By Local Democracy Reporter Simon Finlay
Cuts to threatened youth services across Kent are to go ahead to save the cash-strapped county council around £900,000.
Despite a public backlash and fears of a rise in gang crime and mental health issues, the decision to proceed with the closure of established facilities was rubber-stamped this morning [November 30].
The cabinet at Kent County Council (KCC) decided to adopt a Government-led scheme to bring essential services under one umbrella called Family Hubs.
The new funding arrangement will see the end of KCC subsidies for youth clubs and activities currently commissioned by the council but run by outside organisations.
Today’s decision followed a two-month consultation carried out over the summer.
Earlier this year, Ramsgate’s Pie Factory Music’s CEO Zoë Carassik-Lord said: “We fail to see how the Family Hub proposal as it currently stands will satisfy KCC’s statutory duty to provide sufficient educational and recreational leisure-time activities for young people. After a decade of cuts to local youth services exceeding 70%, and at a time of increased need and demand for youth services, it is not reasonable to further cut such services.”
Young people and staff from Pie Factory Music held a protest in August against the proposed cuts which will mean a loss of 45% of Pie Factory’s income, hitting the services it provides in Thanet and Dover.
Some 100 young people use those services and clubs every week but if the income is lost it will be “the end of open access youth work,” said Pie CEO Zoë Carassik-Lord.
Funding cuts to commissioned youth services will also hit The Pavilion Youth & Community Café in Broadstairs and have a “life changing” impact on hundreds of young people and families, says manager Victoria Suchak.
The Pavilion hosts four youth sessions each week alongside family clubs, baby groups, mornings attended by grandparents and a range of events, trips and professional skills to help with mental health, sexual health, drug and alcohol abuse and work with children in care.
But Kent County Council proposals to withdraw funding for commissioned youth services by next March will see the loss of half The Pavilion’s income. The other half, provided by the Colyer-Fergusson Trust, ended this month.
Victoria said: “We get at least 20 children every day and have extended delivery from two to four sessions per week.
“The money from KCC, which has stayed the same over the seven years we have received it, pays for two of the sessions so it is vital.
“The money is really important to us as we employ professional youth workers but what they are saying is they expect it to be voluntary work.”
Cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Sue Chandler pictured) supported the new model saying it would bring £11m of “transformational funding” over three years.
KCC, faced with falling government funding and rising costs, must find tens of millions of pounds in savings this year and another projected £86m in 2024/25, according to the auditors Grant Thornton.
A comprehensive report, compiled by Lake Marketing, revealed how the potential loss of services would affect communities. Now youth groups are faced with having to find alternative funding arrangements if they are to continue.
The subsidies they currently receive will end in April 2024.
KCC currently has 12 in-house youth hubs while other providers run services including music, sports, youth clubs, arts and drama clubs, as well as street-based activities such as skateboarding.
Services currently offered by children’s centres, youth hubs, health visiting and midwifery care would be delivered and funded through the Family Hub.
These are: parent-infant relationships and mental health support for new parents; infant feeding support; parenting support; early language development and home learning; support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and safeguarding.
The KCC reports states: “KCC is committed to delivering the best outcomes through a hybrid of universal and targeted support for children, young people, and their families, delivering services identified through the Family Hub guidance. This will include a community-based universal offer to provide information and advice on child and adolescent development.”
Kent County Councillor for Ramsgate, Karen Constantine, said: “Yet again KCC is shortsighted and fails to listen and acknowledge the needs of residents and young people in particular. The Pie Factory is the only open access youth service in Ramsgate. They meet with 100 young people a week. They also undertake a limited amount of detached youth work.
“Once closed, the young people of Central Harbour and Newington (the wards which the youth centre currently serve) will have to travel to the Quarterdeck Youth Centre in Margate to access similar services. This is over 5 miles away and will take around 20 minutes by car or between 55 minutes – 1 hour 16 minutes by bus at a cost of £2.00 each way (according to current timetables and prices).
“This is likely to disproportionately affect children and young people who come from low-income families who may not have the luxury of their own personal vehicle or may not be able to afford to pay for public transport. For example, according to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, 20.1% of children in the ward of Central Harbour come from low-income families, this figure rises to 44.7% in the ward of Newington.”
Gravesham Councillor and leader of the Labour group at KCC Lauren Sullivan said: “The proposals as they stand will decimate existing youth provision at a time when young people are most in need of support.”
Earlier this month, Cllr Chandler said: “We are talking about not continuing some of our commissioned youth services, but we are definitely continuing to deliver in-house youth services. We’re changing how we do that through our family hubs.
“But the reason we’re looking at this kind of area is because as a council we have to make savings to next year’s budget.”