Cuts to threatened youth services across Kent are to go ahead to save the cash-strapped county council around £900,000.
Despite a public backlash and fears of a rise in gang crime and mental health issues, the decision to proceed with the closure of established facilities was rubber-stamped this morning.
The cabinet at Kent County Council (KCC) decided to adopt a government-led scheme to bring essential services under one umbrella called Family Hubs.
The new funding arrangement will see the end of KCC subsidies for youth clubs and activities currently commissioned by the council but run by outside organisations.
Today’s decision followed a two-month consultation carried out over the summer.
It could leave 8,000 young adults with “nowhere to go”, if up to 80 commissioned groups cannot find alternative funding.
Cabinet member for children’s services Cllr Sue Chandler supported the new model saying it would bring £11m 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.
A comprehensive report, compiled by Lake Marketing, revealed how the potential loss of services would affect communities.
Now youth groups are faced with having to find alternative funding arrangements if they are to continue.
The subsidies they currently receive will end in April 2024.
KCC currently has 12 in-house youth hubs while other providers run services including music, sports, youth clubs, arts and drama clubs, as well as street-based activities such as skateboarding.
Ashford Youth Hub, which appeals to members aged 12-16, took part in the consultation and said they prefer safe spaces, such as managed buildings, to meet face to face.
One parent said: “There are a lot of people here that will suffer if you stop these activities youths will end up bored and getting into trouble instead.”
Another added: “It's one thing my vulnerable autistic child has been able to do with no financial burden on us and she's made welcome, taught new skills and socialising with a mix of ages. The volunteers and staff are so great and supportive of us and her.”
Also now under threat is the group Gifted Young Gravesham at The Grand which says the cut in their funding will have a “negative impact” on young people who use the services it provides.
A spokeswoman for GYG added: “We are devastated and appalled regarding the now agreed decision made to cut our funding.
“We firmly believe that young people both need and deserve investment and the opportunities and support we have been able to provide them over the years.
“Young people turn to us at times of trouble and as qualified youth workers, we have been able to offer them free, professional support when they have most needed.
“We know, over the years, we have changed lives and we have saved lives, closing our doors will have a sad and negative impact on the emotional and mental wellbeing of the 3000+ young people we engage each year.
“Young people have stated they will not access family hubs, they have nowhere else they feel they can go, and they have tried their very best to save their well-loved service here at GYG. It's a real shame that their voices have not been heard.
“We continue our fight to find funding and sponsorship to save our services and to continue to brighten the futures of young people.”
Caroline McNally-Johnson who is a youth work specialist for GYG said: “I think it’s a terrible decision to implement Family Hubs.
“We’ve got very little information about them. We don’t know where they’re going to be, when they’re going to open, or who’s going to run them.
“What I do know is they’re saying that young people will still have services however they’ll be targeted at those young people that are most in need.
“That means they won’t be providing the kind of preventative services we’re providing for young people.
“In terms of funding, the fact that we’ve lost the core part of our budget which was provided to us via KCC, means that our doors might close.
“Currently we’re desperately seeking funding – w e’re looking for sponsorships and we’ve got a crowdfunder.
“We are literally doing everything we can to try to save our service because we know that we change lives and we know that we save lives, and we don’t want young people to miss out on that.
“We’re really frightened for our young people here in Gravesham and where they’re going to go and what they’re going to do.”
Local Gravesham councillor and leader of the Labour group at KCC, Lauren Sullivan, said: “The proposals as they stand will decimate existing youth provision at a time when young people are most in need of support.”
Earlier this month, Cllr Chandler said: "We are talking about not continuing some of our commissioned youth services, but we are definitely continuing to deliver in-house youth services. We're changing how we do that through our family hubs.
"But the reason we're looking at this kind of area is because as a council we have to make savings to next year’s budget."
Fellow cabinet member, Cllr Dylan Jeffrey told members this morning: “We have developed a model we can take forward and something that is really, really good.”
Cllr Rory Love, in charge of education, said the new arrangement amounted to “integration, innovation and transformation”.
The decision to go ahead with the Family Hub model came as Nottingham City Council announced it is effectively bankrupt with an overspend of £20m.
In Gravesend, groups such as Higham Youth Club and Youth Job Club meet at The Grand.
In feedback, a parent noted: “My child loves meeting people his own age. I cannot afford to pay for expensive days out or clubs. I like to know he is in an environment which is safe where he can meet mates. He's not on the streets getting enticed into a street gang.”
Services currently offered by children’s centres, youth hubs, health visiting and midwifery care but would be delivered and funded through the Family Hub.
These are: parent-infant relationships and mental health support for new parents; infant feeding support; parenting support; early language development and home learning; support for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) and safeguarding.
The KCC reports states: “KCC is committed to delivering the best outcomes through a hybrid of universal and targeted support for children, young people, and their families, delivering services identified through the Family Hub guidance. This will include a community-based universal offer to provide information and advice on child and adolescent development.”