Last year West Sussex County Council ‘Youth Support & Development Service’ did a consultation before slashing Â£2 million pounds from their budget. They are now facing a second round of cuts and this time they have to save another Â£2 million. Similar things are happening around the country to other youth services. As a resident, stakeholder partner, and voluntary sector youth worker, I feel I need to comment on the impact this is having.
Last May I wrote about the changes proposed to shave the West Sussex Youth Service budget. It has taken until now for the council to fully implement the reduced service, and after a round of redundancies and everyone reinterviewing for their jobs the new sessions and programmes are only just getting up and running.Â Yet just as people are settling into their stretched roles (in many cases, workers are taking on more responsibility over a wider geographical area) there is a new consultation asking people to comment on more cuts next year.
The consultation is online here, and I would encourage any West Sussex resident to try and complete it. I say try, because it is actually a difficult survey to understand as it is steeped in jargon and the questions are worded so thatÂ you choose an answer that ‘best fits’ your opinion without a clear opportunity to expand upon it. My concern here is that your “tick box” answer may very well be used to justify something you were actually arguing against! I have already fed back my disappointment with the consultation, but my suspicion is that decisions have already been made and the consultation is there to justify them. Or maybe I’m too cynical…
The impact of the first Â£2m cuts has meant that the statutory youth services have significantly reduced (or stopped) with many sessions now only open to those young people referred to them. Wheras it used to be a universal service open to all young people, YSDS is now mainly aimed at supporting young people to stay in education, employment or training and preventing offending and reducing re-offending by young people. That’s a huge structural change and the hope is thatÂ generic ‘open-access’ youth work can be pushed out to the voluntary sector. On paper, the YSDS solution is to support voluntary groups and clubs to run their own activities fulfilling the Big Society Agenda. Â But as yet there is no clear support or strategy from county to do so, leaving many clubs high and dry where they have traditionally had support or staff from the Council that has now been pulled.
I do appreciate that it must be very difficult to reduce such a huge amount off an already tight budget and the implications for the remaining staff must be significant and disheartening. However as partners with the youth service and stakeholders in running youth provision locally, the lack of communication all the way through this process has been very frustrating. I don’t blame any individuals here as I have a huge amount of respect for the workers and managers bravely making these changes happen. I do blame the strategy and process for rolling it out though. I’ll give a small example of how it’s impacted locally:
I’m on the Management CommitteeÂ of an independent youth club which the youth service have been running sessions out of for years. In the past few months, youth service managers have seen fit to change both the regular staff at the club (one has been there over 10 years) and the night the club opens (Friday to Wednesday) without any involvement of the young people who attend or even any communication with the committee who run the centre. In addition, again without any consultation, the cost of the session has now been put up to Â£1 – a 50 per cent price hike in an area that already has one of the lowest incomes in the county.
The way the changes have been conducted and the lack of communication about it all has really riled people. Last week, our local paper ran an articleÂ about the latest cuts to the service and how the unions are urging residents to condemn it:
â€œThis first round of cuts has been appalling for the service and our young people. But now the council is coming back for more. A further Â£2m will be cut from the service over the next three years â€“ unless the public speak out to defend their service and tell councillors â€˜no moreâ€™,â€ said Daniel Sartin, deputy branch secretary of UNISON West Sussex…
â€œAny further cuts could have significant impact right across our communities and services. For the sake of balancing the books now, West Sussex may well pay the price for such short-sighted actions for decades to come.â€
The unions warned that community groups, already hit by funding cuts themselves, would be unable to take over parts of the youth service as the county council hoped.
Mr Sartin added: â€œCouncillors should not kid the public. You cannot take Â£4m out of a professional service and expect churches and the voluntary sector to pick up the pieces. Weâ€™ve seen no evidence that the Big Society agenda is making any difference to West Sussexâ€™s communities in the face of these damaging cuts.â€