Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Teenagers protest at cuts to Youth Service

Teenagers protest at cuts to youth service, Wednesday, November 16, 2011 Bristol Evening Post

Picture: Jon Kent

PLACARD-waving teenagers mounted a protest on the steps of Weston-super-Mare Town Hall to campaign against sweeping cuts to the youth service.

More than 30 teenagers from Portishead Youth Service, waving placards with the slogans Save our Youth Service, Save our Youth Workers, chanted as councillors walked into last night's council meeting.

​Teenagers, who attend the Harbour Road centre, stood on the steps before packing the council chamber chanting 'What do we want? Youth workers, when do want them – now'.

The protest follows news that the cash-strapped authority is to reduce the youth service budget from £1.142 million to £282,736 by 2013.

The move will see all 24 youth worker posts across the district deleted and funding currently allocated to youth clubs cut to almost zero.

But, as many youth workers work on a sessional or part-time basis, the actual figure of staff reductions could be far greater. Instead the authority is asking community groups, parents, churches, schools, parish and town councils to step in and fill the gap in provision left by the cuts.

The youth service will be replaced by a new community family service which will provide support to the 300 most vulnerable families – 900 children – across the district.

The news of the cuts comes at the same time as Portishead Youth Centre has just undergone a £1.1 million refurbishment. Youngsters addressed councillors at the meeting, highlighting the importance of the youth service.

Charlie Lane, 18, who has been attending Portishead Youth Club since she was 11, led the protest.

Charlie, who works as a senior volunteer at the youth centre, said: "The youth service is vital to all these young people and they are here today to show what it means to them. The council is stealing from our future."

Fellow volunteer Declan Marlow, 19, said: "The youth service helps young people develop key skills and social skills needed to grow and develop. The youth service is a vital service for the young people here."

Portishead resident Paul Maltby said: "Portishead has a state-of-the -art youth centre but the council is to slash its funding, throwing its future into doubt. The council has let the youth of Portishead down badly – please do not take away the lifeline of the youth club as well."

Portishead Youth Club management committee chairman Roger Sainsbury said: "I'm convinced that good professional youth work for all young people is the best way to support the vulnerable. If we don't invest in young people now, we'll end up paying for it tomorrow. We now have a £1 million world class youth centre and I've seen the value of good professional youth work for young people."

UNISON members – who paid for the coach to take teenagers to the protest – also spoke at the meeting about the impact of the cuts.

North Somerset Council's executive member for children and young people, Councillor Jeremy Blatchford, said a survey of provision in the district revealed there were already more than 600 providers of youth activities in the district, including Guides, Scouts, church groups and sports clubs. He added that youth provision was not just the responsibility of the local authority.

The protest came at the same meeting as the authority endorsed its medium-term financial plan which outlines cuts of £47.3 million over the next four years, including £18.6 million in the financial year 2012/13. The budget proposals will be agreed by the executive in February but will have to be ratified by the full council later in the month.

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