Council agrees to continue funding youth centres in Priority Neighbourhoods

Patchway Youth Centre, Coniston Road, Patchway, Bristol.

A Special Meeting of South Gloucestershire Council (SGC) last night confirmed a decision made by its Children and Young People Committee on 25th July that will see centre-based youth provision safeguarded in the authority’s six Priority Neighbourhoods (Cadbury Heath, Filton, Kingswood, Patchway, Staple Hill and Yate/Dodington).

The committee had also agreed that a pot of £227,000 be made available to contribute to ‘positive activities’ for young people in other parts of the district.

A lengthy three-and-a-half hour debate heard Conservative members argue for all the available funding to be distributed evenly across the district rather than being focused on mainly urban areas.

But the Liberal Democrats moved an amendment, backed by Labour, to keep youth centres in the six priority areas and make an increased amount of £427,000 available for other areas to bid for (the extra £200,000 being transferred from the separate budget for ‘targeted’ youth provision).

The Conservatives moved an amendment to increase the subsidy to £527,000, which was defeated.

The council eventually agreed that the sum available to the non-priority areas should be £437,700.

SGC currently runs 13 youth centres and a further six are run by voluntary organisations.

Local authority owned youth centres that will need to seek alternative premises management from 2013/2014 are located in Fromeside, Little Stoke, Hanham, Oldland and Wickwar. If organisations aren’t found to take over these centres, they are likely to be “decommissioned” by the council.

The youth centres in Thornbury, Chipping Sodbury and Almondsbury already operate in premises owned by another body.

Funding for the Armadillo youth café and centre in Yate is governed by a separate arrangement between SGC and Yate Town Council, although SGC says it wants to limit its contribution to £99,000 for 2013/14 and make the project “self-financing” in the near future.

Photo: Patchway Youth Centre – one the centres that will continue to be run by SGC (©Patchway Journal).

Liberal Democrat press release: “Youth services protected”

South Gloucestershire Council has voted to guarantee the continued provision of youth services in some of the most deprived areas, and defeated Tory efforts to slash funding to young carers.

Liberal Democrats proposed that 1 youth centre be provided as a council service in each of the council’s six Priority Neighbourhoods, and also to provide £437,700 for youth services in other areas across the council.

The issue was discussed by the Council’s Children and Young People Committee on 25th July, but the Conservative members then referred it to a meeting of full Council.

Speaking to support the Liberal Democrat proposal, Cllr Pat Hockey said:

“Of course we have vulnerable people in all communities, so we must keep all the youth centres open – hopefully the councillors here go back to parishes and communities and say ‘come on, get up, let’s keep these clubs open’.”

Speaking afterwards, Cllr Ian Blair said:

“Under the Conservative proposals, no youth centre in South Gloucestershire would have been guaranteed to continue. We’ve safeguarded centres in the most deprived areas, and have made funds available to communities across the district to decide what works for their communities, what their young people want.”

After the Liberal Democrat motion had been passed by Council, the Conservatives tried to amend it further, to move £100,000 away from support for vulnerable young people including young carers, and towards Conservative wards. Cllr Ruth Davis, leader of the Lib Dem group was appalled, saying:

“This is playing politics with young people’s expectations, and the council’s very limited resources.”

Labour press release: “Tories fail in bid to hive off all youth centres”

Councillors in South Gloucestershire have voted to uphold a decision to safeguard youth centre provision in large parts of the area despite attempts by Conservative councillors to outsource all of the council’s youth centres or allow them to close.

Back in July councillors on the Children & Young People’s Committee agreed to safeguard core provision of youth centres by guaranteeing funds for one in each of the council’s six Priority Neighbourhoods, with the remaining reduced funds allocated across the district. Conservative members opposed this and invoked a procedure to block the decision until it could be discussed by the Full Council; this has caused a seven week delay as the decision could not be reconsidered until last night.

