A guest post from Mark Higton, a Conservative candidate for Ravenscourt Park Ward.
I am deeply concerned about how the Labour Council are privatising Youth and Family Services. These changes will happen if they are left unchecked, and the reason voters are unaware is because the Labour councillors involved have failed to publish definitive policy documents, which makes scrutinising and discussing these plans extremely difficult.
The first we learned of this was 18 months ago, when Community Centres and Youth Charities were informed that two of the five Youth Hubs could be cut, whilst the remaining three would be ‘re-imagined’ to become Super-Hubs. The decision was only to be made after May 2018. Hubs were told only to apply if they were located next to a School and Health Centre. They were also informed that they could lose their facility funding should a change in their designation occur, whilst Children’s Centres could be cut as part of the wider rationalisation.
Naturally the Children’s Centres, and the many Youth Charities that support them, were alarmed by this information. To this end a group of Charities established the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation to exchange information, and provide an independent voice. I have been speaking with their members, and aligned voluntary groups, and they are clear that the privatisation of Family and Youth Services has already commenced in Hammersmith and Fulham, resulting in cuts to budgets, annual funding reviews, and delays in funding decisions.
The EdCity project in White City is a clear example of the Council’s vision for a Super-Hub, and it is already impacting how Charities will be commissioned in Ravenscourt Park and other Wards. The Council decided to dispense with the existing Community Centres and Charities which have decades of youth provision experience in Hammersmith, and gave the mandate to a private-public partnership called OnSide. As part of this deal the Council have pledged to provide 50 per cent of the funding required to build a Youth Zone costing £6 million. This will be owned by Onside, and local charities and community groups will have to pay commercial rates if they want to use the building.
Furthermore the Council has pledged 40 per cent of Onside’s annual £1,000,000.00 operating budget, the remaining 60 per cent will be generated via Sponsorship and User Charges. Onside estimate the cost of delivery per child to be approximately £17.90 per head, which is almost £4.00 more than what our existing youth charities charge, whilst user charges will mean that a Child who currently attends the Youth Club for free will have to pay between £7.00 and 50p per session.
So why are Labour Councillors backing a partnership which is noncompetitive to our local Charities, and will cost the poorest in society up to £547.50 a year to access? The answer is simple, the Council want to make long-term savings of £9.00 per child, cutting their costs from £14.00 to £5.00 per head. That, of course, is the theory…
What if OnSide fail to meet their share of the operational costs? Presumably the Council will be forced to underwrite the scheme, and a building nobody else can use, whilst the community will still have to pay for services at point of provision. More to the point, least well-off parents that can’t afford the user charges could find that their taxes are being used to subsidise better-off parents, who might otherwise have paid more.
If that isn’t enough to worry about, the Council plan to move Youth and Family Services into a Purpose Led Vehicle, where 75 per cent of costs will be met by the private sector in five years. This shift, and a reduction in staff, will coincide with Super-Hubs being given greater responsibility to directly commission Children’s Centres, Community Organisations, and Youth Charities. The loss of accountability to the Council should this vision be fully implemented could be disastrous.
Conservatives believe this money could be better spent. £3 million would fund our existing Hubs for two and a quarter years, or provide much needed investment into their facilities and the Children’s Centres they support. Whilst the £400,000 annual operating capital is equivalent to the entire H&F Youth Services budget!
A budget the Council has claimed time, and time again, it has to cut.
Surely it would be simpler to increase the youth budget, and directly support experienced providers like the Sulgrave Club and Harrow Club?
Members of the the Young Hammersmith & Fulham Foundation say we are talking sense, they believe the corporate model which the Labour Council backs is anti-competitive, not fit for purpose, and doesn’t provide taxpayers with value for money.