Concern over 'eye-watering' cuts to youth services in Northumberland

Northumberland County Council Northumberland County Council
Northumberland County Council
Labour in Northumberland has raised concerns about ‘eye-watering’ cuts to youth services over the past decade.

However, the county council has stated that there have been changes to the reporting of the figures in question, which means the decrease in spending is much smaller than it appears.

The deputy leader of the Conservative-led authority added that Northumberland ‘still invests heavily’ in youth services, ‘unlike many other councils’.

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Labour’s analysis of Department for Education figures highlighted that Northumberland County Council spent £6.7million on services for young people in 2010-11 – or £7.8million in today’s money.

Since then – when the Tories came to power nationally – this figure has reduced by 76% to £1.9million.

A county council spokeswoman highlighted that there was a change in the regulations for reporting these figures between 2012-13 and 2013-14, which saw a new learning and development section created, with £1.9million in Northumberland shifted to this new section.

In addition, spending on teenage pregnancy and substance misuse both became funded by public health, to the tune of £430,000, and a council decision resulted in another £680,000 not being accounted for in those figures any longer.

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Nonetheless, the budget still shows a reduction and Labour councillors across the county say there has been a rise in complaints around anti-social behaviour, with reports including vandalism, under-age drinking on the streets and drug-taking.

Coun Jeff Gobin, ward member for Sleekburn, said: “The Tories have created the perfect conditions for an increase in anti-social behaviour. They’ve cut youth services to the bone, slashed police budgets locally and continue to take money from school budgets.

“Young people run the risk of being denied a bright future in Northumberland. The Tory administration needs to act now and ring-fence funding for youth services before the situation becomes any worse.”

But Coun Wayne Daley, the council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for children’s services, said: “There has not been a reduction in spending on youth services in the magnitude of that purported by the Labour group. In fact, unlike many other councils, some who have stopped providing youth services, Northumberland still invests heavily.

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“In 2013-14, there was a change in the way that budgets were reported in these Government tables and £3.1million was moved from that column heading, but was still spent on services for young people in Northumberland.

“The way we provide youth services has changed over time and two years ago we carried out a full review.

“We wanted to ensure that we are delivering services where they are most needed and changed the way we provide the youth service so that support is targeted to the most vulnerable young people in Northumberland.

“We are completely committed to making sure that appropriate services are available to young people and also support and work alongside the voluntary and community sectors.

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“This helps to ensure that local services are sustainable in the longer term, allowing our teams to move on to other priority areas.

“I have an open-door policy and the Labour Group is always welcome to come in so I can explain to them how council budgets work.”

National funding boost

Last month, the Government announced that youth projects across the country will receive a share of a £7million pot of funding, which it billed as part of its commitment to level up opportunities for young people.

The Youth Accelerator Fund has been set up ‘to address urgent needs in the youth sector’ and expand existing projects run by the likes of Sport England and Arts Council England.

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Coun Gerald Vernon-Jackson, chairman of the Local Government Association’s culture, tourism and sport board, said: “This funding will provide a helpful boost to youth projects across the country, which can be invaluable in supporting and building trusted relationships with young people during difficult times.

“Councils are doing everything they can to protect youth services, but funding pressures and rising demand for other services means they have had to reduce spending on youth services by more than half since 2010.

“Councils are best placed to coordinate local youth services, working in partnership with other local authorities, stakeholders such as schools, communities and the voluntary sector.

“We want to continue to work with government to ensure the Spending Review provides sustainable, long-term funding to help councils develop the programmes which improve lives and local youth services.”