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Secret document spells out devastating cost of axing Norfolk youth service

Axing Norfolk’s youth service could force more young people to drop out of education and employment, and lead to a host of social problems, including increased youth crime and teenage pregnancy, according to a secret briefing note.

The potentially devastating consequences of the proposal, which could come into force from April next year, are spelt out in a document that has been acquired by the EDP.

The impact assessment has been written by a children’s services officer at Norfolk County Council to inform cabinet member Alison Thomas of what could happen if the idea is agreed next month.

Axing the service, which would save more than £4m per year, is among scores of proposals set out in the council’s Big Conversation, which seeks to find ways to save at least £155m as government cost cutting bites.

This year the service, which has been running for decades, has delivered 300 projects that have impacted 15,000 Norfolk 11-19-year-olds and involved them in more than 22,500 hours of activities.

The impact assessment highlights the potential fallout from axing the service, including:

● A big reduction in the number of “safe” places for young people to go

● Higher levels of crime and antisocial behaviour in Norfolk’s towns and villages

● More young people who are not in education, employment or training (Neet)

● Increased mental health problems among young people

● The closure of some voluntary youth groups, which rely on support and funding from the county service

● Increased pregnancy among teenagers

● More children going into care.

The report says: “For so many young people positive youth work experiences are a turning point in their lives, setting them on a path to success and helping them make informed choices.”

Paul Morse, leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats at County Hall, said: “I’m appalled the Tories can even think about wiping out the youth service.

“The Tories have just not thought this through. I’m not sure they even realise what the youth service does; half its resources are targeted at vulnerable young people - the unemployed, the socially excluded, young offenders, looked after children, young carers and parents - helping to turn their lives around.”

He added that it was “naive” for the ruling group to think the voluntary sector could fill the gaps, saying the two could not function without each other.

The report adds that 95 voluntary groups currently use space in the 11 youth work buildings across Norfolk. In the last year, there were 4,000 bookings for events and group meetings accessed by 50,000 people.

The report says: “They will no longer be able to use these venues when the funding ceases. This will impinge upon a wide range of organisations from Young Farmers to playgroups. Two-thirds of user groups cater for vulnerable groups.”

Alongside the proposal to end funding for the youth service is a plan to stop paying for “discretionary activity programmes”, including the Duke of Edinburgh awards.

The council is currently a licence holder for all of the county’s D of E scheme activities. Without the youth service, the cost and administration of the licences would pass to individual schools and groups.

There is also a warning that taking away the support provided by the youth service would lead to the work of hundreds of volunteers, who provide 15,000 hours of help each year, being lost.

Mrs Thomas said: “We have to radically change the way we work and the services we deliver if we are to address the £155m gap in finances we are facing.

“This means looking at how we can reshape services and scale back the volume of what we do, becoming a smaller council and looking to communities to take on more responsibilities.

“We currently spend more than £4m on providing youth services, an area which is discretionary. A huge amount of youth work is also successfully delivered by the community sector and we commission voluntary agencies to carry out much of the county’s positive activities work for young people.

“In order to make decisions about the county’s future, we need to know what services the public value most and how they think these services should be provided. We want people to give us their views on any of these proposals, via the Big Conversation, to help us determine our priorities for the years ahead.”

● What do you think? Do you or your children rely on the support provided by the youth service? Call Steve Downes on 01263 513920 or email steve.downes@archant.co.uk.


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