job. What plans do you have now about pushing power back down to those deliverers once the transfer takes place? What guarantees do you have?

Mr Blunt: I cannot give you a guarantee. As part of ministerial accountability, if I was being wilfully destructive to what I thought worked, I could throw the whole thing into reverse and impose targets and performance measures of the kind that I inherited. You can see that the direction we have taken has been absolutely clear both in probation and in prison and would be towards the YOTs as well; it is to free professionals on the ground who are delivering offender management, to give them as much professional responsibility and freedom as possible to deliver our mission, which is to drive down the reoffending rate.

Q114 Ben Gummer: People running secure units have complained that they have had their hands tied behind their back in issuing sanctions by very strict guidance from the Youth Justice Board. Under the new regime, will people running secure units be given more freedom to decide what sanctions are appropriate and in what circumstances?

Mr Blunt: There is a different set of governance arrangements for the under-18s as opposed to adults. It draws us into a different legal framework with different objectives. I want to be cautious when we talk about sanctions being applied to under-18s in custody. We have a set of duties on us that puts the interests of the welfare of the child first and foremost in our minds. I wish to proceed with very great caution in this particular area.

Q115 Chair: The culture of referring upwards tends to be the consequence of direct accountability. You get an attitude where someone says, "What if this innovative, experimental way of looking after this group of offenders goes wrong? How would it look in a ministerial answer in Parliament?" It is referred upwards to level after level. Everybody is frightened of doing anything because they think in terms of that level of accountability as opposed to being in a situation where a more independent body says, "We want to see innovation tried in this area. We will back you. You have to do it well, but we will recognise that there are some elements of risk of it going wrong politically."

Mr Blunt: The entire Department is engaged in an exercise of freeing our professionals of the targets and performance measures to which they have been subjected. The philosophical and practical direction of what is happening in terms of the exercise of responsibility to Ministers is absolutely clear. We wish to enfranchise our people to best work with their services. That is going to apply in the youth area as much as anywhere else. I have a slight hesitation with this additional body to whom the Youth Offending Teams are reporting as well as to me. There is a double lock on them. What does the Youth Justice Board want and require from their accountability? What does the Minister want? It is pretty clear for the rest of the Department what the Minister and the Secretary of State want, which is less rigidity, fewer performance measures and targets, and greater freedom for people to innovate.

Right across the Department we are running pilots to deliver payment by results, which is a classic way of enfranchising the people on the ground, and they are applying to prison governors, probation trusts, local authority chiefs, chiefs of police, the Work programme, and the Department of Health’s drug treatment in the community. With the four pilots that are happening within the youth justice area as well, the direction of travel could hardly be clearer.

Q116 Karl Turner: Youth Offending Teams are facing very significant cuts from various funding streams. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that local agencies provide adequate support for them?

Mr Blunt: This is one of the reasons why I have asked to be alerted considerably earlier in this funding cycle to when problems are emerging. The funding settlement for YOTs in the last cycle was being decided weeks-if it was as much as weeks-before the financial year began, with all the consequent problems you have if you are a YOT manager trying to manage your team. I want to be across all those different funding streams, whether they are coming locally to the YOTs or nationally, making sure that the YJB is properly supporting applications to the early intervention grant. I hope I would be able to do that with the added benefit of being a Minister influencing other Ministers making their spending decisions.

Q117 Karl Turner: Have you considered ring fencing so that local authorities are compelled to fund Youth Offending Teams?

Mr Blunt: I rather enjoyed the exchange between the Chairman and Mr Drew in your earlier session. In a sense, you can’t have your cake and eat it. If we are about a wider social justice agenda that is trying to divert people from the justice system, it does not just involve youth justice. The youth justice element is part of a wider system. Within the justice reinvestment pilots we have, for example, Manchester and five London local authorities. If they want to move investment from savings they deliver to the Ministry of Justice because there are fewer people needing lawyers to defend and prosecute them and less use of court time and custody and probation supervision, the savings they make there can be invested earlier to divert more people out of the justice system, so that we get ourselves into a virtuous spiral. That investment can come with people who are communications and linguistics teachers to teach kids who have not been properly equipped by their background with the ability to communicate effectively and self-confidently. That is an obvious source of problems as it leads people into trouble. It could be teaching young mums how to make sure their babies are properly and effectively stimulated so that they do not arrive at primary school aged five in a position where their teachers can identify them as quite likely to end up in the hands of the justice system.

