Council leader says �900,000 youth investment fund will help offset cuts

Norfolk's Conservative administration has unveiled a Big Society-style youth investment fund to support community-based groups in the county.

By doing so it hopes to offset the reality that direct council provision is being all but wiped out.

The council-run youth service was the biggest casualty in yesterday's budget plans, which include �24m of cuts in the county's children's services department.

But yesterday, council leader Derrick Murphy announced that the authority was setting aside �900,000 to invest in commissioning a new approach to build the capacity to support and develop youth provision.

He said the idea was that the council would support local groups that wanted to set up services and help put them in touch with voluntary organisations that could assist. The council was using money from the government's �29m early intervention grant allocation to fund the scheme.

The vast majority of the cash, �21m, would be used to support Norfolk's children's centres, while �2.6m was being used to support programmes offering short breaks for children with disabilities.

Also, there would be �800,000 available to continue the development of effective family intervention programmes.

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Mr Murphy said he had been keen to help groups affected by the cuts after talking to youngsters. The plan would also help reinforce support for the Connexions service, as well as youth offending and drug and alcohol abuse prevention services.

'Savings proposals in respect of the youth service generated a considerable amount of concern: we promised to see what we could do through innovative use of the early intervention grant, and we have done so,' he said.

'This �900,000 youth investment fund sees us responding to concerns about the ending of the current-style youth service and the expressed willingness of communities to do more, given some help to build the necessary community support.

'It is one means by which we intend to give effect to our promise to help communities to help themselves.'

Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said the fund was an exciting development that would see support being offered to youth services in a new way at local level.

Mrs Thomas said she was looking to schemes such as the Holt Youth Project and a youth cafe at Long Stratton, which were both run by volunteer groups, as the sort of model organisations that the fund could support.

'It's not about us providing it or saying we can fund 25pc of the youth centres we currently run,' she said.

'The wish-list will come from local areas, because what one group wants in King's Lynn could be different from another group in Long Stratton.

'We haven't nailed the specific amounts for each district, but we have got to do something quite innovative in order to provide opportunities for young people across Norfolk.'

Yesterday's county council budget meeting also heard an appeal from Diss and Roydon councillor Jenny Chamberlin for a stay of execution on plans to close the Diss Resource Base, which provides youth services in and around the town.

Approval of the budget also means that the Unthank Centre in Norwich, which is to be axed as part of a shake-up of children's services, will close on May 31.

shaun.lowthorpe@archant.co.uk