Youth clubs under threat in Shropshire Council's 'reorganisation' of youth services
Youth clubs could be forced to close in a planned ‘reorganisation’ of Shropshire's youth services.
Shropshire Council wants to pull its funding from youth clubs in April 2020 and will instead pay for six outreach workers to cover the whole county.
The council says the changes do not represent cuts to youth provision, as it plans to spend the same amount of money on the new model, which is designed to deliver targeted support to young people in the most need.
But it means the burden for funding and running young people’s groups across the county will fall to town councils – but only if they are willing to take them on.
Councillor Tracey Huffer, who represents Ludlow East and is chair of Ludlow Youth Partnership, said it was the latest battle in a five-year wrangle over the town’s youth services that had seen the budget “slaughtered” by Shropshire Council.
Shropshire Council commandeered half of the Youth Centre building for office space in 2014, stopped funding the senior youth club for over-14s, and continues to charge £2,000 a year in rent to the fledgling Ludlow Young Health mental wellbeing drop-in which launched in the town last year.
Councillor Huffer said: “Since 2014, we have struggled. We no longer have the space and privacy in the Youth Centre we need for projects like Ludlow Young Health.
“Our budgets have been cut. From next April, we will be almost entirely on our own. The only service Shropshire Council is expecting to provide is outreach – contacting young people on the streets.
“We already fund Ludlow Young Health locally. We will have to fund the junior youth club locally. We will probably have to pay for the Youth Centre.”
Town councils have voiced their anger in their individual responses to the consultation.
Church Stretton Town Council said: “The net effect of these proposals will be to increase the financial and organisational burden on town councils.”
“It is, therefore, essential that Shropshire Council provides financial and organisational support to Town Councils in taking on this additional role and that the resultant financial burden is equitably shared between all town and parish councils, however mediated by Shropshire Council.”
Wem Town Council’s response said: “If Shropshire Council stops providing funding to the youth club to fund the proposed new model, then it is the town council’s opinion this would most probably cause Wem youth club to close.
“It is anticipated that there will also be an increased burden placed on the local police team and the town council if young people have no safe space to access in the town they will be more likely to engage in anti-social behaviour.”
The proposals will go before Shropshire Council’s cabinet later this month.
Oswestry Town Council has taken youth provision into its own hands and ring-fenced £35,000 for a new service it plans to launch next year.
Councillors voted to ring-fence the money to fund the new project, spearheaded by Councillor Jay Moore, at a meeting of its finance committee on Monday evening.
Councillor Moore, who used to run Fusion Arts Oswestry, made it his mission to secure and protect youth provision in the town after witnessing the impact of service cuts first-hand.
He said: “The council has finally voted through an inclusion in our annual budget for youth provision.
“It is the reason I wanted to get elected to the town council two years ago.
“It has taken two years of trying different things to finally lock in on a provision that’s going to be sustainable.
“The only way to remove it from the budget would be for the town council to vote to take it away, and I don’t think any town council would do that.”
The money will fund open access groups, and it is hoped there will be some left over to bolster the outreach work which will be delivered by Shropshire Council under its new model for youth services.
“I am very pleased. I would like to see it up and running as soon as possible," added Councillor Moore.
“Every day wasted is another day we have got young people out being vulnerable and able to be exploited for things like county lines.”
There will be no increase to the precept to fund the new service, as the money has been found through savings in other areas of the town council’s budget.
The town council will now ask Shropshire Council for use of The Centre for free to ensure all the money goes directly to supporting young people.
It was constructed thanks to the lottery’s My Place initiative, but Councillor Moore said it is under-used and “the doors are closed 90 per cent of the time”.
“We partly own the land The Centre is on and lease it to Shropshire Council at a peppercorn rate," he said.
“So we either see a social capital return in the form of free rent, or we look to increase the land rental rates to cover it.”