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Youth centres for the axe, despite public outcry

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: March 12, 2014

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YOUTH clubs in Burton, Barton under Needwood and Winshill could be closed under plans by Staffordshire County Council to ‘achieve excellence for young people’.

The three authority-run buildings are among 34 in the county which may be shut under recommendations to modernise youth services in the county – while saving around £102 million for the squeezed authority.

Community and voluntary services, such as the Scouts, drama groups and other youth organisations, are expected to step in to fill the gaps which could be left by the youth clubs.

The authority says the vast majority of young people in the county are not using the youth services on offer, yet a consultation showed that respondents of all ages wanted to see the sites and services remain. A 16,000-signature petition also supported retaining the services.

But these dissenting voices seemingly fell on deaf ears.

Councillor Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council, said: “While we understand feelings are running high, it is important to remember that three-quarters of young people no longer use these council-run centres.

“In a sense, this vast majority have spoken too, by their very absence. They have made it clear that what we have isn’t appealing to enough young people and that we need to change.

“In the past, the traditional youth centre was probably the only option, and they and the staff who run them undoubtedly served us well, but there is so much more choice of activities available today, and, for this reason, it is difficult to justify running a £8.7 million service which caters for only a quarter of young people.”

The authority says it is looking to support more ‘tailored and flexible services in the community’,

While there are no immediate plans to shut the centres, the authority said it is moving away from council-run buildings, and will ‘assess usage’ as it reviews services on a district-by-district basis.

Off all the districts in the county, East Staffordshire has the largest amount of young people using youth services, but that does not mean the centres here are safe.

Councillor Sutton told the Mail: “We will look to see what is available in East Staffordshire and any gaps in what is available from community and voluntary organisations as we move away from provision by the county council.

“The needs in East Staffordshire are very different to the needs in other areas, and there should be an element of local control over the services.”

Ian North, chairman of Winshill Parish Council, spoke recently of the value of the Berry Hedge Lane centre there.

“It’s an extremely valuable service which deals with disengaged youths.

“Changing the service could have a knock on effect in the long term.”

But the needs of young people have changed, the county council said, and services now had to reflect that.

During the consultation, which has been running since January, concerns were expressed in East Staffordshire about the loss of counselling services for young people, as these are currently delivered by youth staff.

The current private and voluntary sector activities are often short term, respondents said, and a request was made for continuity in services provided by children.

Almost 3,250 individuals and organisations gave their views in the run up to the decision, and 65 per cent said they were against the proposal, which will also see a shift in focus to services for vulnerable young people.

Some people responding to the consultation said it was ‘unfair’ to focus on one group and let most of the 73,315 young people in the county miss out on services.

But that will not be the case, according to Councillor Sutton, who said the current services were not providing services which were important to young people today. Exams, jobs and money came out top.

He added the authority would support schemes which help people in these areas.

But Councillor Ron Clarke, who represents Burton for the county council issued a warning. “A lot of the services we offer are run by full-time staff although we do have volunteers who could take charge instead. However the problem is it means the current standards won’t necessarily be maintained. We can’t have it both ways.”

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