Parents, children, staff and councillors are all to be asked their views on the future of Durham County Council’s youth service.
Across the county the council funds a range of activities, groups and youth centres – but where that support goes has been based on historic agreements and not where it could have the most benefit.
Now, following a review of the service, a consultation is to be launched on proposals that would see money and resources targeted towards those young people who need it most, stronger links with the voluntary and community sectors, and youth centres transferred into the hands of local people.
Councillor Ossie Johnson, the council’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services said: “At a time of continuing financial pressures, with £124m in savings to be found across the council by 2020 on top of the £153m we have already found, it is more important than ever that we make every penny count.
“I believe these proposals to develop a targeted approach, which aims to ensure we reach those who are most in need, are long overdue.
“I hope as many people as possible will take part in this consultation and help us to modernise the service and make it fit for the 21st Century.”
Overall it is hoped the proposals would lead to improved school attendance and grades, and fewer exclusions; fewer young people not in education, employment, or training (NEET); fewer referrals to children’s services; and fewer teenage pregnancies.
Councillor Lucy Hovvels, cabinet member for adult and health services said: “I believe the proposed new way of providing these services would be the right thing to do.
“An awful lot of time and energy has been put into these proposals because people recognise how important it is to keep providing for young people, who are our future.
“Hopefully when this process is all finished it will be better for the people we represent.”
The council’s Cabinet discussed the review at its meeting on Wednesday January 13 2016, and agreed to conduct a public consultation on the plans, which will run from 1 February to 27 April 2016.
Following feedback from that consultation, final proposals will then be developed and presented to cabinet in autumn 2016.
Carole Payne, Durham County Council’s head of children’s services, said: “Across County Durham there are nearly 18,000 children living in areas that are among the most deprived in the country.
“Yet currently, despite prioritising and protecting youth services for as long as possible, the service is in regular contact with only 7 per cent of all young people and 9 per cent of those in the most deprived areas.
“Other authorities in the North East have cut their budgets for youth services, in some cases by over 70 per cent, while Durham has reduced its funding by less than one fifth.
“However, with continued budget pressures we face some difficult decisions and it is important that we ensure every penny we spend has the greatest benefit.
“With this in mind a review of youth services has been carried out and a series of proposals have been drafted that would see a new approach introduced to identify and help the young people and families who would gain the most from our support.
“No decisions have yet been made. The results of the review will be presented to the council’s cabinet on January 13 and, subject to approval, the recommendations it contains would be put out for a full 12 week public consultation beginning in February.”
In County Durham there are 17,987 13 to 19-year-olds living in households in areas that are among the top 30 per cent most deprived in the country.
There are also 7,670 children from homes whose income is at least 60 per cent below the national average.
Only 9 per cent of young people from the least well off areas have regular contact with the council’s youth service.
It is believed that – despite the council having to find £1m of savings from its £8.67m One Point budget – the service can have a bigger impact by redistributing funding across the service’s 10 areas, and targeting services to young people who need them most.
The consultation is also looking at the funding given to more than 50 youth projects through the Youth Work Support Grant.
Currently groups receive grants ranging from £430 to £27,768, but again this is based on what each organisation historically received and not on where needs are greatest.
In 2015/16 the budget for the Youth Work Support Grant is £194,684, but after meeting savings targets that will be reduced to £138,000. It is proposed to reassess where grants are made, and to transfer control of this funding to the council’s Area Action Partnerships, which are better placed to identify local priorities.
As well as this, discussions are already underway over the possibility of transferring youth centres in Fishburn, Newton Aycliffe, Peterlee, Seaham, Spennymoor and Stanley to community ownership through the Durham ASK programme.