Budget cuts could increase youth crime - warning

COMMUNITIES fear a return to high levels of antisocial behaviour in towns and villages if a planned 40 per cent cut in funding for the district’s youth service goes ahead.

North Somerset Council has outlined a proposal to cut its �1million youth service core budget to �850,000 next year.Then, by 2014/15, it plans a further reduction, down to about �600,000.

The impact, council officers have said, would mean the authority would be unable to manage all of its 14 youth clubs.

Instead, community groups, parish and town councils and parents would be needed to take the reins of such facilities.

In Banwell, village leaders have reacted angrily to the proposed cuts, fearing they could result in their youth club’s closure and a return of antisocial behaviour.

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The village is among the top areas for high social deprivation in North Somerset.

Ward councillor Tim Marter said: “Banwell has a chequered past of youth crime and antisocial behaviour, and the loss of the youth club would undoubtedly increase this problem. North Somerset has a statutory responsibility to provide youth provision.

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“The rural areas generally get a bad deal anyway, but to expect voluntary groups to take on this role is wholly unreasonable and totally impractical.”

Banwell Parish Council clerk Kevin Barrett has sent a letter to North Somerset Council.

In it, he said: “The council is concerned that such policy, while saving money in the short-term, will only lead to future more costly problems.

“We believe that engaging with vulnerable young people through the youth club prevents at least some from engaging in antisocial or criminal behaviour.

“We fear we will see a return to the former high levels of offending among our young people and this should be avoided at all costs.”

This year, police have been targeting antisocial behaviour in the community, which has included children under the age of 10 smashing windows of the village hall.

The campaign has so far resulted in success with the number of calls made about nuisance decreasing, including an 85 per cent drop from February to March.

North Somerset Council’s executive member for children and young peoples’ services, Jeremy Blatchford, defended the council’s proposal.

He said significant cuts were needed across the council board as part of a bid to save �18.7million this year.

It will contribute to a total �47million needed to be cut from the council’s budgets over the next four years.

He said: “In light of the savings we need to make we, as a council, have to sometimes find new ways of delivering services.

“We are committed to young people in the district and we are working hard to preserve such services.”

Cllr Blatchford said there would be a consultation - starting with the proposal outline sent to all town and parish councils - before a decision is made.

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