At a well attended public meeting held at Whaley Bridge Bowling Club last night (Thursday 15th March) people were unanimous in their opposition to Derbyshire County Council’s proposals to close its twenty-nine youth centres and make up to 160 part time youth workers redundant.
The meeting was addressed by Paul Vaughan former Head of Youth Services for the City of Leicester and previously Deputy Leader of Youth Services in Derbyshire. He said, “The council are proposing to become a strategic commissioner of youth services not a provider and that all youth services would be provided by the voluntary sector. However there has been little research into whether or not the voluntary sector has the capacity to provide the facilities. Currently there is some excellent provision in Derbyshire which will be lost. But rather than undertaking a review of the service and closing what is not working so well and retaining what is good and serving the needs of the young people, the council are proposing to get rid of it all. The capacity of the voluntary sector to provide youth services is uncertain and it is likely that in some areas, particularly the more deprived places where the need is greatest that there will be insufficient voluntary activity.” Paul Vaughan went on to say that he attended five of the consultation meetings, and Cllr Barie Lewis the Lead member for Youth Services consistently declined to quantify the level of voluntary sector grants to be made available’.
The county council say that local people and organisations should be involved but their consultation meetings were not held in places where young people could easily get to. They avoided using youth centres and the nearest meeting to Whaley Bridge was held in Buxton at 5pm on a Wednesday, during half-term when many young people and their parents were unable to attend.
Caitlin Bisknell leader of High Peak Borough Council told the meeting that, “the County Council are consulting now but the cuts are already in the budget for next year. These cuts are on top of threats to young people imposed on them by the coalition government, the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, the tripling of tuition fees and the 193% increase in youth unemployment in the High Peak.”
Danielle Hutton of the Youth Council High Peak said, “Young people really value the work done by their youth workers and most are opposed to the County Council’s proposals.” She also said that the Youth Council for had been treated with a distinct lack of respect given the nature of the changes. Nev Clarke of Whaley Bridge Labour Party added that, “This shows how hollow the stated aims and values of the County Council Youth Service are when they fail to properly engage with one of the key bodies that represent those most affected. The dogmatic approach being followed has the potential to do harm on so many levels, not least the danger that young people will see this as a sign that those in power do not care or have any regard for their needs or views.”
Whaley Bridge Town Councillor Martin Thomas said, “When the council owned youth club in Whaley Bridge was sold we were told that mobile services would be provided for the whole of Derbyshire, but now they are proposing to axe the mobile service altogether. The council run youth club which meets at Footsteps and is regularly attended by up to 130 local young people could be lost if no voluntary groups come forward to replace the invaluable work done by the youth workers there.”
Chair of the meeting Councillor Fiona Sloman explained that the consultation exercise ends on the 19th March and the meeting agreed to write to the council expressing concern at the lack of consultation in Whaley Bridge and to urge them to reconsider their proposals.