Future of youth provision

THERE has been much debate in recent months about the future of youth service provision in West Sussex.

I would like to tell your readers about the changes underway.

The background of course is the fact that the county council has to reduce its spending by £79m over the next three years. That involves making some difficult choices.

But, it also gives us the chance to look at new and innovative ways of delivering some services and working more closely with a range of partners including community groups and the voluntary sector.

I hope most people will support our decision to direct scarce resources to where they are most needed and can have the greatest positive impact. That is why in the future we will concentrate on intensive early intervention and targeted support for West Sussex’s most vulnerable young people.

That means young people who are vulnerable or at risk are affected by issues such as alcohol, drugs, bullying and those who may be committing or are likely to commit crime and anti-social behaviour.

While this new focus means we are withdrawing from direct provision of universal services there are no plans to suddenly ‘shut up shop’ and walk away. We will do our best to provide transitional assistance in the move towards a new service model.

Over recent months we have been meeting and talking to community and voluntary organisations, as well as local management committees for youth centres exploring how they can take over the buildings we currently use to continue delivering youth activities within their own communities.

We have already had some very encouraging meetings around the county. We are also developing an extensive ‘menu’ of practical help, guidance and support we can offer to interested parties. This includes:

Helping groups to become more self-supporting or find other sources of external funding.

Providing professional ‘How to’ guides, training, and curriculum materials.

Helping to recruit and support more potential volunteers.

Facilitating things like help with insurance, CRB checks, payroll, health and safety advice, and other practical services.

Using our ‘YourSpace’ website to engage and network with young people and volunteers.

Developing a policy to support groups who want to take over running county council buildings. The county council has very recently approved a ‘Community Asset Transfer’ policy where, in the right circumstances, we will make available a local authority building to a management committee or to a community or voluntary group.

I want to stress that I am fully committed to working with young people and all interested parties in order to provide as many countywide youth activities as possible.

I believe we can create a new service for the future through the use of the service’s professional support and guidance and the buildings transfer policy, which shows clearly that the county council is not in the business of just walking away from services. We believe that a ‘Big Society’ approach is the right way forward.

I hope this will help reassure local communities and young people.

Finally, my door is always open and if anyone wants to approach me with ideas or suggestions, I will be very happy to consider them.

PETER EVANS

(Con, East Preston and Ferring) West Sussex County Council cabinet member for children and families and lead member for children’s services

County Hall, Chichester