Before we go anywhere in terms of analysing the result of the council’s budget meeting on February the 23rd and discussing how we can move forward, we just want to say well f****** done everybody!!! We all absolutely smashed this campaign, and youth services will survive another year!!!
Congratulations to everyone who took part in the campaign coalition to Protect Youth Services, from designing flyers to attending and organising demonstrations, postering, leafleting, emailing councillors, asking questions at committee meetings and everything else which went on behind the scenes. This is a brilliant reminder that when communities organise and don’t give in, we can get real results. It has been a privilege for Pre-Qual to be involved in a campaign which will have a concrete effect on the lives of young people in the city. We’ve been humbled by the humility of the youth workers involved and it’s been an absolute pleasure to meet and work with some of the amazing young people who use the services; we even picked up a couple of new members along the way!
The serious stuff: follow the money
Now for the serious stuff. The initial proposal by the Labour-led council was for an 80% cut in funding for youth services in the city, equivalent to a £450,000 cut to the yearly budget. Over the course of the campaign, Labour put approximately £100,000 back into the budget as a result of campaigning by the Protect Youth Services coalition, before councillors at the budget meeting on the 23rd of February finally announced a deal to protect youth services for another year at least, ultimately putting £645,000 back into the budget for youth services over the next three years. This means that although 15% of the budget has still been cut, the youth services which make up the Youth Collective will be able to continue their vital work.
It is incredibly important that we ask where this money which has been put back into the budget has come from. Most of it will be coming from the Housing Revenue Account, on the basis that those living in council estates are those most likely to benefit from properly funded youth services. The Housing Revenue Account records all revenue expenditure and income from council controlled housing and other services, and is essentially a fund to be spent only on housing related services. Given the dire state of much council accommodation in the city (check out ETHRAG, Brighton Housing Coalition and Brighton SolFed for more information on current housing campaigns in the city) it is clear that any money which is diverted from the HRA will limit the council’s ability to deal with the poor conditions rife in council housing and flats. Although the residents of council estates will see a benefit from youth services in terms of things such as the wellbeing of young people, reduced crime and homelessness, a reduction in the HRA will likely have a negative impact on the conditions of the places they live. The issues addressed by youth services are not the same as those addressed by the HRA and as such to say the benefits of one can replace the benefits of the other is simply wrong.
Protect youth services, cut executive pay
This is a large reason as to why Pre-Qual campaigned so heavily for two things: firstly, we campaigned for councillors to open a review of the current pay of the council’s 16 person executive team – they currently earn in the region of £1.5 million each year, with the council’s CEO Geoff Raw netting more than the Prime Minister. We argued that a 30% reduction in this executive pay would equal the originally proposed 80% cut to youth services, and would mean that money would not have to come from services which serve those of us already struggling, such as HRA, but could come from those members of our community who enjoy wealth and privilege at the expense of the taxpayer, and who would only have to sacrifice a relatively small portion of their future wealth.
Instead, leader of the council Warren Morgan flatly refused to even consider a review. We emailed the CEO Geoff Raw regarding this issue, calling for solidarity with the vulnerable members of our community who are to be rocked by the now confirmed cuts, but he has yet to provide a response, despite responding to previous emails. We set up a petition and even decorated the final budget meeting with flyers on the issue, but Cllr Morgan and Geoff Raw have stood steadfast in their position. With council tax rising 5% and vicious cuts to services confirmed, the refusal to review the executive’s bloated salaries is made all the more difficult to take by new information learned by Pre-Qual. This is that a former Brighton and Hove councillor, with a wealth of relevant experience, applied to the CEO position before it was handed to Mr Raw, and offered to take the position with no pay so that the CEO’s £150,000 yearly salary might be used for services for the members of our community who need them most. One can only speculate as to why this former councillor’s application was not even dignified with a response, while Mr Raw was handed over a six figure salary.
No ifs, no buts, no more council cuts
Secondly, at the start of the campaign we called for the council to declare a “no cuts” budget. This is an action for which there is precedent, where the council refuses to set a budget within the funding limits set by central government. Our reasoning for this call was that the proposed cuts in the budget would be unavoidably devastating for many, if not all, of the residents of our city, with cuts going through across the board, from temporary and emergency accommodation to support for disabled adults. We believe these cuts to be shortsighted both economically and socially, and hoped that the proposed cuts to youth services might best illustrate the massive cost to our city of the Conservative government’s enforced cuts to Local Authorities. Fundamentally, we did not believe that any service that provides for the most vulnerable in our communities is more deserving of funding than another, so it would be unfair to take money from one service to fund another. Unfortunately, this call for “no cuts” quickly died as the reality of the situation dictated that such a budget would not occur, and the best we could hope for was mitigating the effects of the proposed cuts to youth services. However, this should be seen as the beginning, not the end, of calls for a “no cuts” budget.
This leads us onto the most pressing question now that the budget has been announced: what next for youth services in the city, and the coalition which came together to protect youth services?
The Protect Youth Services coalition are currently in the process of organising a meeting to plan the next steps (join the Protect Youth Services Facebook group or keep an eye on Pre-Qual’s social media for updates), but at it stands, there are two key issues to be addressed; how are youth services to adapt to the 15% cut in funding, and how can we organise to prevent the cuts again next year.
Pre-Qual are honoured to have been asked to participate in the conversation on how youth work will change in the coming months. What we hope to bring to this conversation is the idea that there should be greater democracy within the operation of youth services, including both young people and workers in decision making. We hope that this would have two effects: firstly, that decisions would end up being fairer and more agreeable when they include both workers and service users. Secondly, we believe that young people will hugely benefit from the responsibility of taking part in the decision making process, and that in creating a democratic atmosphere within youth services it will also provide a model for the fairer and more equal society which our generation aspires to. Not taught in schools, politics is an alien subject to many young people, so youth services can be the perfect place for young people to begin their political education by directly participating in the democratic operation of a service or organisation. We look forward to working with the Youth Collective and other youth service providers on these issues.
Building a movement
Finally, we believe it is absolutely vital that we begin our planning and our campaigning against cuts to council services as early as possible. One thing which we have taken as a key lesson from the campaign to protect youth services is that by simply reacting to decisions we automatically put ourselves at a disadvantage. Campaigners have maintained this reactive attitude for for too long, merely responding to the latest attack on ordinary people by the political establishment. Instead we must be proactive in building a movement to defend our interests. When the proposed cuts were announced, we found ourselves in a position where we had only a couple of months to put together an effective campaign. By beginning our preparations now and building a strong coalition of groups opposed to cuts across the city we might be able to stop the cuts altogether next year, with a strong ground campaign engaging residents in the issues to gain mass support and building a strong enough case for a “no cuts” budget that the council cannot ignore it. As such, we call on every group which has fought cuts to any and all services to join us in building a movement to end the violent cycle of cuts which are destroying our city and the lives of its residents.
If this campaign to protect youth services has proved one thing, it is that when you organise around a demand which is achievable, have an argument which is strong enough and you pursue that argument with enough persistence and a great enough diversity of tactics, you can achieve concrete success. These were the key elements which won the youth service campaign; saving the service was realistically achievable, the arguments were solid and we simply did not leave the council alone, pursuing every possible avenue available to us, from getting out onto the streets to legally challenging the consultation process. By following this formula we believe that we can be successful in fighting off the cuts again next year, but we can’t do it on our own: we need your help.
Sign the petition on executive pay in the council: http://bit.do/execpaypetition
Get in touch with us to get involved in building the campaign to beat the cuts next year: firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow us on social media for more information on campaigns and events: https://www.facebook.com/PreQualUK/