Youth service cuts and changes in Ludlow – a briefing

This briefing doesn’t aim to be definitive. It can’t be because a lot of matters are not yet resolved – including the crucial issue of Shropshire Council funding for youth provision in Ludlow.

Yesterday evening, Ludlow East councillor Tracey Huffer chaired a meeting of the Ludlow Youth Partnership. The partnership is a loose and active group of people and organisations active in youth support. Our guests for the meeting were Gwilym Butler, the Shropshire Councillor overseeing youth services and George Candler. He’s a senior officer working on the transformation of Shropshire Council from a council that does things itself, to one that commissions other people and organisations to do them on its behalf. There were a lot of questions asked at the meeting and some clear responses from Butler and Candler. In this blog I want to summarise the key points rather provide a record of the meeting.

Part of the backdrop for this meeting are plans to make around 100 youth support staff redundant in the spring. Butler and Candler confirmed this would be the case but there is no absolute date for ending of contracts. It would depend on when the local commissioning bodies are ready. So youth clubs won’t grind to a halt for months while we transfer from the current model to the commissioning model. That’s good. But I worry that staff morale plummets in periods of uncertainty. People leave their jobs because they feel undervalued, because they are stressed and because they need financial security.

The departing staff may be taken on by the new youth service providers, though at this stage it is far from clear who these will be. They could be charities, commercial companies or social enterprises, perhaps formed by redundant staff. Shropshire Council won’t be tendering for youth services. The new service providers will be commissioned by the thirty-one Local Joint Committees (LJCs), in conjunction with a local youth partnership; for example, Ludlow Youth Partnership. This change will mean, Butler told us, that LJCs would have to become less bureaucratic and more democratic.

They will be supported by an “infrastructure provider” contracted by Shropshire Council. This body or company will offer advice, training and support. Where local youth partnerships are unable to commission services, the infrastructure provider will step in or Shropshire Council will commission the service directly.

Shrewsbury Youth Association will lose its core Shropshire Council funding. It could bid to become the infrastructure provider.

So how will we pay for this new model? Beyond what Shropshire Council is providing for the youth budget, which is half what it was, if we need money locally we will have to raise it. Butler told the meeting: “You can precept locally to deliver outcomes locally, rather than via Shrewsbury.” That means bodies like Ludlow Town Council putting up its local precept to pay for services currently delivered by Shropshire Council.

Butler suggested that an alternative source of funding will be the new Neighbourhood Fund. Perhaps, but there will be many calls on that limited pot of money which is intended “to encourage communities to accommodate new development and to allow them the ability to address the subsequent impact of new development.”

How much money will there be for Ludlow? There is a ‘needs analysis’ underway by Shropshire Council. This will identify areas with specific needs. Where these needs match Shropshire Council’s priorities, not local priorities, the council will allocate funds. As this work is still underway, we don’t know the details, but it looks like some areas will get money to tackle, say, obesity, while others will be funded to reduce unemployment or substance abuse. Butler said: “It’s down to what Shropshire Council wants as outcomes, not necessarily what you [locally] want as outcomes.”

Although priorities look to be centralised, delivery will not be. How problems like alcohol abuse are tackled will be a local matter. Butler again: “Delivery mechanisms are entirely up to you.”

We will get to see the data on which the distribution of funds is based shortly, but the critical issue is not the data. It’s the weighting that’s applied. For example, is obesity more important than alcohol abuse? That’s where Shropshire Council’s priorities come in and we don’t know those priorities yet.

In discussion, it became clear there needs to be a reactive element to funding to deal with urgent issues. Butler and Candler were supportive of this.

We don’t yet know how the money will be distributed. But we were told that the total pot will be £460,000. I am unclear what is happening to the money currently used to pay the staff that will be made redundant and how that relates to the £460,000. I’ll update this blog when I know more about the financial deal.

Among the questions we didn’t ask was how funds from national initiatives, such as citizenship, alcohol and health would be bid for and distributed. These make a substantial contribution towards Shropshire youth projects – £230,000 in 2013/14. Presumably this will be the infrastructure provider’s task.

When will this happen? Candler said that transition is the key to the success of this scheme. There will be different timescales for different Local Joint Committees.

What will happen to the Ludlow Youth Centre? Butler made no commitment to keeping it open and said that was up to the local providers. He suggested that it was an ideal building for a Community Asset Transfer. This might, for example, transfer the building from Shropshire Council to Ludlow Town Council.

This was a useful and informative meeting. I thank Gwilym Butler and George Candler for attending. They have left us with a lot to think about here in Ludlow. We have a lot of work to do before all this comes into pass in the spring.

But I can’t think back on this meeting without worrying that Shropshire Council is in the first stage of abdicating its responsibility for youth services. Once it has moved the services towards local provision, will it then walk away? That won’t happen this year. But I am concerned that it will happen after the local election in 2017.

That will be damaging because Shropshire Council has a professional structure that parish and town councils don’t have. If local councils develop that structure, their costs will balloon. There’s an assumption too that volunteers will take up the slack. Even here in Ludlow where we have a fantastic volunteer community, there are limits to capacity. Youth work involves a lot of expertise and nous. Not all of us can do it.