Q118 Karl Turner: If Youth Offending Teams are squeezed into a position where they can only provide the very basic statutory obligations and duties, would you accept that that is likely to lead to increased reoffending amongst young people?

Mr Blunt: I am not going to disguise that we are in a tough financial environment. Funding is going to reduce for nearly everybody in the public sector. We have to try to do more for less. That means attending to our processes, being more efficient and trying to find new ways of getting resources engaged. When we look at the activities of Youth Offending Teams, the same challenge applies to probation, prison, local authorities. Wherever you sit the responsibility, how do we engage particularly with the voluntary sector to make sure that we get cost-efficient voluntary sector engagement with the business of managing our offenders? It does not matter whether they are under 18 or over 18. The challenge is the same.

We have to encourage people to think like that and innovate in this environment, rather than simply wail, "We have lost money. Therefore, that means there will be fewer people with which to do this and it is all going to fall apart." We are trying to enfranchise people to say, "We have to do this better. You are the front line. You have a pretty clear idea as to what works. We are going to trust and back your judgment. You know the local environment and how to get extra people who are prepared to help us because it is the right thing to do."

Q119 Karl Turner: That was a very full answer, Minister, but I am not sure it was an answer to the question I was asking. If I accept that there are going to be funding cuts-

Mr Blunt : That is why I stated the premise.

Q120 Karl Turner: Would you not accept that there is a real risk of youth offending increasing? Is that a risk the Government are prepared to take as a result of the cuts?

Mr Blunt: That would be an argument for saying that this is an area of public policy that is of such priority that it would be exempt from the public expenditure envelope that we all face. It would be very tempting to say and do that. Unfortunately, we are not in a position to do that. There has been a significant drop in the case load being run by YOTs, which is pretty much in line with the budget reduction that they have been invited to take in the course of the last year. On a case-by-case funding basis, the funding stream has not changed very much.

Q121 Mr Llwyd: We had a debate about restorative justice in this Committee a few weeks ago. There has been a great deal of talk about this by successive Governments who talk the talk. What exactly do you propose to extend the use of restorative justice when appropriate? Would you accept that restorative justice should only be used when there is a tangible benefit for the victim and not as a cheap option?

Mr Blunt: I would certainly endorse the latter point. The evidence emerging from Northern Ireland is that the levels of victim satisfaction for victims who engage in the restorative justice conferencing process that they have in the youth area are the biggest strengths of the system. A 14% reduction in the reoffending rate is the figure that springs to my mind, but you have an 85% satisfaction rating from victims, which is a very substantial benefit in its own right. As I made clear in the Standing Committee and on a number of other occasions, I am a huge believer in and enthusiast for the benefits of restorative justice. We are not in a position to mandate a conferencing system in the youth or the adult area, as was mandated in the Northern Ireland Justice Act 2002, which was the legislative base for the conferencing process that they now have in Northern Ireland, because, with a reducing amount of resources, we do not have the resources to train all the restorative justice conference providers.

We want to free up YOTs, the police and all the agencies to engage in restorative justice. The youth referral order should operate in the first instance as a restorative option. I want to encourage youth magistrates to get engaged in that process so our panels are stronger and more committed, which is why we are investing in the training of youth justice co-ordinators.

Q122 Mr Llwyd: That will presumably involve some training in restorative justice techniques as well, will it?

Mr Blunt: Yes. That programme has begun. The first course graduated about two weeks ago. It is not just in the justice sector but also in the school sector. There are schools that are turning to a restorative justice process. This is all to be encouraged. It is really good to have a system that is going to bring the offender up sharp with the consequences of what they have done, what that means to the victim and provide accountability to the victim.

Q123 Mr Llwyd: One of the reasons put forward for reducing numbers of young people in custody has been the work of the Youth Justice Board in educating sentencers about the comparative rates of custodial sentencing. It has been put to us in evidence that the arm’s length or semi-independent status of the Youth Justice Board enables it to engage successfully with the judicial branch far more easily than could the Executive. How will a division of the MoJ continue this work without sentencers believing that Government is interfering with their decisions?

Mr Blunt: I noticed that in the evidence to you. I rather hope that we would be able to do this systemically and comprehensively. The YJB described their board members making clear to sentencers in particular areas of the country what the data were and seeing what the differential performance was in terms of sentencers about their relative use of custody for under-18s in different parts of the country.

