Norfolk careers service staff are feeling the effects of cuts

The first signs of how massive cuts in council services in Norfolk are beginning to bite surfaced today as it emerged that frontline council staff helping youngsters determine their future careers are struggling to cope with the demands of the job.

Norfolk County Council last year agreed to halve the size and scope of its Connexions service as part of a �10m cuts move, which saw around 90 job losses.

The authority is also moving towards a service targeted at those classed as 'not in education, training or employment' (Neet), while other youngsters are expected to receive careers advice through their school or college.

Figures out last week showed that youth unemployment was continuing to fall. But although the overall rate of those classed at Neets in Norfolk was falling and was also below the national average, the last six months had seen an increase in the amount of time youngsters were out of education, training or work.

Members of Norfolk County Council's scrutiny committee were told that despite the narrower focus, the 'stretched capacity' of frontline staff meant that there was less regular contact with those young people.

Labour councillor George Nobbs asked: 'Is that a polite way of saying you can't do the job now because of the cuts, and you haven't got the same number of staff,' he said. 'It's true that the situation is getting worse and people are remaining as Neets for longer.'

Karin Porter, head of integrated youth strategy at Norfolk County Council, said: 'It's a way of saying that the staff resources we do have, have to be directed at the young people in most need. Over a transition period of six months, it's taken time to settle down. What we have seen is a trend for that period to get longer and that is something we are quite rightly concerned about.

Most Read

'The longer a young person is disengaged from education, employment or training, the longer it takes to re-engage them,' she added. 'That's something we are very conscious of and we are looking at actions to make sure we target them more quickly.'

Paul Morse, committee chairman, who is also advising the government on its plans for a national careers service, said: 'It's a fact that there are less staff, while the service has limited what it does.

'One of the things that concerns me about the current model is the focus on the vulnerable,' he added.

'There's lots of talk about aspirations. I can clearly recall working with potential Oxbridge people who didn't know what they wanted to do. There was, therefore, support available to people of all abilities. With the model we have got at the moment, you can only get proper careers guidance if you are vulnerable, that feels fundamentally wrong to me.'

Conservative councillor Brian Long said he was worried about the trend for young people to be out of work education or training for longer.

'To me that seems a very poor result for those who need it most,' Mr Long said. 'Those who have been Neets the longest are really the ones who need targeting effort, but they are just getting worse.'

Fred Corbett, the council's deputy director of children's services, said: 'There is, or ought to be, careers advice to all the young people within the system, the universal element is provided by the institutions that work with these youngsters, such as the schools and the colleges,' he said.

'Despite all the changes we were going through, staff did manage to hit the Neet targets.'

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter