Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Young People are our Future

Over 50 children and young people from Portishead and Weston Youth Clubs demonstrated outside North Somerset Council's meeting tonight, over plans to slash Youth Services, close down Youth Clubs and make 60 part-time youth workers redundant. They were carrying hand made banners and placards, and chanting to councillors as they arrived at the meeting. Their request was simple - Don't Close our Youth Clubs.

Unusually for a North Somerset Council meeting there were 10 members of the public who spoke - many of them about Youth Services, emphasising the point that young people are our future.

Many of the young people who spoke talked about the help they had received from youth workers when they had experienced bullying, and that youth services had also helped them with training and new skills. Charlie Lane, leader of the Portishead Youth Club campaign, told the councillors that they were stealing her future.

One adult speaker warned the council that using untrained volunteers in youth clubs may mean children are subjected to extreme political and religious views. She also told them there were good economic reasons for retaining youth services, which would avoid extra costs for schools, the youth offending service and prisons. She went on to say that if North Somerset cuts the Youth Service there will be costs to the community in terms of anti-social behaviour. Another speaker warned the councillors that the young people present would become the councillors of the future and would be involved in making decisions about them, when they are older and vulnerable.

The budget, was as per usual, listed as the last item on the agenda. Earlier in the day we had put in a request for it to be moved up the agenda, so that the young people could hear what their councillors had to say and then would be able to get back home at a reasonable hour. Our request was denied.

At the last minute they did agree to bring the item up the agenda. Opposition councillors got up to express their concerns about the budget and the budget setting process. This took about 15 minutes, and then the councillors voted to endorse the medium term financial plan as a policy document, and to refer it and opposition alternatives to scrutiny panels. DEBATE WAS EFFECTIVELY SHUT DOWN. Hopefully people in North Somerset will see the coverage on both BBC and ITV local news, and when we demonstrate again in February there will be more speakers, and more people shouting, until the councillors here us.

ITV News link here -

Councillor Blatchford, Executive member for Children and Young People was on the 6 pm ITV Local News comparing the preventative work done with young people to fixing potholes. Doesn't Councillor Blatchford realise that Youth Services is preventative work, and in any case as a result of the council's reorganisation of Children's Services to focus on only 300 families, there will be no preventative work done.

UNISON Speech to Council

This is the speech I would have made if I hadn't been cut short by the Chairman

Those of you that were here in February may remember that I expressed UNISON’s view that the public spending cuts are unfair, because they hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest, and are also unnecessary, because there are other ways to cut the deficit, such as clamping down on tax avoidance, introducing a Robin Hood tax and making our taxation system fairer. 9 months since I last spoke at a council meeting, we are now starting to see more clearly the impact of the cuts, and we are also seeing greater anger at our very unequal and unfair society – anger that ordinary people are being made to pay for the financial crisis with cuts to services, jobs, pay and pensions, while those who caused the crisis are actually getting richer. Occupy protests are springing up all over the world, including in nearby Bristol, and the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have recently expressed their concerns over corporate greed and massive inequality.

As I have also said previously we have some sympathy for councillors because the cuts have been imposed on you by central government. BUT the party that governs North Somerset is the party that governs the country – at least currently. And you have a duty to your constituents to make it very clear to your colleagues in Westminster how the cuts are affecting local people, and demand that they change their course of action. BUT it is also our view that you as a council have made the situation worse for yourself by previous actions you have taken, including outsourcing services, whereby you have effectively put large parts of your budget outside your control. Councillors might want to ask what penalties are being imposed on the support services contractor for the delay in procurement savings?

This evening you are considering the medium term financial plan – appendix 3 of which contains a spreadsheet of figures representing money and jobs to be cut. But what this spreadsheet doesn’t tell you – is anything about the impact of these cuts on people’s lives - for that you need to talk to your constituents and you also need to look at the equality impact assessments. Those assessments with high impacts have been summarised for you in Appendix 6, but you should really download them in full from the council’s website. Once you’ve read them, you will need to seriously consider whether the statements made in these assessments about how the council will mitigate the impact of these cuts go far enough, or are even in fact possible, given the current financial situation.

I want to briefly mention some of the cuts you are considering.

In Adult Social Services you are proposing to cut a massive £14 million from the services you provide to elderly and disabled people. Councillors will be aware that in a recent survey commissioned by the disability charity Scope, which assessed the impact of local authority cuts to services for disabled children and adults, North Somerset came out 7th from bottom out of 152 local authorities. Your budget also contains proposals to cut the services you provide to people suffering domestic abuse, services to prevent anti-social behaviour, reoffending, and homelessness – all of which will have huge impacts for some of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged citizens, and will also have a significant impact on the council’s ability to meet its equalities duties.

In Children and Young People’s Services you are considering another massive cut of £12 million, involving a complete reorganisation of integrated services, which will see work focused on only 300 families, with little or no early intervention and preventative work being undertaken, and which also includes a reduction in the numbers of already overworked social workers, and downgradings of almost exclusively female admin staff. In addition you are planning a complete decimation of our youth service, only a few months after we saw the country engulfed by riots. Children and young people are our future – but their life chances are being badly affected by the public spending cuts, and this, as the recession of the 1980s has taught us, will come back to haunt us in future years.

As a trade union we are of course concerned by the proposed staffing cuts, which will not only impact on the council’s ability to deliver services, but will also have major equalities impacts because over two thirds of council employees are women, and many are part-time and low paid. In addition the economic impact of public sector job cuts is already taking its toll, with Weston super Mare seeing the 14th largest increase in unemployment in the country. A 25% reduction to the workforce of the council, which is still the district’s largest local employer, will have further serious implications for the local economy.

Over the next few months, up until when you set the budget on 21st February, you will have to decide whether your budget proposals also include enough concrete actions to mitigate the impact of the cuts, or whether you will need to use all or some of your reserves and contingency to lessen their impact, or indeed whether the proposals contain such serious equalities impacts that the legal duties imposed on you mean you cannot implement these cuts. We firmly believe that if you go ahead and implement many of the proposals in this plan then the worst case scenario is that people will die, while the best case scenario is that people will take legal action against the council, as they have done in Birmingham and more recently the Isle of Wight.

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