Hannigfield Continuing his series on localism, Lord Hanningfield, the Conservative leader of Essex County Council, calls for more power to promote youth involvement in volunteering.

We were all shocked by the story last week that, in one area of Britain, one in seven "NEETS" – not in education, employment or training – died within 10 years of falling out of the system.

Our proposals under the Sustainable Communities Act offer young people an escape route from this self-limiting label – offer them an opportunity not only to improve their life-chances but also to contribute to their local community.

We propose that the definition of ‘in education employment and training’ for 16 to 19 year olds is amended to acknowledge participation in formal volunteering as a legitimate alternative.

In April 2009, there were 2,553 young people classed as NEET in Essex. While some may be claiming benefits, others may have recently completed courses at college or university. A further group are undertaking voluntary work.

We acknowledge that voluntary work can be valuable in improving the skills, confidence and experience of people of all ages, as well as a route into work or back into education. It also allows young people to contribute to their community.  With this in mind – and given that we are in the middle of a recession – it seems at best counter-productive to treat young people who contribute in this way as NEET.

By re-defining those in formal voluntary schemes as not within the NEET group, public agencies will be able to focus interventions on the most vulnerable young people, which as last week revealed is an urgent priority.

Additionally, the reclassification will act as an incentive to encourage participation in voluntary programmes. ECC is particularly interested in developing youth volunteering schemes that will equip young people to move with confidence into employment opportunities as they arise; equipping youngsters for the time when the economy picks up.

Preliminary results of our exercise with residents suggest that 74% actively support the proposal and 84% agree that ECC should advance the proposal with government. We hope they will listen.

> In the previous entry to this series Lord Hanningfield sought devolution of patient transport to townhalls

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