The toll Covid-19 and budget cuts to Calderdale youth services revealed

COVID-19 and budget cuts have affected how the council provides services to young people in Calderdale.

Thursday, 19th August 2021, 12:20 pm
Updated Thursday, 19th August 2021, 12:23 pm
The Orangebox in Halifax

Calderdale Council’s Children and Young People’s Scrutiny Board were discussing progress in reshaping its youth services following recommendations made in a major December 2019 review.

Rob Murray, the council’s Assistant Director for Early Intervention and Safeguarding, the review had been updated and also showed in impact of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2019 review had concluded that the service had lost its way and needed a clear strategy and a new direction.

The service needed to make better use of the money it spent on staff, should reduce expenditure on casual staff and contracts for a few hours a week and adopt a more efficient approach to its use of buildings.

The Orangebox centre in Halifax was an asset for all of Calderdale, should be well used all week and needed to provide effective services for children throughout the borough which would improve their lives – better use of transport services should ensure this was not a barrier to participation.

But a locality focus needed to be retained where youth workers could partner well with other organisations including the council’s Neighbourhood Officers, the Police and other agencies, as well as local councillors, said the 2019 report.

Coun Helen Rivron (Lab, Ovenden) said Youth Council representative Praneetha Bharath, who had spoken about its situation in lockdown, had commented on the loss of safe spaces and wanted to know if there was any way these coluld be provided.

Members heard the pandemic had affected services but the Orangebox centre, which is next to Halifax Piece Hall, was expected to re-open with three voluntary service contracts to run from the start of August.

Coun Dot Foster (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) said she clearly understood there was a needc to reduce ongoing use of buildings but in that case how were youth services being delivered outside of Orangebox?

Officers said it had been a recommendation of Cabinet that more provision had to be delivered by the community sector – COVID had slowed processes down and the tenders out at the moment were a pilot scheme.

They added the majority services were being delivered on a one-to-one basis with young people with eight members of staff deployed on evenings and weekends to where they were needed.

Coun Foster was concerned about some young people losing out because of ‘open access’ provision reducing.

Board chair Coun Colin Raistrick (Ind, Hipperholme and Lightcliffe) said the point of the report was about targeted interventions rather than open access but asked who decided which young people met criteria.

He was also disappointed at the lack of progress regarding transport for the young people to come to Orangebox.

Officers said the council’s early intervention panel made assessments and staff were then deployed where they were needed.

Coun Rivron said a report on the impact of changes was needed but she was not saying go back to the way things were, because the report had shown that was not working.

The council’s Cabinet member for Children and Young People’s Services, Coun Adam Wilkinson (Lab, Sowerby Bridge) scrutiny’s review had shaped how the council was running its youth services and COVID had an impact.

Money was a third element and balancing the books had meant some cuts and savings had to be made in the last few years, said Coun Wilkinson.

“Youth services is one of the few areas of Children and Young People’s Services where we don’t have a statutory duty to deliver general access services ourselves, so it is one of the areas we have had to make savings.

“That’s true across the country – councils had to cut youth services massively.

“I understand the point about some missing out but the reality of the situation, where you have got a diminishing budget, you have got to target your limited resources on the people who need it most.

“The community sector are doing a great job in places.

“What we need to do as a council is commission some of that and support the voluntary sector,” he said.

Coun Wilkinson said the voluntary sector coluld also tap into pots of funding that the council could not.

Coun Stephen Baines (Con, Northowram and Shelf) said he had not received many issues about the closure of buildings with the exception of Mixenden Activity Centre, used by children from all over Calderdale.

“A lot of people have told me that really did make a difference for young people – many who have contacted me are young people who say it is a retrograde step.

“Is there any chance of revisiting it?” he said.

Director of Children and Young People’s Services, Julie Jenkins, said Mixenden was mainly run by sports and leisure services but the council was working with West Yorkshire Police to try and increase use of it.

Officers said the service’s use of social media to promote what it was doing was needed to improve and Coun Sue Holdsworth (Lib Dem, Greetland and Stainland) said it had been flagged up there could be a possible social media apprentice role and wanted to see the idea revisited.

Coun Raistrick said he thought COVID had presented the council with challenges.

“It will be interesting to see how we come out of it. We are doing the right things, if we can do them in the right order, it will be done properly,” he said.

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