Wiltshire youth services 'at risk of disappearing'

By Laura McCardle

| 30 January 2014

Local authority youth services in Wiltshire could disappear altogether if the council approves plans for community-led provision, a union has warned.

Unite fears Wiltshire Council's plans to review its youth services will see provision disappear. Image: vInspired

Wiltshire Council wants to cut its youth service budget by £500,000 - part of council-wide plans to save £120m over the next four years - by restructuring its youth work provision.

It is considering four options – outsourcing the service, encouraging staff to develop an employee-led mutual, retaining the current service but significantly reducing its budget, and developing a community-led approach.

But the Unite union, which represents the majority of Wiltshire’s youth workers, fears the county’s 24 youth centres will disappear completely, making 144 youth workers redundant, if the council decides to go for the community-led provision option.

Alan Tomala, Unite’s regional officer, said: “We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do.

“The council would prefer the community-led model option which will see professionally qualified youth workers removed and replaced by a small grants budget in each area across Wiltshire.

“Community groups can then apply to provide ‘positive activities’ for young people.”

The council says changes are also required to better meet the needs of young people, after research showed that just eight per cent of 13- to 19-year-olds living in Wiltshire currently use its services.

A spokesman said: "A report, which considered current open access youth services and activities, was reviewed by council leaders on Tuesday.

"The report included options for ensuring sustainable provision which reflects the modern lives and needs of young people while encouraging more of them to access activities within their local communities.
 
"Currently, a small percentage of Wiltshire's young people access council youth services, while many are actively engaged in community, voluntary and commercially-provided activities.

"We must focus on what young people in local communities need and want in the future, while retaining the support and provision for those who need it most."

The council will launch a consultation of youth service staff on Friday before seeking the views of young service users in the coming weeks.

A final report containing feedback from the consultations and a set of proposals will be considered by the cabinet in April.

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