A last-minute change of heart by the Labour council to reduce the scale of the proposed cut to youth services in Southwark has been welcomed as ‘a step in the right direction’ by Liberal Democrat councillors fighting the plans.
The day before the council-tax setting meeting, Labour councillors announced out-of-the-blue that they were amending their own budget. The move reduces the level of cuts by £1million and means the planned reductions to voluntary sector provision will not go ahead.
Liberal Democrats voted against the council budget plans though as the 50% budget cut for youth services is still unfair compared to other council services. Detail on how the Council will involve young people better in planning future changes and the shape of the new service have still not been provided by the Council either.
Young people in the borough have been up in arms since the Council announced its plans for massive youth service cuts at the end of last year. Liberal Democrat councillors have supported the young people’s campaign and have pushed Labour leaders to explain why youth and play services faced 73% budget cuts compared to 25% for other council departments.
At the Council’s budget meeting this week, Liberal Democrats tabled an amendment that would have reduced the level of cuts to youth services in line with other council services. The move would have meant an extra £1.6m for Southwark’s youth services - a £2.5m budget in total - compared to just £900,000 under Labour’s original plans.
The move would also have seen an independent commission set up with young people to look at existing youth service provision in the borough, identify possible savings and propose new ways of providing future youth and play services. Labour councillors voted against the plans.
Southwark’s Liberal Democrat Youth Spokesperson, Councillor James Okosun, 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.
"There is a real risk of more teenage pregnancies, more sexually transmitted infections and more people getting involved in gangs if specialised youth workers and services are axed.
“So while I am glad we have made Labour councillors see some sense at the last minute, Liberal Democrats will continue to fight young people’s corner. All this distress and upset for youth services over the past few months could have been avoided if the Council always had the money. The Council needs to learn some serious lessons about how it consults and works with young people in Southwark.”