Thursday, 10 February 2011

Barnet offers its youth nothing

As most readers will have noticed, Barnet council plans big cuts. They are going to 'save' £54.4 million over the next three years. Actually, if Future Shape/easyCouncil/One Barnet goes t*** up, they could end up having to 'save' even more. The cuts identified already could be just the start.
This is how they intend to achieve the savings:
  • One Barnet £12.1m
  • Efficiency projects £22.9m
  • Increased income £4.2m
  • Service reductions £15.2m
As you might imagine, 'efficiency projects' often turns out to be a cut in disguise, and One Barnet is all based on the idea of outsourcing service delivery to the private sector. This often ends in a cut in the quality of service, sometimes through cutting staff, sometimes through cutting corners, often through quibbling over the level of service that is to be provided. 'Increased income' means things like charging residents more to park in front of their own house, aka taking money from residents and giving them nothing in return, aka a cut.

Of the pure 'service reductions' planned, one of the most shocking to me is that for youth services. They plan to cut £1.46 million in 2011/12, £500,000 in 2012/13 and £960,000 in 2013/14. If they do what they plan, in three years' time there will be no youth service in Barnet. The details are in a paper going to the Cabinet meeting next Monday 14 February (yes, Valentine's Day).

Looking at the details of the consultation the council undertook around this proposal, it appears that Barnet's youth service is already very no-frills, but what is there is valuable and valued by the users.
There was widespread support for the work of youth support services. A number of young people highlighted the role that youth support services had played in increasing their confidence and the positive impact this had on their education, employment and social development. Respondents to the overall questionnaire and at consultation events expressed the view that all young people needed support, not just the vulnerable, and that young people from different backgrounds need to mix with peers in order to increase inclusion and understanding. Concerns were raised over who would be identified as vulnerable, as needs often weren’t identified until young people had accessed services, and whether those who didn’t qualify for support would become vulnerable without the support. Young people suggested that targeting specific groups of young people could lead to labelling and bullying.
Risks identified in making these cuts are:
The proposed reductions in youth services, which promote positive activities for young people including education, employment and training, may have an adverse impact on indicators such as school attendance, youth offending and youth unemployment, as well as the Corporate Plan educational attainment targets.
The language of the proposed cuts is highly euphemistic. We must be used now to the idea that every cut can be excused with the promise that Big Society will step in to close the gap in the social fabric. One of the most offensive things that Cameron and Co. are doing is belittling the work that armies of volunteers are already doing up and down the country.

Rhetoric about Big Society can't disguise the fact that in many areas of life, social need will only be met by the state. If Society were Big enough to provide youth services on Grahame Park, for example, don't you think it would be being done already? The simple fact is that in some places, not enough people do have the time or resources voluntarily to lay on activities for young people. That's why the council needs to.

Barnet council continue to talk about their 'youth offer'. The fact is, with their planned cuts to the youth service of £3 million, they intend at the end of three years to offer the youth of Barnet - nothing.

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