The data for the different behaviour of sentencers around the country are rather stark. That is why I would want to press hard on the accelerator on the work the YJB has done on gradually-slowly, slowly, catchy monkey-trying to transfer the custody budget to local authorities, to hold areas accountable for differential custody rates, to bring it home to them that if you have different sentencer behaviour in different areas and different performance of your YOTs, who fail to divert people out of the justice system meaning they have to go into custody, your local taxpayers are going to be sharing the burden. This would be done better systemically by a Department across the piece than by a board, trying to do it on a slightly ad hoc basis. A Department backed by the chief statistician, with the benefit now of having statistics taken out of the arena of political manipulation, means the statistics are not coming from me. These are statistics that are departmental, with all the independent regulation there now is over the delivery of Government statistics.

Chair: The Committee would be very sympathetic towards what you were saying about the local taxpayer needing to hold to account decisions as to expenditure on custody and alternatives to it, but we see that we have some way to go yet in persuading you that this principle should apply across the Department. In your response as Ministers to our report on probation, you seemed very reluctant to extend this into the wider area of adult provision. I am not asking you to comment on that. I am simply welcoming what you said in relation to young offenders and telling you that we shall be fighting another day on that issue.

Q124 Mr Llwyd: Could you explain the Pathfinders scheme and how it will work? Do you think it has a potential application throughout England and Wales rather than in discrete local schemes?

Mr Blunt: The pilots have only just begun. Obviously, we will have to go through the process of seeing how they go and judging what their effectiveness is, and then learning lessons from them about the most effective way to roll them out across the country, whether one does it on the localist basis that these Pathfinders have been set up on, or system-wide. It negates the point of pilots if we have only just started and we have already concluded how they are going to go system-wide.

Q125 Mr Buckland: Is there any time scale as to when you will evaluate the work of the Pathfinders? Are we looking at next year or the year after?

Mr Blunt: There are four Pathfinder areas. It is a two-year youth custody Pathfinder pilot. We are one year into the Peterborough pilot. We do not have the data on that yet because the cohort is a year. The data will not be firm for two years. If the first year’s cohort manage to get themselves re-convicted during the second year after release, your data become firmer. I am going to Peterborough in the near future, I hope, to get an impressionistic view as to how it is going and to get a sense of where they are with the project.

Equally, I hope the evaluation of all these pilots will be a very important priority for the Ministry across the piece. Getting the research and analysis of what has actually worked with all these pilots will be critical to the terms of the decisions as to what you take system-wide and how. We will devote a proper amount of resource and effort to getting the analysis right. This is all new. It will be a difficult area to get right. We want to avoid people gaining a system and all the threats of which we are aware.

Q126 Mr Buckland: Can you assure the Committee that the emphasis you have placed upon funding for schemes that deal with early intervention, identifying pathways into crime and diverting young people from getting into the criminal justice system will continue to be backed up by action? We do not want to end up with a situation where the Ministry of Justice says, "That is not our responsibility. That is an education matter", and we go back to a situation where we are in some sort of turf war with the Department for Education and you could stand on your rights and say, "They have not come into the criminal justice system. It is not a problem for justice yet." Would you agree with me that that would be the wrong approach?

Mr Blunt: I would. It is why our memorandums of understanding with the six local authorities, or the police chiefs, depending how they are constructed, precisely allow that kind of justice reinvestment. The challenge we face is not only to deal with offenders who are in the system now; it is to try to do something about the tap so that we turn down the rate at which people come into the justice system. We cannot do that if we do not have a proper social justice agenda looking at people who are on the pathway into the justice system and how we divert them from it.

Q127 Ben Gummer: At the risk of sounding like a broken record on integrated commissioning, and to follow what Mr Buckland has just said, I note what the Department said in response to our report about the inability to look at integrated commissioning. This would seem to be the ideal place to find a Pathfinder which looked at early intervention from pre-birth through to 18. Has the Department any plans for instigating a Pathfinder project specifically in this area?

Mr Blunt: The youth area is part of the MOUs with the local authorities on those six pilots. There is not much point allowing them to reinvest savings in the Ministry of Justice if they are not going to reinvest it in the youth area. There will be decisions about whether that is in the youth justice area or the pre-justice part of the potential offenders pathway, which would seem a more sensible use of resources to me. Those decisions properly are within the purview either of the chief of police or the local authority chief executive who holds the memorandum of understanding with us about reinvesting savings into the Ministry of Justice. We are doing it.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed. We are very grateful to the Minister and to Ms Dyson for assisting us this morning.

Prepared 21st October 2011