Have Suffolk’s young people been ignored by the county as more cuts bite?
PUBLISHED: 06:00 08 March 2018 | UPDATED: 08:23 08 March 2018
Over the last decade local councils have been really hammered by governments wedded to the notion that austerity is the solution to all our economic ills.
In fact I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that local government has taken a disproportionate level of cuts imposed by national politicians and their civil servants who see councils and their “amateur” councillors as convenient whipping boys.
This has been aided and abetted by Conservative-controlled authorities, like Suffolk County Council, who appear to be happy to take whatever Whitehall throws at it so it can blame the previous Labour government for an economic crisis that began in George W Bush’s USA when his administration allowed borrowing to run amok in the housing market.
But enough of that history lesson.
The fact is local authorities are strapped for cash and organisations like Suffolk County Council have been squeezed until they are dry.
Having said that, Suffolk County Council really hasn’t helped itself by often giving the impression that it really isn’t worried about any voter under the age of 50.
That might be an unfair comment – but a disproportionate number of the most obvious savings over the last decade do seem to have been targeted at children’s and young people’s services.
Just look at the services that have been lost: Youth clubs. Many Children’s Centres. The Foyer for Ipswich. The Explore Card (the Endeavour Card is a poor substitute reaching far fewer people). And now the MyGo Centre in Ipswich that was launched with such a fanfare less than three years ago is shutting.
Added to that the council is consulting on proposals that would make it much more difficult (and expensive) for children in many rural areas to go to the schools they want to.
A cynical person might say that young people and their parents are less likely to vote than those with, shall we say, more life experience.
I don’t really think that’s the case with the county council – but these kind of decisions, targeting high-profile services for younger people really don’t do the standing of the authority any good in the eyes of younger voters.
I know they’ll say the services from Mygo will be obtained from other sources like the Job Centre – but having a bright premises in one of the busiest roads in town was vital in persuading difficult-to-reach youngsters to come off the streets and get advice.
I know they say that they haven’t closed that many children’s centres and they’re “delivering the services differently” – but the fact is that if a young mum is struggling on Ipswich’s Whitton estate, she doesn’t necessarily know how to access the services she needs – she may well have known when there was a children’s centre on Meredith Road opposite where she buys her shopping several times a week!
And much of the work the council is doing with young people, like the Raising the Bar initiative, is rather nebulous to the average man or woman in the street.
I suspect I’ve got a better handle on the Raising the Bar than most – but this is basically a project dreamed up by professionals for professionals and there has never been a real effort to sell it to the public as a whole.
People might know it is “to make schools better” but everything about it is so wrapped up in education-speak that it’s unrealistic to expect most mums and dads to have a clue about the detail of what it is trying to do.
I’m sure others will point out that the county council has cut funding to the fire service. It has closed one of Ipswich’s three park and ride sites. It has reduced its funding for rural transport and there are many other service reductions that it has introduced over the last decade.
But I cannot think of any other sector of the population that has been so systematically hit by high-profile cuts as children and young people in Suffolk.
If we are to engage young people, young families in the political process we have to show that they have a real stake in political structures.
The county council (now that it doesn’t actually run many schools any more) is starting to look rather like something you only worry about when you get older.
And that is not healthy for an authority that is supposed to be working to support everyone in Suffolk – from the cradle to the grave.