Months of activity, consulting on the future of a key fund supporting work with young people, have been followed by a desolate four-month silence.
That's how long it is since the end of a review into the future of the £7 million Unified Voluntary Sector Fund (UVSF), which invests in around 90 charities working with children, young people and families.
Launched in November last year, by former Children's Minister Angela Constance, the review continued under her successor Aileen Campbell, and concluded on February 29. Since then, there has been no indication of the outcome.
Research published today by Youthlink Scotland into the work of 33 national youth work organisations was launched before the consultation. But concern over the future of the fund understandably permeates its findings. At least £1.5m of the money spent by the fund goes to support the work of volunteer-driven youth organisations such as the Scouts, Girlguiding Scotland, Young Farmers, the Ocean Youth Trust and many more.
Without it, some of the smaller ones might cease to function at all, according to Jim Sweeney, chief executive of Youthwork Scotland. Yet the research demonstrates, he believes, just what a mistake that would be.
It found that those 33 organisations mobilise 73,000 volunteers, who donate so much time for free that it is worth £128m to Scotland, if costed at an estimated sessional rate of £10 an hour.
These national voluntary youth work organsations say they are working between them with 386,795 young people across Scotland – 31% of the overall population of 5-25 year olds, with a even gender balance of 48% male and 52% female reflective of the population as a whole.
While there may be some duplication in the statistics where young people are members of more than one organisation, this might well be offset by the fact that several national organisations involved in youth work have not supplied information to the survey.
Significantly the core paid staff in such organisations make up a tiny proportion of this youth work workforce – between them the 33 organisations have just 315 core staff and 3236 paid workers. The rest are volunteers.
On average, the ratio of paid staff to young people is 1 to 108, but this varies dramatically. Some of the uniformed organisations have a ratio of one paid adult to every 2000 young people they serve.
"They [the paid staff] are providing training and support, health and safety guidance, child protection and other essentials, to hundreds and thousands of volunteers. The government are getting it for a song," Mr Sweeney says.
"Some of these organisations are very small, run on a shoestring really, and if they were cut at all would probably go to the wall."
"What they [government] give the national voluntary sector organisations in support wouldn't build a motorway, wouldn't build half a primary school," he adds.
Mr Sweeney hastens to say that such organisations appreciate the support that they do receive. Initiatives such as Cashback for Communities, which uses the proceeds of crime to fund youth activities, and the reclamation of money from dormant bank accounts to fund opportunities for children, are welcome, he says. "We appreciate everything that comes out of government, business and everything else. We believe we make damn good use of it. But councils are cutting back, and many funding trusts are cutting back too, as interest rates are so low. Nobody else funds core activities."
The context of austerity is clearly one reason for surveying the sector in this way, with evidence suggesting that youth work could be under threat. In England it is already widely perceived as a soft target for cuts.
"We were unaware that the government was thinking about reviewing UVSF when we put the survey together," Mr Sweeney adds. "But our members are certainly anxious to give the government a clear steer as to what they are getting in terms of value for money."
Core funding is particularly vital, because it allows organisations to persuade other funders that they are stable and credible, he adds. Losing that backing would be like a bank being downgraded, he suggests.
One fear is that civil servants may see the UVSF as a target for reform as it is a 'messy' fund, pulling together resources from a number of departments and budgets.
Youth work organisations have been guaranteed that their funding will continue until October at least, but this is of limited use when they are attempting to forward plan.
Current Minister for Children and Young People Aileen Campbell has backed today's Youthlink Scotland research. She said: "I recognise and support the hugely valuable contribution that the thousands of youth work volunteers make every day to improve the wellbeing and life chances of Scotland's young people.
"Our communities benefit from the work and commitment of volunteers and they can play a key role in making Scotland the best place in the world for children and young people to grow up.''
However the Government officially states that the findings of the review will be published "in due course" and are still under consideration.
Sources suggest an announcement could be made within the next few weeks. Until then, some of Scotland's largest and best known youth work organisations will remain on tenterhooks, looking for signs, in the dust, and the tumbleweed.
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