Debate on youth service cuts hotting up in North Lincolnshire
THE council's controlling Conservative group says it is making changes to the way youth services are provided to increase the range of activities available to youngsters.
The move will see sessions commissioned by the authority from outside providers, some of which are voluntary groups.
But 74 people, representing 13 full-time equivalent posts at the council, are set to receive redundancy notices from tomorrow (Friday).
Critics of the scheme include opposition councillors, current council youth workers and users of some youth centres who do not want the existing provision to change.
The changes are due to take effect in April after the decision to implement them was made last month. But they will be debated by the full council on Tuesday, February 19, after an extraordinary meeting was called by the opposition Labour group.
Concerns raised by councillors include a perceived lack of consultation on the issue and whether the move is being made to cut costs. Other issues include whether the expertise of groups selected to run the activities matches that of council workers currently carrying out the role.
But the Conservative councillor who made the decision to proceed with the changes has hit back, saying he is responding to wishes of young people.
And although a saving of £150,000 is due to be made in management costs, the council insists it intends to plough more money into the overall youth services budget.
Opposition Councillor Steve Swift, Labour group secretary, said: "We have received a lot of representations from parents, from kids themselves and from employees who say they have not been fully consulted on it. We want to know why.
"If it is not a cost saving, then what are the advantages of externalising the services if none of these people want it?
"Another thing that seems to be coming out is there are conflicting stories around funding."
Councillor Len Foster, deputy leader of the Labour group, said changes should be made to youth service provision. But he said he believed more consultation should have been carried out on the issue, particularly with users of The Base centre in Scunthorpe.
The centre is currently open for 13 to 19-year-olds on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday afternoons.
It will instead open on four days per week under the new scheme, with the days to be decided after further consultation with young people.
Mr Foster also questioned whether groups from the voluntary sector could provide adequate activities.
He said: "Youth provision has got to change and has to get into the 21st century. I don't believe anything the voluntary sector is going to offer gives the majority of 21st century youths what they are looking for.
"The voluntary sector in rural areas looks upon youth provision totally differently to the public sector in urban areas."
The decision to make changes to the service was upheld at a special meeting of the council's people scrutiny panel last month.
It was attended by around 50 youth workers and youngsters who expressed their concerns.
But Conservative councillor Rob Waltham, cabinet member for people, said he believed the change would lead to a better service. He said: "We are increasing provision, we are increasing the budget and we are keeping open all youth centres. We are responding to what the young people have said about weekend provision and Friday nights.
"We are going from five youth centres in Scunthorpe to eight and we are asking young people what nights they want things to be on."
Mr Waltham said a consultation had been completed with 220 youth centre users and 2,000 school pupils.
He said communication had been made with unions and staff during the process. He said: "We always speak to the unions ahead of anything and for months it has been rumbling on that people have said our consultation was flawed.
"Compulsory redundancy is always a last resort and we are creating a number of new vacancies in the youth service and across the council, which a number of staff will be eligible to apply for.
"The new providers will potentially have vacancies in the localities. The groups we have selected have been selected because of their expertise in youth work and some of them have won nationally recognised awards."
These groups include the Diocese of Lincoln, the Crosby Employment Bureau and Barton-based Grasp The Nettle.
One of the major criticisms of the changes is an identified £150,000 saving in the council's budget. But Mr Waltham said this related only to costs associated with 3.5 full-time equivalent management posts lost as part of the changes.
And he said instead of saving money, he planned to increase the amount of cash spent on youth services overall by around £100,000, taking the total set aside for youth services to around £700,000.
He said: "What I am doing is responding to what the young people have told us.
"They said they wanted more weekend provision, more during the summer holidays and wanted the activities to be more varied and that is what we have done."
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