• Young campaigners denied a voice at Devon County Council budget meeting

    20th February 2014 | News | Claire
  • A group of around 40 campaigners, chanted and waved placards outside County Hall, before filing into the council chamber.

    I asked that they be allowed to speak, under the public questions agenda item.  But chairman, Cllr Bernard Hughes refused.  I argued and fellow independent, Cllr Frank Biederman, requested that standing orders be suspended to allow the young people to address the council.

    They had taken the time and trouble to travel to county hall, from places as far away as Ilfracombe, Colyton and South Devon, which I pointed out.

    They wanted to speak because councillors were about to debate and vote on the loss of almost £1m from the youth service, which will put every youth centre at risk of closure.

    But bafflingly and outrageously, the conservatives voted this request down en bloc, to cries of “shame” and “disgraceful” from the public gallery and opposition councillors.

    I was amazed that they wouldn’t allow the young people to have just three minutes airtime after travelling so far. Remember most of them wouldn’t be able to drive. They would have caught buses or got lifts to get there. They had taken time to prepare their colourful placards – all a testimony to how much they cared and wanted their youth services to be retained.

    It was a shame and a very wrong decision, in my view.  It was the opposite of democracy.

    Quite understandably, so incensed by the veto on allowing them to speak, the young campaigners pronounced their disgust and abruptly left the chamber, pursued by all the journalists present.

    During the budget one councillor after another, got up to say how appalled they were that the young people were not permitted to have their say.

    One councillor, Des Hannon, suggested that the conservatives might like to apologise to the campaigners.

    The libdems and labour group proposed alternatives to the budget to allow more money for precious services, such as the youth service, but the budget was voted through by a large conservative majority.

    This afternoon £27m of cuts were agreed. Very worryingly, things will get even worse next year, and each year until 2017, as the council meets government requirements for a £110m budget cut.

    I have asked that the rules on public speaking are reviewed at the next procedures committee meeting, which I am a member of.

    Here’s an article that sums up the budget debate – http://www.middevongazette.co.uk/Youth-centre-cuts-protesters-denied-voice/story-20670666-detail/story.html

    This is how the Express & Echo reported the demonstration – http://www.exeterexpressandecho.co.uk/ifs-buts-youth-centre-cuts-Teenagers-appeal/story-20669969-detail/story.html

    And here’s what I said:  ………………………………………………………………………………….

    I commend John Hart for repeatedly standing up to the technocrats at Westminster, who seem to think they are serving the people of this country by ripping out woodland for high speed rail – at a cost of £50bn!

    It is the most vulnerable residents in our society that have been, and will continue to be, the most affected.

    Yesterday, Britain’s church leaders denounced welfare reforms for creating “hardship and hunger.”

    Even though the prime minister told us only last week that money is apparently no object. 

    It certainly seems to be no object when it comes to providing tax breaks for frackers.

    In four years this government has eviscerated our public services. And it’s only going to get worse.

    There is a relentless pursuit of economic growth, at the cost of decency, humanity and compassion.  This government is truly leading its people down a dark road.

    We have been betrayed by our MPs (the conservative ones anyway) who pledged their support for the residents of Devon and then when it came to the vote, bottled it.

    Over £6m withdrawn the Devon highways budget is going to leave our roads looking more like the surface of the moon, than the surface of the travelling network of one of the largest economies in the world.

    But the most damaging cuts in my view, are in the People’s directorate, which serves our most needy residents – our children and young people. Our future society.

    Children’s and youth service were one of the first budgets to be slashed in the first round of spending cuts in the last administration. Thirty per cent of staff – mainly frontline staff, were lost.

    The youth service budget is small – actually it’s tiny compared with the total budget, but its value is limitless.  And its loss would cause immeasurable damage.

    Youth centres provide a vital service and a preventative service. Our youth workers are highly qualified, highly trained and highly valued by young people.

    I congratulate Alfie Weaver and the UK Youth Parliament, led by George Downs, on their articulate and creative campaign to retain their cherished youth centres.

    Their online petition against the service cuts in just over two weeks, has attracted over 1000 signatures.

    The young people who go to Ottery’s youth centre are devastated at the thought it may shut. It is the highlight of their week. Their youth workers are adults who they trust implicitly and confide in the problems, that they can’t tell anyone else.

    That other councils are shutting youth centres is not an argument that this council should follow suit.

    Every day youth workers are helping young people with small problems that if left unaddressed, will turn into big problems, possibly leading to real harm, either self-harm, which is rising rapidly, or harm to others.

    Example of one person’s view, from youth services consultation website
    I couldn’t cope very well in school, I had a very short temper and I was always getting myself into trouble. But once I started going to my youth centre it turned my life around! I am now a volunteer for the youth service, a member of the UK Youth Parliament and I will be doing a management degree soon. The youth service is something spectacular and unique!

    Breaking up the service and inviting tenders, will simply fragment and put at risk everything precious that this council has built up over decades. The youth service was created for a reason.

    The reason is that young people need somewhere safe and warm to socialise. Where they are not intimidated by predatory individuals on the street. Which is where many will end up socialising with their friends if their local youth centre shuts.

    Youth workers run fun educational sessions on health, drugs, alcohol, respect in relationships, assertiveness, internet safety, healthy eating, smoking …. The list goes on.

    I urge every single councillor in this council, to put politics aside and agree to save our wonderful youth service.

    Photograph with thanks to Terry Ife. Here’s the story in the Sidmouth Herald – http://www.sidmouthherald.co.uk/news/news/young_people_march_on_county_hall_to_protest_against_cuts_1_3344092