Charity proposal for youth centres
The future of three youth centres in Bath and North East Somerset looks secure. After slashing its £1 million Youth Connect budget in half last year, the council is considering setting up a public service mutual - a charity that would operate independently and gain the authority’s core contract for delivery of youth services. It would manage the Southside youth hub. Bath and North East Somerset council has been in talks with Mentoring Plus about running the city’s Riverside facility, and with church workers about the Peasedown St John youth hub. Councillor Paul May, the cabinet member for children and young people, told the cabinet meeting last week: “If this is going to be successful it has to go forward at the current level of funding. “Over a number of years the council’s budget has been cut and cut and cut. “We need to a keep a dedicated youth service that’s targeted to the greatest need. “We are also working closely with the voluntary sector. The Riverside proposals have moved forward and we’re working very effectively with Mentoring Plus there. Peasedown St John is moving forward in a really positive way with the church. “The Youth Connect service would be located in Southside. There are viability issues as it’s a commercial building.” Cllr May said the council wants to support the staff but not at the expense of taxpayers so there will be “due diligence” checks on whether the mutual is the best way forward. A report to the cabinet meeting says: “The public service mutual would have the opportunity to secure additional funding and grow services for young people into the future, thereby gradually becoming less dependent on core council funding.” One alternative to the mutual would be B&NES Council keeping Youth Connect in-house, but it would have less access to funding like lottery grants under that model. Or it could bring in an external provider, but this would cause “significant” delays and could impact on the goodwill of staff encouraged to back the mutual model. Liberal Democrat group leader Dine Romero said: “I think this [the mutual] looks like a good proposal, but I’m not convinced. This is being driven first and foremost by the council’s needs to make cuts. “In doing so, preventative services have been put at risk. This is a very small service that relies on an unknown source of funding. Will it be got rid of like the arts development service? Or go to an external provider like Virgin? “The most vulnerable need protection. The youth services are too important to be run entirely separately from the local authority.” Cllr Romero said the decision should be made in public after the council can scrutinise the business case for the staff mutual but was told it would be commercially sensitive. Cllr Eleanor Jackson said the council needs to listen to what young people want rather than dictating it to them, adding: “They want to learn things. They want to get qualifications. They want to have a meaningful future. We want them to achieve their potentials. “I think what is proposed given that austerity still reigns - is the best way forward. I think it’s the best of the worst.” Cllr Karen Warrington, cabinet member for transformation and customer services, said: “I’m always very keen that people should be able to run their own organisations. We want to support our Youth Connect service.” Cabinet members backed the conversion of Youth Connect into a mutual. Council officers will carry out due diligence checks on the proposal.