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Cuts to West Berks youth services among worst in UK

West Berkshire has endured some of the worst cuts to youth services in the country, a new investigation reveals.

According to local news website Berkshire Live, a new investigation has revealed that West Berkshire Council (WBC) has cut more from its budget than any other council willing to reveal the data.

The YMCA sent freedom of information requests to 152 local authorities in England, and the responses showed that WBC had cut more than any of the other 83 that responded.

In 2010, WBC allocated £2,853,000 to youth services. This year, they budgeted just £76,000 — a drop of 97 per cent.

Councillor Dominic Boeck, lead member for education, said “significant financial constraints” led the council to move to a “targeted provision“, instead of the previously free, district-wide provision.

He said most youth centres are now owned by the community or parish councils, with most still running.

He added that there continues to be council services for young offenders and those misusing substances, young carers and asylum-seeking children.

He said: “It is these vulnerable people who need our support the most.

Cllr Boeck was answering a public question from Caroline Ffrench Blake, at a meeting of the West Berkshire Council’s Executive Committee on 17th October about the level of budget cuts to youth services.

Ms Blake said: “I’m sure that’s right, that the most vulnerable do need the most support. But, it’s support across the board that is important.

As probably everybody knows here, there’s a seven per cent rise in knife crime across the country.

Do you think this support that is left for local people is sufficient across the board, not just for particular children in need?

According to the YMCA, English councils in 2010 spent on average £7.79 million on youth services. Of the 84 councils that responded to the freedom of information requests, the average planned spend was £2.45 million, a drop of 69 per cent.

Denise Hatton, Chief Executive of YMCA England & Wales, said: “Youth services offer a vital lifeline within local communities, providing young people with support, advice and a place to go when they need it most.

The year-on-year cuts to youth services are not without consequences, and we are already seeing the impact of these cuts in communities across the country.

The day-to-day impact of youth services often goes unnoticed by the public, but its benefits cannot be underestimated, according to YMCA.  YMCA would like the public to show their commitment by signing this petition and raising the issue of cuts to youth services with their local MP.

A spokesperson for West Berkshire Council told Kennet Radio, “Significant financial constraints have meant that the council has had to move towards a targeted provision of work based on Children’s Social Care service thresholds rather than the free access, district wide provision previously in place.  This means that most of the council’s youth centres have been transferred to community or parish ownership across the district, with the majority continuing to run youth and community provision by their own communities for their community. 

“The Waterside Centre, Newbury is the last of the buildings. Berkshire Youth have submitted plans to enable an extensive refurbishment.

 “The council continues to work with vulnerable young people through the Social Work Teams and the Targeted Intervention Service.  Where young people have particular needs – for example misusing substances they work with The Edge (a dedicated service for young people) or if they commit a crime they work with our Youth Offending Team.  The Local Authority provides support for Young Carers and has developed a partnership with YMCA for weekly activities. We have developed similar supports for young people who are Not in Education Training or Support (NEET) and also Asylum Seeking children.”