Labour’s Lead Member on Children & Young People, Councillor Gareth Manson (Lab, Woodstock) commented:

“I am disappointed that the Conservatives did not accept the original decision. Changes are being made to services for Children and Young People because of savage central government cuts. Labour’s response to this is to defend as much as we can in house. The Conservatives’ response is to withdraw from providing services directly and hive off all of our youth centres to external organisations. Those that cannot find a viable provider would face closure.”

Councillor Manson added:

“Most young people who took part in the council’s consultation said that they wanted services they could trust and run by the council or existing providers. I believe that people support the principle that resources should be focused where they are most needed. I am sure South Gloucestershire residents will be bitterly disappointed that the Conservatives abandoned this principle and turned their back on those urban areas of South Gloucestershire that will have safeguarded services.”

At last night’s meeting Labour and Lib Dem councillors voted to support the original decision and further agreed to move £200,000 from the budget for specific targeted youth services into the general youth service pot to be allocated across the district.

Conservative councillors attempted to move even more money out of this targeted service budget. Labour and Lib Dem councillors prevented this move which would have affected teams dealing with drugs & alcohol misuse, anti-social behaviour and criminal activity, and tackling teenage pregnancy.

Councillor Manson concluded:

“The Conservatives’ have been hell-bent on hiving off council youth centres and have tried every procedural trick in the book to get their way but they have been thwarted. I fear this is just the start of a pattern of offloading council services without knowing or caring if they can survive or meet users’ needs.”

Conservative press release: “Youth funding meeting ‘farce’”

A new generation of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ will be created in South Gloucestershire, Conservative councillors have warned, following a “farcical” council meeting yesterday evening (Monday 10th September).

Labour and LibDem councillors united to channel council youth funding to just six communities, leaving all the remaining centres to compete for the money that’s left over, including centres in Thornbury, Hanham, Oldland, Little Stoke, Chipping Sodbury, Winterbourne and Wickwar.

Although opposition councillors performed a partial u-turn by increasing the ‘positive activities’ fund that centres and clubs could bid into from their original £227k figure, they refused to increase it to the £520k that Conservative councillors had proposed in order to provide a more level playing field for every youngster across the district.

The 3.5 hour meeting had to be adjourned several times in order to understand the authority’s complex new constitution that accompanied the change to the bureaucratic committee system in May.

Speaking after the meeting, Bradley Stoke Conservative Councillor Rob Jones said:

“Although the LibDems and Labour backed down from their original position of setting aside just £227,000 for positive activities, they refused to increase it to the £520,000 proposed by Conservatives, which would have benefited many more youngsters.”

“Concentrating funding in just a handful of communities to the detriment of others simply isn’t fair and is a slap in the face to council tax payers who pay into the system.”

“As this farcical meeting showed, Labour and LibDem councillors seem hell-bent on creating a new generation of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ – that’s simply unacceptable.”

“As many of the young people who spoke at the meeting said; areas that are not classed as priority areas at the moment will quickly become priority areas if they lose funding for positive activities, whether that’s provided through a youth centre or through other means.”

Cllr Keith Cranney, Conservative councillor for Stoke Gifford ward, who presented a 650-name petition in defence of Little Stoke youth centre, said:

“Despite the community’s best efforts, including gathering a petition, last night’s council meeting seems to have stacked the odds against Little Stoke youth centre remaining open.”

“But we will keep exploring ways to ensure that local youngsters continue to have access to the positive activities that they need and deserve.”

Hanham Conservative Councillor John Goddard said:

 “Although Hanham is not one of the council’s six areas of highest deprivation, many local youngsters are, in fact, vulnerable or at risk of becoming vulnerable.”

“Yet our centre will have to fight it out with other unlucky centres, including nearby Oldland youth centre, for the much smaller fund that Labour and LibDems reluctantly created.”

Conservative councillor for Winterbourne John Godwin, added:

“It’s incredibly disappointing that yet again opposition councillors resisted an opportunity to finally introduce fairness into the way the council allocates its youth resources.”

Media reports

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

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