I was a little taken aback recently when the Cambridge News made a big deal of our decision to retain free home to school transport for the young people from deprived backgrounds in Cambridgeshire who had been through the criminal justice system, but are now attending college.
Even more surprised because it was about just five young people and it made the front page. The decision to continue this support comes as part of a review of Home to School transport where we are making cuts in order to achieve our savings targets.
It is easy to take a hard line on issues like this, but that hard line is often borne out of short-term thinking and a lack of understanding of the reality and the facts. The reasons a youngster ends up on the wrong side of the law are complex, but revolve around choices, peer pressure and often, but not always, poor parenting.
I am sure there are loads of readers of Conservative Home who can look back on their lives and are grateful for having made the right decision at the right time.
But, there is a flip side to that; young people sometimes make poor choices – and I bet there are some readers who can look back at a few of them too. Of course those poor choices should be punished where they result in law breaking, and the extent of that punishment is a different debate. But where people start to do the right things shouldn’t we support them and recognise the efforts to turn their lives around, especially when they are young?
My view is that this is not just compassionate, it is sound economics. The total cost of home to school transport for these youngsters amounts to a few thousand pounds. If we don’t invest that small amount of money, it could pale into absolute insignificance compared to the long term costs.
The Audit Commission paper “Against All Odds” which was published in August last year included evidence showing that “two-thirds of young people in the criminal justice system left school with no qualifications or not knowing what qualifications they had”, surely it is plain daft to recognise that issue and then put barriers in the way of young offenders and, as a result, increase the likelihood of reoffending?
That same Audit Committee report shows that, whilst all young offenders are costly to the tax payer, they still have the potential to still be significant net tax contributors over their lifetime, especially if they have avoided custodial sentences; access to education is cited as one of the factors that can reduce reoffending and change behaviour.
One of our aims with young people in Cambridgeshire is to put more focus on prevention; surely this sort of preventative investment fits perfectly into that. What is a short term cost to the taxpayer has the potential to reap significant future benefits. The alternative could be a young person lured back into crime and continuing to cost.
We know that the Cambridge News syndicated the story and I was expecting it to appear in the National media, but so far we have not seen it appear anywhere – could it be that editors see the sense in this small investment?