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11 Oct 2015

Brent youth provision to be slashed and out-sourced

A cut of almost 70% in Brent Council's youth service budget (from £1,314,000 in 2015-16 to £414,394 in 2016-17) will see the service out-sourced and based mainly at Roundwood myplace Centre in Harlesden and Poplar Grove in Chalkhill. The report comments on the latter: 'The service level agreement for Poplar Grove means that it may (my emphasis) be possible for a new provider to run youth provision from the centre'.

The proposed retention of the Roundwood Centre means that there will be less money for other aspects of the youth service and the Wembley Youth Centre and Granville will no longer be funded  from April 2016.  They will be handed back to the Council's Asset Management Service and presumably sold off. The running costs of the Poplar Grove Centre will in future be met by Brent River College.

The remaining service will be 'a targeted  offer for more vulnerable groups' although the consultation indicated that young people were in favour of such provision being integrated into mainstream provision.

The Council's consultation revealed that respondents thought the Roundwood myspace Centre was under utilised. However the Centre was funded by a £5m Big Lottery grant as part of the Government's myspace programme and there are restrictions regarding future use. Closure would mean that the £5m grant or part of it could be reclaimed: 

.        Under the terms of the grant agreement, the Council is required to notify the Cabinet Office of any planned changes of use and/or ownership and could be required to repay the grant in whole or in part. Officers have now formally raised the possibility of outsourcing the centre to a third party with the Cabinet Office. They have indicated that there would be no objection to this sort of arrangement, but both the Education Funding Agency (EFA) and Cabinet Office would wish to see a lease and business plan before giving approval. They will also need confirmation that there will be continuing compliance with the existing grant agreement. Officers will therefore need to ensure that any new contractual agreements are consistent with the grant agreement and support delivery of myplace outcomes for young people.
Although the report puts a positive gloss on retaining the Roundwood Centre it is clear that the main reason for keeping it as the 'flag ship' is that it would be too expensive to close.

The consultation also revealed that some respondents felt that Brent Youth Parliament was unrepresentative of the general profile of youth in the borough.  Officers dispute this and recommend that the £64,000 annual grant to BYP continues but that its operating costs and relationship with the wider Brent population is reviewed. The BYP will lead this review of itself with the  Head of Youth service. The BYP is central to the next stage of consultation where effective communication with the young people affected is a statutory requirement. The report notes that a judgement was made against North Somerset Council's reduction in youth service because they had not consulted young people adequately or addressed the needs of young people with protected characteristics under the Equality act.

In order to judge the Council's consultation so far it is worth recording that there were more providers (59) than young people (57) at the three 'participatory commissioning sessions' and that of 119 on-line responses 64 were from young people.

A Community Asset Transfer for Roundwood is rejected as having too many risks for a future provider and the Council. and in-house provision is also rejected as capable of offering only a limited service due to funding cuts.

The report recommends that the Council puts the service out to tender with an expectation that any provider taking over would have to work with volunteers and seek additional grants: 

.        Evaluation of bids will assess potential providers’ proposals for working with the local voluntary and community sector. Providers will be required to describe what arrangements they propose in order to deliver a positive impact on the local economy and social and environmental well-being for those in Brent to support the requirements of the 2012 Act as well as the Borough Plan. Providers will also be asked to demonstrate how they will help to build the capacity of local voluntary organisations working with young people and how they will deliver services based on a thorough understanding of the diversity of services users and communities within Brent.
In future Brent secondary schools with be expected to fund the Duke of Edinburgh Award themselves and  the DOE open access centre run by the Council will close.

The report says that the Council will need to make its savings immediately and redundancy consultations with youth service staff will start in November.

Below please find the official Brent Council press release on this issue:

The Roundwood myplace Centre in Harlesden is set to remain the council's flagship youth service hub despite the authority being forced to make substantial savings, if Brent Council's Cabinet agrees on 19 October to new proposals for Council funded youth services. Youth centre provision and related youth work will be commissioned from another provider. This will help to grow the range of services for young people over time and ensure that services continue to be delivered.

This innovative new approach to youth service delivery will help the council and other partners secure other opportunities for funding sources not traditionally available to local authorities.

The borough's young people, youth service staff, voluntary and community sector providers were consulted over the summer, and they were asked how the money available for youth services should best be spent.

The Council report proposes a transformation of Brent Youth Services with the Roundwood Hub offering activities, programmes and targeted support for vulnerable young people. Cultural, sports and employment opportunities will also be offered at the centre and it will provide an important base for youth work and outreach support with a focus on working with vulnerable groups, including young people with disabilities; lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGBT) young people; and those at risk due to their behaviour. Furthermore, the Brent Youth Parliament (BYP) will continue to be run by the Council to ensure that Brent's young people are heard in decision-making that affects their lives.

A number of Youth Service projects will continue in Brent, including the Right Track Programme, which supports pupils temporarily excluded from school, and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme.

The Council is also looking to extend its youth services at Brent River College (Poplar Grove Youth Centre) in Wembley, but this will be subject to further discussions with a new provider.

Any new provider would be expected to work with the wider community of voluntary and community sector youth service providers to build capacity and champion youth issues in Brent, especially the newly formed Young Brent Foundation.

Councillor Ruth Moher, Lead Member for Children and Young People, said:

"Given the severe funding constraints imposed upon us by central government, this proposal will help to secure important youth services in the borough and promote more innovative ways of working with our voluntary and community sector partners. It will also help us to attract more money, which the council cannot currently access.

"We want to seize the opportunity to do something different and innovative here and create a partnership model which will help to continue youth services.

Given the scale of funding cuts from central Government, it was a distinct possibility that we may have been forced to stop all youth service provision. These Cabinet proposals will prevent that. When we spoke to young people about the future of the service, they told us that youth centre based provision and support for more vulnerable young people are important to them and would be best delivered from Roundwood which is an award-winning building in the centre of the Borough offering great services to all young people.

The London Borough of Brent needs to save £54 million by 2016/17; and estimates that from 2010 to 2018, central government funding to Brent council for vital local services will almost halve.

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