Fighting your corner on youth services

Southwark's Liberal Democrat councillors are calling on the Labour council to think again over its proposed cut of 73% to youth service funding in the borough.

In a letter to the Leader of the Council and the borough's MPs, Liberal Democrat councillor Anood Al-Samerai set out five reasons for the cuts to be put on hold while other options are looked at.

The full text of the letter is shown below:

 

 

Councillor Peter John
Leader, Southwark Council
160 Tooley Street
London
SE1P 5LX

 

Dear Peter,
 
73% Cut to Youth Services

The Southwark Youth Council attended the Liberal Democrat Group meeting last night, following their deputation at last week’s Cabinet Meeting. As you know, they are articulate and reasonable and have extremely thoughtful contributions. I am sure that councillors of all parties share concerns surrounding such a massive cut to such an important service. I do hope that, between, us, we can find a better way to make savings while still supporting experienced and specialised youth work in our borough.

As you know, the proposal is to cut £2 million from a £3.4 million budget this year and a further £0.5 million next year. My understanding is that this means that 4 out of 8 youth centres will close, in addition to 2 adventure play services, and that youth work staff will be halved. I am told that the £0.5 million cut next year is likely to affect the remaining voluntary sector-run youth centres. It is worth mentioning that this is the fourth Youth Services restructure in five years.

At the same time as this 73% budget cut, the service is being handed over to the Leisure Department, which is adding to considerable confusion and uncertainty about what the remaining service will actually look like. Possibly even more troubling than the financial cuts is the clear lack of consultation with young people in designing what the new services might look like. Apparently, the Youth Council used to have termly meetings with the Cabinet Member, but these have not happened over the last year and they have not been involved at all in drawing up this plan for new Youth Services.  

I fully appreciate that you have to make savings and the Opposition has tried to work with the Council over the past five years to ensure that front line services are protected. When it came to Older People’s Day Centres we were able to find some funding to ensure a proper plan and support. This is a similar situation where a proposal has not been properly thought through and now urgently needs to be paused and thought about again.

There is simply no way that Youth Services should be cut by 73%, so much more than other services, and the scale of this £2.5 million cut must be re-considered urgently. Young people and the voluntary sector must be involved in planning the services and exploring different options, such as keeping all the centres open with reduced hours. And the transition to Leisure must be reconsidered, or at least the timing looked at, as youth work is a specialism which we must not lose casually whilst hoping that young people will go swimming or to a library instead.

I would be really grateful if you could consider these general points which I raise on behalf of my group and respond to the following specific questions:

  1. Why, when each council department has been given a 25% budget saving target, is the Youth Services budget of £3.4 million being cut by £2 million (73%)?
  2. What risk assessment of the impact of such a cut in the Youth Services budget has taken place? Does the council foresee any increase in any other social and wider community costs as a result of losing support for young people, such as around preventing teenage pregnancies, drug and alcohol abuse, gangs and the other excellent prevention work which youth workers carry out?

  3. Can the current proposal be discarded in order to start a new process which allows young people to lead the discussion and redesign of Southwark Youth Services?

  4. Will you reconsider the transition and timing of moving the service to the Leisure Department?

  5. Will you speak to Lambeth Youth Council about how they were able to keep their youth services going?

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for anything which you are able to do to prevent these rushed and flawed proposals destroying the lives of young people in our borough for generations to come.  

Best wishes,

 

Councillor Anood Al-Samerai
Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group