There were 6 public speakers, 4 of whom spoke for Youth Services including Richard Capps, Secretary of Weston and North Somerset Trades Union Council, Monica Stanley from UNITE, and Helen Thornton from UNISON.
The council had one of the longest debates ever in a budget meeting, but despite an amendment put forward by Green, Labour, and Liberal Democrat councillors to save Youth Services, the massive Conservative majority voted against the amendment and by doing so have completely removed the professional youth service from North Somerset as of 1st April 2012. When the vote was taken it was a named vote so residents of North Somerset will know which of their councillors voted to remove youth services. The vote was 39 Conservative councillors voted for cuts to youth services, and 15 Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors voted for the amendment to save youth services. We will publish the results of the vote as soon as we have them.
Opposition councillors accused the Tories of not caring about young people. They also accused them of not listening to young people, especially as this was the 3rd protest by young people at a council meeting, and Mike Bell presented UNITE's petition with 3261 signatures against the closure of youth services.
Councillor Tom Leimdorfer proposed the amendment and also called for a named vote. He described the ruling group as shedding crocodile tears when they claimed they didn't want to make these cuts but had to. Although agreeing they are a low funded council they have made the situation worse by their below inflation council tax increases since 2007, leaving them £8 million a year worse off than the average for councils in the south west. He said that the few youth support worker posts that remain will effectively become social workers, and will be replacing the social work posts lost through the reorganisation of Children's and Young People's Services. He also questioned the amount of reserves and noted these had risen since last year. He said that voting for the amendment to save youth services would show the people of North Somerset that the council are listening to them, and that it's totally affordable.
Councillor Mike Bell said that the 71% cut to youth services was a much greater cut than other services were taking across the council. Because nothing was in place from April there would be no youth services from then until September, by which time the commissioning groups should have got themselves together and provided a burst of activity from September to March 2013, and then the money dries up and there'll be nothing.
Councillor Donald Davies argued to save youth services and accused the ruling group of lack of interest in young people and described the process as a shambles. He noted that the budget scraps youth services and instead hopes that groups will come forward to provide activities for young people - but there's nothing in place. He also accused the ruling group of not bothering to talk to young people, despite the fact that they've come to council meetings and told the council what they want. He concluded with the quote of the night that young people will soon be wiping councillors arses when they're old and need looking after.
Council leader Nigel Ashton said they would review the situation in 6 months, and promised an additional £250,000 from the corporate transition fund for the transfer of youth services to parish councils and other voluntary groups, but this won't be enough and the services quite simply will not be sustainable.
Here's a link to the BBC local news coverage (12 minutes, 31 seconds in): http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01cbms7/BBC_Points_West_21_02_2012/
Here's the link to the ITV local news coverage: http://www.itv.com/westcountry-east/
Here's some pictures from the protest
Here's my speech:
We have sent you three documents, which form UNISON’s submission for this year’s budget - I hope you’ve had a chance to read them. I’m going to briefly talk about a few things, which we think you need to consider this evening before you set the council tax and approve the budget.
First, we are asking you to reject the council tax freeze grant, because accepting it will result in a £2.3 million hole in your budget for next year and subsequent years, and will also result in either deeper cuts, or higher council tax increases in future. If you choose this option you will not be alone - at the latest count 31 councils have rejected the freeze grant, including 13 Conservative administrations that are raising council tax between 2.46% and 3.5%. You will also be aware that the Fire Service have rejected the freeze grant, and increased their precept by 3.95%, and parish and town councils have increased their precepts by an average of 7.83% in order to keep up with costs.
Second, we ask you to consider whether the £11 million you have put aside in your reserves, contingency and transition funding is strictly necessary at a time when you are making such deep cuts. You might want to ask how often you’ve had to call on these funds in the past – for instance at the end of the current financial year there is £600,000 of unused contingency funding, which is going into reserves.
Third, we ask you to think about the economic impact of the cuts you are making. 280 full-time job losses across the council equates to about 400 people, and a quarter of the council’s workforce. Economists have also estimated that for every 100 jobs lost in the public sector, the knock-on effect will be 41 jobs lost in the private sector. It is then worth noting that over the last year North Somerset has seen greater increases in unemployment than the average for both the West of England and the country. We are currently seeing the highest levels of female unemployment since 1987 – this is a direct result of public sector cuts as two thirds of the public sector workforce, including the council’s own workforce, are women. There has also been an increase of over a third in levels of youth unemployment – there are now almost 1000 young people claiming jobseekers allowance in North Somerset.
Finally, we have provided you with our own assessment of the equalities impact of the cuts across the council. These show particularly high impacts for older people, disabled people, young people and women. I want to mention one example of this, which is the high impact for young people of your proposal to completely remove the professional youth service in North Somerset. The actions you propose to mitigate this high impact involve other organisations providing positive activities for young people, and you have set aside a small pot of money, which groups can apply to, to fund these activities. But it is our view that because this money is only for one year that these new look youth services will not be sustainable. It is also our view that before you approve the cut to youth services, you need to see an update on which organisations are going to take on which elements of the youth service from 1st April 2012. This will enable you to assess whether or not cutting youth services means you are actively discriminating against particular groups of young people.
If you are not completely sure that adequate alternative provision has been made, then you cannot be sure that you are meeting your equalities duties and therefore you must abandon this proposal, or at least put it on hold in order to allow more time for the transfer of youth services to other organisations. This is what Somerset County Council have done and Opposition councillors here have put forward an amendment, which also has this aim. We urge you to seriously consider this in order to ensure you meet your equalities duties.
We hope that councillors have had time to read all of the full equality impact assessments. You now need to consider whether your budget proposals include enough concrete actions to mitigate the impact of the cuts, or whether the proposals contain such serious equalities impacts that the legal duties imposed on you mean you cannot implement these cuts. You may as a result have to consider using some of your reserves and contingency or refuse the council tax freeze grant, in order to lessen the impact. We firmly believe that if you go ahead and implement many of the proposals in the medium term financial plan then the best case scenario is that people will take legal action against the council, while the worst case scenario is that people will die.