‘Short-sighted’ funding cuts to youth services which will save the county council over £900,000 have been met with opposition across Kent.
The new funding arrangement will see the end of Kent County Council (KCC) subsidies for youth clubs and activities currently commissioned by the council but run by outside organisations.
KCC’s cabinet has now adopted a government-led scheme to bring services under one umbrella called family hubs.
In Sittingbourne and on the Isle of Sheppey this new model will see nine different provisions run by the Swale Youth Consortium (SYC) have their funding cut, which they say will leave 2,000 children in the area with “nowhere to go”.
Chief executive of The Brogdale CIC Group Rebecca O'Neill whose organisation runs youth groups as part of the SYC has called the move “short-sighted”.
She said: “Taking away youth workers who prevent issues means that services will be left to mop up problems that occur which will cost more.
“Stopping one service means another service will need to take up the work and this will cost vastly more in time and money.
“This means more policing, more mental health services, more community safety measures, more schools workers.
“It is not just sad but short-sighted of KCC to decide to stop the youth provision across the county.
“What will happen to 2,000 young people who we work with, the clubs that we run, the families and communities this affects?”
The group is still working out how they can continue to deliver services when the subsidies they currently receive end in April next year.
Cllr Richard Palmer, who chairs Swale council’s community committee, said the cuts will see “ communities and police picking up the pieces”.
He added: “The cuts are very short-sighted from KCC and it will be the town and parish councils who will be paying for the savings that KCC will make in the short term.”
In Gravesend Jasmine Manning, who uses youth services offered by Gifted Young Generation(GYG), fears she won’t have access to youth workers when she is in need.
The group works with young people across north west Kent.
The 16-year-old, from Swanscombe, added: “My fear is if GYG is shut down as I am homeschooled I won't be able to go to people when I am in need and that I won’t have as many friends.
“I am scared I will lose these people and the experiences I have been given, like setting up our own podcast, TV interviews and singing classes. It terrifies me.
“Some of my friends at GYG have been coming since they were 12 and now they’re 18 so they have spent a big chunk of their lives here, so it’s like their losing their family which is what they rely on.
“We were all very passionate. We have gone to protest, sent email after email, and posted on social media to see if people can help us because this is our family.”
Jasmine believes the family hubs “won’t work” as young people won’t be able to talk to the youth workers there as they “don’t know them on a personal level”.
Cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Sue Chandler supported the new model saying it would bring £11 million of “transformational funding” over three years.
KCC, faced with falling government funding and rising costs, must find tens of millions of pounds in savings this year and another projected £86m in 2024/25, according to the auditors Grant Thornton.
The decision for the cuts to go ahead followed a two-month public consultation over the summer.
It will also see 43 KCC buildings close across the county which are used to provide a range of services from children's centres to adult education.
The closures include 36 children’s centres or youth hubs, three centres for adults with learning disabilities, one adult education centre and three Gateway centres.
KCC estimates the closures will save £5.85 million a year in maintenance costs and bring in £3.8 million in capital receipts.
In Marden, where a petition to stop the closure of its Sure Start Children’s Centre in the village gained 156 signatures, this has sparked outrage.
Cllr Mick Summersgill (Green) says there is “deep concern” about the impact of losing the centre.
He added: “It’s not just the families that use the centre now. Marden continues to have new housing constructed, and the need for the centre can only grow.
"There is nowhere else realistically for parents of young children to go to get support, assistance and advice.
“Expecting them to travel into Maidstone, using two or three buses, to access community facilities in a town suburb is just fantasy.”
The number of closures is actually two fewer than was suggested during a public consultation in March.
The council stepped back from closing the Beaches Children’s Centre in Leysdown and the Little Explorers Children’s Centres in Tenterden after hearing about the difficulties their users would have in accessing other centres by public transport.
Of the centres that are to close, two are in Ashford, five in Canterbury, five in Dartford, two in Dover, four in Folkestone and Hythe, one in Gravesend, two in Maidstone, four in Sevenoaks, four in Swale, two in Thanet, one in Tonbridge and Mailing, and four in Tunbridge Wells.
KCC says the building closures will also help the authority achieve its Net Zero 2030 policy, by saving 932 tonnes of CO₂ emissions each year.