Youth Strategy Groups (YSGs) across Essex are to be abolished, along with their ring-fenced funding of £200,000. This plan slipped out from Conservative-run Essex County Council in a briefing in the last few days.
Instead, projects that would have been commissioned by YSGs will now have no guaranteed funding. Vital schemes could now end, such as those designed to support children’s mental health, and initiatives aimed at preventing children from getting involved in drugs and gangs.
At the same time, funds allocated to local County Councillors have also been cut.
These youth projects must now compete in a “bidding war” in front of local county councillors, who have been given a pot of just £4,000 each (down from £5,000 last year) to spend on a wide range of issues including levelling up and climate change, as well as youth services.
The net effect in the Chelmsford area is to reduce Essex County Council’s grants for the total youth and community funding pot from £69,000 to £36,000.
Cllr Marie Goldman (Liberal Democrat, Chelmsford Central) said, “I was devastated when I heard the news. Of all the services to cut, surely youth services should be among the very last to go. Children are quite literally our future and we must do everything we can to give them the best start in life.
“Often, the projects commissioned by Chelmsford’s Youth Strategy Group went to support the most vulnerable children in our society. Other projects included initiatives in schools reaching hundreds of children at a time, delivering excellent value for money. And yet they have been scrapped.
“Time and time again the Conservatives prove how little they really understand the importance of investing in youth services. For them it seems to be an easy target for saving a few pennies. But this is so short-sighted. Investment in our children will bring huge rewards both now and in the future – saving money through lower crime rates and delivering a happier, healthier society. This decision by Essex Conservatives – taken without any consultation with the Youth Strategy Groups themselves – is utterly shameful.”
Where they have worked well, like in Chelmsford, Youth Strategy Groups are a partnership of many organisations, including the county and district councils, plus other organisations. They have representatives from local youth organisations, including from young people themselves. All these partners come together to work for the good of the local community and commission youth-related projects, often leveraging in match funding, so providing exceptional value for money for the tax-payer.
The final meeting of the Chelmsford Youth Strategy Group was held on Thursday 25th May. Several members of the group only found out about the group’s demise at the meeting as Essex County Council had not informed them prior to the meeting.