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Anger as Staffordshire County Council votes to cuts youth services

By Leek Post and Times  |  Posted: March 27, 2014

By Leslie Jackson

Protesters gathered outside the county council offices last week in a last ditch effort to stop cuts to youth services.

Protesters gathered outside the county council offices last week in a last ditch effort to stop cuts to youth services.

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COUNTY chiefs have been accused of hammering "a nail in the coffin" of youth services after voting to go ahead with staffing cuts.

Staffordshire County Council's decision last week could now see all 400 full and part-time paid youth workers be made redundant and replaced with volunteers.

This has led to fears that many youth clubs, including facilities in Leek and Cheadle, could be forced to close.

The decision came despite a 16,000 signature petition against the move.

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However, the county council said it will now look at the "youth picture" on a district by district basis, but also wants to focus more on meeting the needs of the more vulnerable young people.

Leek South county councillor, Charlotte Atkins, said: "The council wants to run the youth service on a wing and a prayer, expecting volunteers to fill the shoes of highly praised professional youth workers who have helped troubled youngsters through a difficult transition in their lives."

District councillor for the Forsbrook ward, Gill Burton, who also has the responsibility for communities on Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said: "At Blythe Bridge Youth Club we have 100 young people on a Monday night and 120 on Thursday night.

"I thought the county council would have held further discussions and looked at the review again after receiving a 16,000 petition and many letters including those from parish councils.

"This is a lot to disregard. The district council will help where it can as I feel we cannot just leave these young people."

Cheadle town mayor, Ian Plant, said: "It all about cutbacks and money.

"Town and parish councils have not got enough funding to take them on.

"We will have to monitor what will happen, but it could give police more work to do if more young people are on the streets and there is nothing for them to do."

Joe Porter, youth councillor for the Staffordshire Moorlands said: "I understand that the county council has a duty to rebalance its books and keep council tax as low as possible.

"However, it also has a moral duty to invest in future generations who will be the workforce and leaders of tomorrow.

"Over 16,000 people signed a petition against these proposals and the only real change they've made is dismantling the youth service on a district by district, rather than countywide, basis.

"I hope that what they claim about the voluntary sector's capacity to expand and take over the running of our services is true, otherwise it's our young people and communities who will suffer the consequences."

Joe Oram, who is a Duke of Edinburgh Award (DofE) leader and gold award participant, said : "All young people need something to do.

"Youth services help people a lot by giving them advice and trip activities.

"Many people are not happy as it is cutting money from the wrong place."

Mike Gilsenan, who is a Moorlands DofE volunteer and youth work lecturer at Birmingham University, claimed the county council was unlikely to replace people with the same expertise.

He said: "This is a nail in the coffin for youth services.

"It is also insulting as the council calls it achieving excellence as it states its priority is creating jobs, yet it is the one cutting jobs."

Brian Pointon is volunteer bandmaster with the Moorlands Youth Band.

He said: "I have been involved with young people for 55 years in the bands and as a Scout leader. This is a very bad decision as I know how hard it is to get volunteers, especially as we are a large rural community.

"Clubs could be forced to close."

However, Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council's cabinet support member for public health and community safety, said it was clear that the vast majority of young people no longer wanted to attend traditional council-run youth clubs.

He said: "Three-quarters of young people have effectively already told us that traditional council-run youth clubs no longer meet their needs by not attending, and at a time where we need to make those most of the resources is available it is difficult to justify spending millions on clubs that are not fully used or wanted by the vast majority of young people.

"The time is right to change to focus much more on what young people do want and less on what they don't want and don't use.

"They have told us that doing well and finding a good job are their priorities, and as a county we want to invest more in activities which involve young people as active members of their community and tailor support to help them achieve their goals to lead successful, rewarding and fulfilled lives."

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