In a follow up to my previous post regarding the latest round of cuts to the youth service in west sussex, I’m posting below a letter I have sent to West Sussex County Council’s ‘Children and Young Peopleâ€™s Services Select Committee’ which is meeting tomorrow (Friday 4th November).
In addition to my role for Arun Community Church, I am on the management committee of a small youth club in Littlehampton. The club has been directly affected by the withdrawal of services by the county, and the latest proposals going to the select committee tomorrow suggest the service pull out of our club and over 20 other locations entirely. While this is not totally surprising, it is immensely frustrating considering the response to their public consultation. Here’s my letter explaining why:
We are writing to you regarding Item 6 on the Agenda for Fridayâ€™s meeting: Youth Support and Development Service Savings Proposals. We understand that the Committee is being asked to consider and comment on the proposals in the report by the Director of Children’s Services, to inform the Cabinet Memberâ€™s decision-making. We feel obliged to register our concern.
The Keystone Centre in Wick, Littlehampton (formerly Littlehampton Boys Club), has been providing a variety of activities for young people since 1976 and has the aim of helping and educating young people through their leisure-time activities. We have traditionally had a strong partnership with the Youth Service (now YSDS), however staff hours were withdrawn from the centre as part of the 2010 review of services (implemented in April 2011), and the club has found itself struggling to open its doors to young people without this support. Currently YSDS run one session a week from the centre.
We have read with great interest the Youth Support and Development Service Savings Proposals and are extremely concerned about the disconnect between the information in the report, specifically the responses from the public consultation, and the resulting proposals going forward.
In the response summary to the recent public consultation (Item 3 on the proposals report), there was strong support for more preventative work with young people and the continuation of open access clubs. Item 3.3 states:
â€œAll respondents agree that it is important for the YSDS to deliver early intervention, prevention, targeted and specialist services. A slightly higher percentage of respondents felt that prevention services were extremely important. It would appear therefore that prevention services may be a slightly higher priority for respondents.â€
Additionally, item 3.5 shows how important open access clubs are and how much value respondents place on them:
â€œTo prevent young people from offending there was a very strong call for open access provision for all young people and access to positive activities.â€
Furthermore, when the consultation asked about use of buildings for youth activities:
â€œThere was a majority disagreement with the proposal to keep dedicated youth centres only in high need communities (40% agree, 54% disagree), with a strong preference (85%) for the importance of having dedicated youth centres in all areas of the county.â€
58% also disagreed with the proposal to pull out of all centres.
Yet despite all this evidence for ensuring open access provision in youth centres and a clear need for preventative work, astoundingly the proposal in Appendix 5 is to withdraw resources completely from even more youth centres including The Keystone Centre.
In item 4.2 it is proposed that the savings are to be made â€œprimarily by a further reduction in the YSDS staffing in open access youth provision that currently provides early intervention and prevention work in areas of needâ€ â€“ precisely the services that respondents were keen to keep. And in a clear case of irony, Appendix 5 (page 4) shows the Ham ward in Littlehampton as the highest for child poverty in the county, in the 10% of most deprived wards in England (1st/2nd in WS) with 11% of the cohort in youth offending – while simultaneously proposing to withdraw from two centres serving that community.
YSDS claim to ensure a number of opportunities for young people, in particular for the most vulnerable or targeted groups (Item 1.3), yet the proposals made in this report clearly do not endorse that statement.
We fully appreciate that savings must be made and services will be withdrawn. We also accept that The Keystone Centre will not be immune to these changes. However, the deep cuts and withdrawal of support from the majority of youth clubs and centres in spite of overwhelming public opinion for open access and preventative work is hugely disturbing and will have an enormously negative impact on young people across the county for decades to come.
We hope that you are able to review the proposals carefully and find a way forward that actually takes into account the needs of the majority of young people in West Sussex, not just the few.
I want to be clear that I’m not criticising the workers and managers in the service here. As Hilary explains, it’s a tough time for everyone in the service and they’re trying hard to cope with the changes and still provide services for young people. However, I do feel that’s it’s extremely important to speak out on this subject and the impact it is having on other centres.