This year, Tory controlled Staffordshire County Council voted to close all youth centres with the blessing of UKIP. Every single youth club in Staffordshire and Kidsgrove will close on the 31st December. This means that all youth provision will end, despite 16000 people signing a petition against the decimation of these much needed services. The youth service also has the responsibility of co-ordinating youth forums, youth councils and the UK youth parliament scheme. I was once a UK youth parliament candidate at 16 and the experience was invaluable.
At a meeting of the Staffordshire Advisory Board, Councillors Mark Sutton and Mike Lawrence, along with Commissioner Sharon Moore, put forward plans to scrap formal youth councils in favour of an entirely online model. This is apparently another attempt to further slash costs, but modernise services. I do love the ‘modernise services’ line, its unbelievably false!
My personal belief is that this is actually a way of silencing young people out of democracy. As we all know, young people have been very vocal about the youth service shut down. Who can blame them? The service has served our communities on all fronts for a very long time and in some cases transformed young lives. What particularly worries me is that progress we have made in recent years involving young people is now going to hit a brick wall. Young people already feel apathetic about local government and politics, so what does this say to them. The County Council should think again, because a lot of the young people involved in these youth forums and councils are usually the leaders of tomorrow. An online service will be completely inadequate and I am not comfortable with the idea of all human interaction done through a computer. We will also have a national youth parliament with no representation from Staffordshire. At a time when we should be on the national stage promoting our County, we are shutting ourselves out.
Without the formal support of the County Council, communities will find it very difficult to put in place their own youth parliaments. Luckily, Kidsgrove already has its own youth parliament and the organisation makes a positive difference in the locality. These things don’t get set up over night and the co-ordinators need to be dedicated to them or they just don’t work. I remain concerned that many local villages and towns in Staffordshire simply wont have the resources to set these organisations up. Only to leave young people without a voice in a fast changing world.
I will look forward to working with young people in the near future to see what we can do to deflect the damage caused by selfish politicians.
This week I attended the Labour Party Annual Conference and spoke about engaging local people in democracy and delivering services, and how I have worked with local young people in Kidsgrove to set up a Youth Parliament
I told conference:
“The Tories decimated our Youth Services in Staffordshire despite 16,000 people signing a petition opposing the cuts. Young people are feeling more vulnerable than ever in these difficult times, they rely on these key support services.”
“In the face of these cold and calculating cuts, young people are responding in the most positive and extraordinary ways. Setting up their own Youth Parliament within the Town of Kidsgrove, they are now delivering Youth Services with support of the Labour Town Council. With a budget of £2000 a year, the Youth Parliament has helped clean up their community by installing flower beds, donating benches to the local war memorial, setting up knitting with ‘nanas groups’ and organising youth advice days in the absence of formal Youth Services.”
“Young people are choosing to use their own funds to support everyone, in particular the elderly. Their hard work and direct involvement in the community has helped break down barriers and created a more caring atmosphere that all have benefitted from.”
I talked about how inspiring it is to see young people engaging in locally based work and getting involved where previously they were ignored.
I reinforced to the Conference audience the importance of the Labour Party policy pledge to give votes to sixteen year olds in all elections, telling them that this would help to determine that young people and their concerns won’t be ignored by politicians and the decision makers.
Education on local government and politics needs to improve. Far too often young people are leaving school not knowing a single thing about their right to vote and how to have their say on local and national issues. This needs to change if we want to rid ourselves of apathy that does our communities no favours.