THE future of 24 Wiltshire Council-run youth centres and more than 140 jobs could be under threat as the council looks to slash £500,000 from its budget.
A review of youth services is underway, with options including closing youth centres altogether, retaining them with significantly reduced funding or outsourcing youth work to other organisations.
Public sector union Unite fears that up to 144 youth workers could be made redundant and thousands of young people left with nowhere to meet their friends and get vital support.
Wiltshire Council has announced it needs to save £120m over the next four years and says it wants to reduce staff numbers and give more responsibility to town and parish councils.
A confidential report outlining possible cuts and restructuring of youth services was presented to senior Wiltshire councillors last week and a meeting is being held with unions and staff tomorrow.
A consultation will then be held, and young people in particular will be asked for their views on the proposals. Unite has launched an angry attack on the plan, which they say will result in young people losing “a lifeline”.
“We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do,” said Unite regional officer Alan Tomala.
“As well as providing young people with a safe place to go to meet their friends and learn new skills, youth workers are providing lots of support to individual young people who have a range of challenges in their lives.
“The council has no idea about the worry and sheer anger they are causing. Youth workers are professional people offering a crucial frontline service that benefits thousands of young people – they do not deserve to be treated like this.”
The union says that between April and September 2013 the youth service worked with 3,500 teenagers and there were more than 31,000 visits to youth clubs.
Wiltshire Council operates youth clubs in Amesbury, Salisbury, Old Sarum, Wilton, Tidworth and Ludgershall, although it has not been confirmed which, if any, are under threat.
One option being considered is giving grants to area boards that can be spent on youth services but unions fear this will lead to a “patchy service”. A Wiltshire Council spokesman said: “Currently, a small percentage of Wiltshire’s young people access council youth services, while many are actively engaged in community, voluntary and commercially-provided activities.
“We must focus on what young people in local communities need and want |in the future, while retaining the |support and provision for those who need it most.
“The options for future delivery will be discussed with council youth service staff ahead of the consultation process.”