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.