Around 25 members of the public along with councillors and some youth service staff were briefed about the plans to cut dozens of youth worker jobs and shave off almost £1m from the budget, in the next financial year alone.
Devon County Council must cut a crippling £110m from its finances by 2017. This follows a similar amount in the last four years.
In what has been described by some as “ideological” proposals, the council proposes to close down its 30 or more youth centres, among other services, such as residential homes and day centres.
Instead, the council is encouraging communities to run youth centres and is inviting expressions of interest from groups during the current consultation phase, which finishes on 27 April.
I asked officers about the sustainability of voluntary run youth centres. The council proposes to offer small amounts of start-up money (would not be drawn on how much) for community groups, but it is still unclear how any youth centres are going to be funded in the long-term.
I asked about whether the start-up money would be ring-fenced or controlled so that it couldn’t be spent on other items. Officers indicated that they would want to ensure that it was spent only on youth services.
The other issue that myself and other councillors asked about, were what plans there were for buildings (in Ottery’s case the Station youth centre is a dedicated building) and whether they would be transferred or sold to communities.
Again, officers wouldn’t be drawn, simply saying that they would deal with the issue on a case by case basis. They did, however, remind residents that a building can be a liability, as well as an asset.
Officers then revealed that if current plans went through, all the Devon youth centres would be shut by September, following a paper set to be debated by the Devon County Council cabinet, on 14 May.
Other issues that came up were:
– reminders that volunteers were in short supply
– the town council precepts have already been set for the year
– arrangements for disabled and vulnerable children, such as those with autism
– health and social education that takes place as standard in DCC run youth centres
George Downs, member of the UK Youth Parliament for East Devon was present and asked several questions including how safeguarding young people would take place, and also how would volunteer youth workers be trained. (Devon County Council’s youth workers are highly qualified and trained).
Mr Downs also wanted to know how, if many different organisations were running youth centres, how information would be properly co-ordinated and shared, as it is currently.
Presently, all the themes that young people raise with youth workers are anonymously recorded so that the teams can keep track centrally of what general topics that are being raised with youth workers,such as confidence, anxiety, bullying or more seriously, sexual abuse. It is an extremely effective and useful way of keeping in touch with the issues affecting young people in Devon.
I have to say I am very sceptical of how a team of volunteers can run a youth centre successfully, with just a small amount of start-up funding. If the buildings are transferred then they will need maintaining and bills paid. If the buildings are not transferred, in many communities there will simply be nowhere to hold a youth club.
And as for the unique precious skills of the Devon County Council youth workers (who I think have been shamefully undervalued in this process) and the established systems of caring for the county’s young people, it really does feel that something very special is being thrown away carelessly, without little thought for what is really being lost – and how our young people will have to pay for these decisions.
I urge you to contribute to the youth services consultation that finishes on Sunday 27 April. The link is here – http://new.devon.gov.uk/youthreview/