Scores of youth workers could face redundancy and youth clubs could close under Wiltshire Council plans to save £500,000.
Staff have been called to redundancy consultation meetings in Chippenham, Trowbridge and Salisbury tomorrow.
Officers for union Unite say they have seen documents that outline four proposals for change to youth workers. They said in the worst case scenario all 144 members of staff would be made redundant and 24 youth centres would close.
Unite regional officer Alan Tomala said: “We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do.
“We are concerned about redundancy for our members but we also want to warn the public about these plans.”
One of the youth centres under threat is the Shak in Wilcot Road in Pewsey, which is open to young people every week night.
Pewsey parish councillor Alex Carder said: “It’s not a viable option. It shows a complete disregard for our youth.
“It’s impossible to say whether the Shak can be maintained without youth workers but this will have an enormous impact on our whole county.
“The council have spent an awful lot of money on the campus and I can’t believe they would disregard that.”
Wiltshire Council’s cabinet papers are due to be released on Monday and members will make a decision after a consultation period which ends April 22.
The four options understood to be on the table are retain the youth work team with a significantly reduced budget; support the establishment of an employee-led ‘staff mutual’; outsource youth work or a community-led model.
The community option is similar to one taken on sports centres under the old Wiltshire County Council, which led to a public outcry.
Chippenham’s youth centre The Bridge is already expected to close to make way for a retail development. It has not yet been announced where alternate services would be provided.
Ed Deedigan, director of Kandu Arts, a Chippenham not-for-profit organisation which runs arts and sports projects for young people, said: “To form relationships with our young people is one of these very important provisions that people only notice when it’s not there.
“When young people don’t have youth workers to help them with problems, these will only be exacerbated by not having intervention at an early stage.
“It’s sad, but the reason why we have got money for important services like youth services is because we as a society have the wrong priorities. It’s a false economy to cut welfare spending across the board, it’s an illusion which doesn’t have any benefit in real terms and it will come back to haunt us.”
He said he had sympathy with the very dedicated youth workers, though he said Wiltshire had tried to hold these cuts off longer than in other counties.
Meanwhile, Aldbourne Youth Council trustee Hazel Keen said there were alternatives to council funding. All of their three youth workers, employed last year, are paid through grants and fundraising.
Mrs Keen said: “If youth workers are cut then there are ways round it as long as there are people in the area who care about youth services.
“We were getting no response for youth workers through Wiltshire Council so we advertised for the positions with signs in the village and we also have adult volunteers.
“There are grants out there that can help and now through our charity shop and holiday let we are self sustainable and any wages are covered. Jane Scott came to visit Community Junction last week and she was impressed with the set-up here.”
Malmesbury councillor Simon Killane said: “I was at Wiltshire Council’s cabinet meeting last week but it was a closed meeting and we were sworn not to divulge anything. I would not support the closure of Malmesbury Youth Centre, which has had hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of facilities developed for it (in terms of the skatepark). As far as I am aware, there’s no intention to close the youth centre in Malmesbury.”
Council reply -
A Wiltshire Council spokesman said: “A report, which considered current open access youth services and activities, was reviewed by council leaders on Tuesday (January 21).
“The report included options for ensuring sustainable provision which reflects the modern lives and needs of young people while
encouraging more of them to access activities within their local communities.
“Currently, a small percentage of Wiltshire’s young
people access council youth services, while many are actively engaged in community, voluntary and commercially-provided activities.
“We must focus on what young people in local communities need and want in the future, while retaining the support and provision for those who need it most.
“Council leaders agreed there will be a public consultation on all the options and these will be discussed with communities, particularly young people, from the
beginning of February.”