During the last two weeks we have heard the same news breaking all over the country. Local councils in all areas are cutting their funding to local voluntary sector support organizations, and they’re doing it at reckless speed and with little thought for the consequences. This week, we hear that Croydon Council is to axe voluntary sector youth work funding by 66%, including the local Volunteer Council. Closer to home, Voluntary Action Wakefield District (VAWD) have learned that all of their local authority grants are to be removed and there is no plan to keep them operating beyond September. In Kirklees the same situation applies; Kirklees Council threaten to destroy all of the invaluable infrastructure support work done by Voluntary Action Kirklees (VAK), by instantly starving them of funds and leaving local third sector groups without a local support mechanism.
It seems that charitable organizations are caught in the crossfire of a dirty political war that will not serve the best interests and needs of vulnerable young people. The new coalition government is keen to transfer public services to charities, (albeit at bargain-basement prices), by forcing councils to slash the size of the state’s delivery of services like youth work. Many councils are adamant that they will defend their services by passing the cuts on to contractors further down the ‘food-chain’, like charities. The move to starve VCS infrastructure organizations to death can only be strategic and aggressively negative. I believe that it is nothing short of an attempt to drive the third sector into a position where it would be unable to compete effectively for public services and leave the way open for a move back to majority public sector youth work provision when the chaos subsides.
Those organizations that survive this threat will have their day in the end. In the main, youth work will be delivered by charities in the future, despite the desperate attempts to hold back the tide by some councillors and council officers. In the meantime, thousands of young people will suffer and much vital infrastructure will be lost; infrastructure that will have to be re-built at some point and at some cost. What we need right now is vision, collaboration and the will to make radical changes for the future. What we are getting is spite and short-term blinkered politics. I only hope that our young people will forgive those decision-makers who want to damage their futures for a futile political point. Let’s hope that this marks the re-awakening of youth work’s involvement in informal political education, because this is surely a time for young people to learn how to claim a political voice and hold some short-sighted adults to account.