Cuts of 25 per cent are to be made from the council’s youth services this year and junior youth clubs and part-time youth workers seem likely to be those who will lose out.
In a series of consultation meetings held around the isles over the past two weeks, staff have set out how they believe the savings of £150,000 can be made. The proposals include no longer employing part time workers to run junior youth clubs.
Instead, clubs would require volunteers to operate. There would also be a significant reduction in the overall number of youth club staff, from 9.6 full time equivalent posts (made up of 123 individuals) to 3.6 full time equivalent posts.
In addition, there would be a change in focus for the service, moving away from universal provision for young people to a more targeted approach, aimed at 11 to 25-year-olds, with “particular emphasis” on 11-18-year-olds. According to the service’s team leader Brenda Leask, there would also be a “shift from crisis intervention to prevention and early intervention”.
Recent changes in strategic policy under the so-called Single Outcome Agreement mean that efforts should increasingly be focused on the most difficult-to-reach young people.
Dozens of people gathered to hear the proposals at a consultation meeting on Wednesday. They were told those hard-to-reach youngsters would often be identified by other agencies, and that there would be a growth in “school and youth work partnerships, as part of the Curriculum for Excellence”.
Speaking in Islesburgh Community Centre on Wednesday evening, Mrs Leask admitted that the cut was “fairly substantial” and that the changes were “not going to be easy”. But, she said, “we’re just going to have to find wir savings the same as everybody else”.
However, frustration and anger were voiced by the 30 or so parents and youth workers at Wednesday night’s meeting. During a heated question and answer session, some suggested that the “consultation” process was nothing of the sort, and that decisions seemed already to have been made. Mrs Leask rejected this, however.
Comments and savings suggestions made during the meetings, she explained, would be fed back to elected representatives, who were tasked with making the final decision on cuts.
Some at the meeting also suggested that the loss of junior youth clubs would ultimately be counterproductive, creating more “difficult-to-reach young people” in years to come.
But Mrs Leask emphasised that junior clubs would not need to close; they would simply need to recruit volunteers in order to operate.
There was scepticism in the room about whether this would be possible, but Mrs Leask told The Shetland Times that several clubs in country areas, such as Nesting, Ollaberry and North Roe, are already run entirely by volunteers. The youth service would continue to help wherever it could, she said.
Could savings be made among staff higher up the ladder, it was asked. Rather than cutting so many part time youth workers, perhaps one or more of the full time development workers could go.
This was indeed a possibility, Mrs Leask agreed, though she later explained that she would “like to use development workers for more specialist work” and that they were ideally placed for “engaging with young folk who are difficult or vulnerable”.
A report on the future of youth services will go before the council’s education and families committee on 22nd May, with a final decision to be made by the full council the following month. Responses to the consultation can still be made by contacting youth services.