Tories accused of “prolonging the agony” over youth centres

Patchway Youth Centre, Coniston Road, Patchway, Bristol.

Labour councillors in South Gloucestershire have slammed the Conservatives for refusing to accept a decision that would have safeguarded core youth centre provision in large parts of urban South Gloucestershire.

At a meeting of the council’s Children & Young People Committee yesterday afternoon (25th July) the Conservatives pressed ahead with their plans to transfer all of the district’s youth centres to external organisations. Those centres that cannot find alternative providers and funding would face closure. This plan was first contained in proposals put out to consultation when South Gloucestershire Council’s was under Conservative control.

[Ed: The council has since changed to using a committee style of governance, rather than the previous executive system.]

However, an alternative proposal was supported by Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors at the meeting. This proposal safeguarded centre-based youth provision in the council’s six designated Priority Neighbourhoods and delegated funds for more local decisions on how best to support services in other areas. This proposal was successfully voted through, at which point the Conservative councillors invoked a procedure to refer the decision to Full Council for reconsideration at some unspecified date in the future.

Labour: “Tories are prolonging the agony”

Councillor Gareth Manson (Labour Woodstock), Labour’s Lead Member on Children and Young People said:

“The Conservatives seem hell-bent on hiving off all of the council’s youth centres. They tried to get this through today and lost the vote. Rather than accept the result, they are prolonging the agony, causing more delay and uncertainty for our youth centre users and those that work with them. They are alone in wanting this outcome as respondents to the council’s consultation, and now the committee itself, have rejected the idea.”

“The alternative way forward, which we supported, would have enabled local areas to determine how best to spend the funds allocated to them, whilst protecting our areas of greatest need by maintaining centre-based provision in South Gloucestershire’s Priority Neighbourhoods, which are those areas with our highest levels of multiple deprivation. The Conservatives’ proposal was unacceptable to us as it contained no safeguards for any particular centres. In fact it would have transferred them all out of council control. We will continue to fight against the wholesale outsourcing of our youth centres.”

Youth services face a bleak future because the Conservative-led government is cutting the money it gives to South Gloucestershire Council. The £4M budget for youth services this year will be reduced next year to around £3M – a 25% cut.

Chris Skidmore, the Conservative MP for Kingswood, had written to the committee urging it to protect one youth centre in his constituency but saying nothing to defend other centres in areas including Kingswood, Cadbury Heath or Oldland Common.

Councillor Manson noted:

“It is a bit rich for a Conservative MP to wade in when he supports the government that is forcing such hard decisions on us. Young people in Kingswood will doubtless feel let down by him singling out one centre for support whilst ignoring all the others.”

Labour’s Leader in South Gloucestershire, Councillor Andy Perkins (Labour, Woodstock), commented:

“As well as dragging things out, the Conservatives are being financially irresponsible because the council needs to organise these services from next year and this added delay will have cost implications. If we need to set up a special Council meeting now to take the decision, that will add a large administrative charge too.”

Liberal Democrats: “The worst result for everyone”

South Gloucestershire’s Liberal Democrats, whose leader Cllr Ruth Davis had tabled the alternative proposals, condemned the referral to Full Council as “the worst result for everyone”, pointing out that as no Council meeting is scheduled until October, an emergency meeting will have to be called instead.

Cllr Davies said:

“Now, the kids are caught in limbo as they can’t be sure what’s going to happen, we can’t make the necessary savings that are going to come from this until Council’s met, and now we have to call an emergency meeting, that would have huge budget implications. Besides which, the decision will almost certainly simply confirm what this committee has already decided. I can’t believe the Tories were so irresponsible and petty – we’ve gone to a new governance arrangement so that all members have a say, not simply the minority in the executive. But it’s only going to work if we all engage with it, and accept that if we don’t have a majority, we’re not going to win the vote. I’m appalled at their game-playing and stunts.”

Conservatives: “Dodgy Lib-Lab deal”

A Conservative press release put out today (Thursday 26th) described the outcome of the committee meeting as a “dodgy Lib-Lab deal”.

The decision, they say, will divert funding to centres in just six communities, whilst leaving all the remaining centres, including those in Thornbury, Hanham, Oldland, Little Stoke, Chipping Sodbury, Winterbourne and Wickwar, to compete over a ‘positive activities’ budget of just £227,700 – less than half of what Conservative councillors had proposed.

At the moment, the council allocates funding directly to youth centres, but these are not evenly spread across the district with many communities, particularly rural areas, lacking one entirely.

And even in communities where there is one, the latest figures for 2011/12 showed that of the 21,670 young people aged 13-19 in South Gloucestershire, just 4,431 regularly accessed a council youth centre.

Conservative councillor for Winterbourne John Godwin, who led the call for change during the committee debate, said:

“It’s incredibly disappointing that opposition councillors have resisted this opportunity to finally introduce fairness into the way the council allocates its youth resources thereby eliminating the divide that we have amongst young people in South Gloucestershire between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.”

“But we have another opportunity at the next meeting of all councillors to force a re-think and I would encourage residents to join our fight for fairness, particularly people from those areas that stand to lose the most from this dodgy Lib-Lab deal, such as Thornbury, Hanham, Oldland, Little Stoke, Chipping Sodbury, Winterbourne and Wickwar.”

The date of the Full Council meeting where a final decision will be taken will be announced in due course.

Footnote 1: The six Priority Neighbourhoods are Cadbury Heath, Filton, Kingswood, Patchway, Staple Hill and Yate/Dodington.

Footnote 2: This is not the first time that the new ‘referral to Full Council’ procedure has been invoked since the council changed to a committee style of governance at the end of May. Earlier this month, a decision taken at the June meeting of the council’s Planning Transport & Strategic Environment (PTSE) Committee was referred to the July meeting of Full Council by the committee’s Labour Lead. In that instance, the Council’s full membership voted to confirm the PTSE Committee’s decision, which related to a public petition to keep Patchway’s Highwood Road open to general traffic.

Photo: Patchway Youth Centre (one of the centres under threat of closure, should an alternative provider not come forward).

Source: Press releases from the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative Groups on South Gloucestershire Council

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