I MAKE no apologies for shouting about Oldham Youth Council.
This group has had a strong foundation of engagement with us for many years now and I’m personally keen to build on that even further.
I was recently privileged to be asked to be the chair of a Youth Council Question Time event that was held as part of Local Democracy Week.
This gave young people the opportunity to pose questions to a panel of international, national and local political figures including Teresa Griffin MEP, Michael Meacher MP, David Heyes MP, together with Councillor Jean Stretton (Deputy Leader) and Diane Williamson (Crompton Ward).
The questions they asked covered a wide range of issues including regeneration, alcohol misuse, how to break the cycle of worklessness and dependency, mental health and much, much more – all impressive stuff.
One question the panel was asked was about our plans for the future provision of youth services in Oldham. This is currently out to consultation and I wanted to outline where we are up to with this.
With £141 million in cuts already made to the council budget since 2009 – and a further £60m to find by 2016/7 – it is clear that every aspect of the council will change.
We’ve worked extremely hard to protect local people from the impact of those cuts and, to be honest, you’d probably admit to not yet having really noticed that £141 million has been taken away.
But everyone needs to be prepared for what might now come because the easier savings have long gone.
I should say right now that looking to make savings in the youth service is not something we are doing because we don’t value it. Far from it. We know that for many young people the support they get from our youth workers is an important part of their lives.
Operationally our youth service is split into three main components.
There is the static youth service (or sessional services) where young people will turn up to a centre and take part in activities. There are our detached youth workers, who go out on to the streets and work to support, challenge and divert young people into positive activities. And there is also the support we provide to Oldham Youth Council, schools swimming, study support and outdoor education.
There is a danger though – given some of the headlines that have already appeared – that you might think our plans are somehow an attempt to just create one youth centre for the whole of Oldham. That is not the case.
The reality is the vast majority of youth activities that take place across our borough aren’t provided by the council at all. They are often provided by the community itself: through uniformed groups, faith groups, sports clubs and hobby groups that cover a massive range of activities.
To understand the sheer scale of this I’d encourage you to have a look at the extensive mapping of self-organised activity across all our wards that was contained in the recent Cabinet report on youth services – it is staggering. Click here to view it (go to Page 10 of the document).
We also need to be mindful here about the important role of parents and extended family in supporting our young people too.
Looking ahead, we want to continue to work with communities and partners to develop a local youth service offer in the future .
We can’t assume that we know best what people need – and we also can’t assume that a universal service is addressing the diverse needs of our borough’s young people.
If services can be delivered differently or refocused to reduce duplication – and to make them more responsive to local need – then we should consider those options seriously.
But we are also not looking for quick fixes.
The proposal we are consulting on here is to extend our contracts with both Mahdlo and Oldham Community Leisure to broaden the type and quantity of youth services they deliver.
Part of this proposal would see elements of the Youth Service being brought together: including 12-month secondments to Mahdlo of District Youth Development staff and a 12-month pilot also seconding the Detached Youth Team to Mahdlo.
The proposal also outlines plans that would see the School Swimming Service transfer to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL) and the creation of an alternative service delivery vehicle for the Sport Development Service. This would be in the form of a mutual which could be supported and affiliated to Oldham Community Leisure (OCL).
Another part of the proposal is to bring together our youth work support for the Youth Council and the Looked After Children Council.
We are already continuing to invest in the Youth Council by fitting them out with new accommodation in the Civic Centre – which you will hear more about next month.
This commitment to their future is just the latest step, building on work we’ve already done to embed the Youth Council into our constitution. This enables them to put motions to Full Council on key issues like anti-bullying measures, reserving time at these meetings for Youth Council business and requiring Full Council to receive and consider their own Annual Report.
Looking ahead, is this all going to mean fundamental change for youth services?
Well, for staff and volunteers, yes – things will be very different.
For young people it will also be different. But whether it will be better or worse will depend on how young people use the range of services on offer today.
What I am clear about is that this is a way to ensure we still have a youth service.
If at the end of all this we can stand up and say we have a good offer in Oldham then we’ll have achieved what many other councils would kill for in the current financial climate.
Not to change is simply not an option. But if we genuinely take our role as a cooperative council seriously – and we work as one community to solve the issues affecting the borough – we can achieve far more together than if we continue to protect our own institutions or traditional ways of working.
I would urge you to join in the conversation that is taking place right now about the Youth Service and all of our budget proposals at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/letstalkbudget
I’d also encourage you to show your support and check out the work of our Youth Council and see what they are up to next at http://oycevents.wordpress.com/
Thanks for listening.