Youth services across the borough received a last-minute reprieve last week as Southwark Council “identified” an extra £1m to its proposed budget – although there have been accusations that the funding cut is still too extreme and that those affected are being left in the dark.
After passing through the amendment at the eleventh hour, which came about after the council amended the amount of money it expected to receive from business rates, the council declared that Southwark would not lose any of its youth or play sites – although the adventure playground in Burgess Park will be replaced with a new facility funded by a £2m capital investment.
Councillor Victoria Mills, Southwark Cabinet Member for Children and Schools, added that the council had managed to achieve 50% savings with only a 10% reduction in front line services – although employees at youth facilities will now be squeezed in order to increase productivity.
Councillor Victoria Mills said: “I’m proud that despite the huge budget cuts we have endured over several years, Southwark Council has managed to maintain an excellent offer for young people, with a healthy budget.
“By working closely with the voluntary sector to reshape services, rethinking the way we staff our facilities, and maximising our income from the regeneration taking place across the borough, we have made sure that Southwark’s young people will not lose any youth or play sites.”
However, users of some youth services told the News, as far as they were concerned, confusion still remained over each individual site.
Rebekah Bostan, who helped found the original playground at the Mint Street Adventure Playground, said there was still “a lot of uncertainty” over the situation.
She said: “Obviously we’re really grateful the council has decided against across the board cuts and to instead work with the service users. But until we are spoken to we don’t know where we stand. We may have three play workers or two play workers or one. We have a lot of uncertainty still. I would say its cautious optimism at this stage.”
Southwark Lib Dems also qualified their support for the draft proposal.
Councillor James Okosun, the group’s youth spokesperson, said: “Labour’s last-minute change of heart on youth service funding is a welcome step in the right direction. The fight against the cuts by young people, the voluntary sector and Liberal Democrats over the past few months has clearly hit home. Southwark Youth Council’s campaign has been amazing.
“But our youth services are still facing a 50% funding cut even under Labour’s new plans and this is far more than any other council service. This is not fair and that’s why the Liberal Democrats put forward proposals for a more modest 25% funding reduction over three years.”
He added that the cuts would lead to more teenage pregnancies, more sexually transmitted infections and more people becoming involved with gangs.
In response, Cllr Mills said: “While we have managed to put extra money back into youth services by finding efficiencies, the Lib Dems proposed raiding the council’s contingency fund, which is financially risky and incredibly irresponsible. We believe we have found a good compromise which delivers necessary savings while minimising the impact on services. It is disappointing that the Lib Dems voted to block this additional funding for young people.”
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