Wiltshire Publications

Vital Westbury youth service set to close?

Westbury Youth Centre

Westbury Youth Centre

YOUNG people in Westbury could be set to lose the use of their youth centre as Wiltshire Council is to make a 38.5% cut to youth services. 

The youth centre which has helped change many young people’s lives in Westbury could close as early as July, leaving the future for youngsters in the town in doubt.

Wiltshire Council has announced a 38.5% cut to youth services county-wide as 24 of the authority’s youth centres are set to close in a bid to cut £500,000 from the youth service budget. The cuts could also see the 144 youth workers countywide lose their jobs.

Wiltshire youth volunteer Jacs Brady said, “The message this sends to young people is that they are not worth it and I know they are. We understand cuts have to be made but we need an adequate place to give these amazing people a chance.

“They have not communicated well and what they do tell us is a spin with the truth between the lines.”

Unite, the country’s largest union, is appalled by the cuts as 3,500 young people used the service across Wiltshire in a six- month period in late 2013 and there were over 31,000 visits to youth clubs in the same period.

Unite regional officer Alan Tomala said, “We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do.

“As well as providing young people with a safe place to go to meet their friends and learn new skills, youth workers are providing lots of support to individual young people who have a range of challenges in their lives.

“The council knows these will be unpopular cuts, so it is trying to avoid difficult questions at public meetings. The county’s young people will suffer, if councillors are allowed to sneak these plans through.

“We would urge young people, their parents and the wider community to let their local councillors know that this is not acceptable and we should be investing in young people, not cutting their services.

A Wiltshire Council spokesperson said, “Communities across Wiltshire are being invited to offer their ideas to help ensure that the provision of youth activities in the future reflects and meets the needs of young people.

“People across Wiltshire – particularly young people – are being consulted on what activities they would like in their local communities as part of a wide-ranging review.

“The 10-week public consultation exercise on the future of youth activities is underway and will involve schools, young people’s groups, voluntary organisations and local communities. The consultation asks for their opinion on four options for future provision:

– Retain the current in-house service but reduce the value – a number of options would be considered to make the required savings and deliver a service that meets the needs of young people in local community areas.

– Outsource the service – this option would involve developing a new service specification for the provision of positive leisure-time activities; shaped by key stakeholders, including young people based on the resources available.

– Encourage and support staff to form a Public Service Mutual (PSM). A mutual can deliver a public service involving a high degree of employee control. It can operate for profit, not for profit, charity, social enterprise and community interest company.

– Develop a community-led approach which will empower communities via community area boards, with funding from the council, to develop and make available positive leisure-time youth activities within their local area

“Whichever option is agreed for future provision a key aim is to target funding and resource more effectively and to continue to protect services for vulnerable young people. The council’s preferred option at this stage is to develop a community-led approach (option 4) and to tie-in with the emerging campus programme – an innovative scheme which will deliver services which communities want to see in their area developed in multi-purpose, modern community buildings. The first of these will open in Corsham at the end of June 2014.

“Currently a relatively low percentage of young people aged between 13-19 access the council’s youth activities while the majority are likely to be involved in other community, voluntary and commercially provided activities.”

Laura Mayes, cabinet member for children services said that it is vital that activities for young people are modern and reflect the needs of young people and the communities in which they live. She added: “The needs of the youth of today are very different from the provision we put in place 10 years ago and the future activities for young people needs to move with the times.

“We are calling on communities to help us shape youth provision and activities. We need to reach more young people while ensuring our service is cost effective. We are encouraging everyone to look at the options and respond to the survey so we can ensure as many people as possible have their say.

“The continuing challenging financial climate is clearly a significant factor, but we believe the development of community campuses is an excellent opportunity to target youth activities right in the heart of the communities they serve and to be able to continue to fund these activities in the future, unlike many other local authorities across the country.”

Wiltshire Council have also said, “The continuing financial challenges mean tough decisions to reduce spending over the next four years (£120 million) will need to be made. It is proposed to reduce spending in next year’s budget (2014/15) in the youth service by £500,000 per annum. The budget will be considered by full council on 25 February.

“Wiltshire Council will continue to coordinate activities for young people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

“Young people can take part in the survey by visiting Wiltshire’s website for young people www.sparksite.co.uk  but anyone else wishing to make a comment on the review can also email: voiceandinfluenceteam@wiltshire.gov.uk”