Essex: Youth services under threat as cuts bite

TEENAGERS, youth workers and councillors are demanding answers over youth service provision as savage county council cuts continue to bite.

Essex County Council is set to take an axe to its youth service 2012/13 budget, slashing it by �7million to �4.7m. Employment posts will be halved, from 440 to 212, with more than 170 full time staff, including youth workers, made redundant. Most other youth workers have been asked to re-apply for their jobs, the Reporter understands. In Saffron Walden, the impact is already shaping up to be a heavy one. Two key youth workers have been made redundant and fears are rife that the town’s youth club at Fairycroft will cease to operate beyond the academic year. Essex Youth Bus – which offers teenagers a place to hang out, take part in activities and get advice from qualified youth workers on issues such as sex, drugs, alcohol and bullying – no longer stops at Great Chesterford or Saffron Walden skatepark.

Outreach work provided by Saffron Walden Youth Outreach Project, a youth club held on Thursday nights at Golden Acre Community Centre, could also stop.

Chairman Mike Hibbs said: “It seems extraordinary that Essex should be making this kind of decision, when problems with young people are so much in the news. Most young people in Saffron Walden are well behaved, but they need somewhere to go, and some need more support.

“I do understand that Essex needs to make savings, but they could do more to support young people.

“Like other voluntary youth clubs we’ve relied on the county cuncil, and I have no idea how they will provide this support. Our partnership with Essex, whereby we provided outreach work in the community, will probably have to stop unless we can identify additional funding.”

Mr Hibbs said he has tried to meet with a council representative to discuss the proposed cuts, but without success.

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“Despite working closely with my charity in the past, they have chosen not to try to contact me, and the staff with whom we had a good working relationship have been made redundant,” he added.

Essex is under pressure to make �330m of savings and the cuts to the youth service fall in line with its Transformation Programme - essentially it wants to strike up a Big Society ‘community development’ model with youth workers roles ‘working in partnership with the voluntary sector’.

Funds meanwhile, appear to be heading in the direction of the “most vulnerable young people” in the county, which is scant consolation for Uttlesford’s teenagers, who look like being left out on a limb.

Hannah Chisholme, 17, used the youth bus service in Great Chesterford before it was axed. She said; “Many children and teenagers are losing vital information and advice from key youth workers. I feel without these services young people will become bored and, without positive role models, crime may increase.

“The service gave us someone else to talk to about problems, rather than parents or teachers.”

Cllr Robert Chambers, county councillor for Saffron Walden, said the proposed cuts are a real cause for concern.

“Saffron Walden is fairly affluent area but doesn’t mean we can cut young people off,” he said. “I am trying to find out what we can do for the young people, apart from what we are already doing.”

Cllr Chambers is welcoming ideas from the community over youth projects in the area which might need funding. He can be reached on 01763 838754.

Meanwhile, Essex’s Children and Young People Committee was due to meet today to rubberstamp the proposals. The council did not wish to comment until the meeting had taken place.