Taxpayers fund desperate bus project

What cost Birmingham City Council and Aston Pride £336,000 to fund, is staffed by six and boasts fifteen computer stations along with broadband and satellite technology?


  The answer is, the school/careers advice on wheels that will be creeping around Aston stalking those aged 16-25 who have dropped out of education and training (Birmingham Post). Just the latest – a particularly desperate – move to round up the disaffected young people, many of whom have been failed by the current education system, and try to push them through some form of meaningless training and shoehorn them into work in the hope of reducing the steadily rising unemployment figures in the area.


Bus This Skills for Life project apparently follows on from a similar venture involving another bus that pursued the so-called “midnight children” who roam the city’s streets after dark. It’s not outlandish to suppose that many of these young adults hanging around on city streets after midnight are drunk or drugged, and yet this has been deemed the optimum time to drag them onto a bus and force some semblance of education upon them or assess what career they are suited to. How much are they truly able to absorb, indeed, what impression are they going to project with addled brains and slurred speech?


However, this previous project – The Beyond Midnight bus – is being heralded as enough of a success to see the introduction of this second project. I’m not quite sure if we now have new criteria for the term ‘success’ but looking at employment figures for the 16-25 age group in Aston, where 27.7% are unemployed, it appears that the projects’ promoters are guilty of overstatement.


The bus itself  ‘engaged’ with over 3,440 young people according to the article, and these hazy terms are obviously supposed to disguise the fact that they haven’t publicised how many of those young people are now in employment as a result of this scheme. What does ‘engaged’ even mean? They spoke to them? The young person stepped on the bus, looked around and stepped off? Does that count? By definition, adolescents throwing stones at the bus might count as an engagement…Who knows?


Nevertheless, this project cost the taxpayer £70 for each of these ‘engagements’, but as is often the case with these last-ditch education and employment projects, what you actually got for that is worryingly unclear.


The new, shiny, expensively equipped - and therefore no doubt thoroughly vulnerable - Mobile Skills for Life bus is being put into operation imminently, with twice the capacity of its predecessor.


The motivation behind this project has nothing to do with ‘engaging’ with young people, this is quite clearly about employment figures and the image of the city. Anyone can recognise that spending £336k on a bus with a few computers that approaches inebriated young people in the middle of the night is no way to solve any problem, but in the absence of any other ideas you can rely on public bodies to our throw money at schemes and keep their fingers crossed.


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