Young people and vulnerable adults will be hit hardest by massive budget cuts in Staffordshire, campaigners claimed today.
A huge programme of cuts has now been approved by Staffordshire County Council as it aims to make savings of £102 million over the next five years.
It means day service centres for disabled adults will close or be downsized and youth centres across the county could shut as well. Steve Elsey, spokesman from the Staffordshire branch of Unison, slammed the cuts being made to youth services, warning the move could lead to an increase in anti-social behaviour.
He said: “We are very concerned at Unison about these cuts because youth services are vital for youngsters in the area.
“The Government constantly talk about achieving excellence for young people but I fail to see how they are going to get that if they make these cuts. It does not surprise me that the cuts have been approved but I am very upset about it.
"I believe there could be an increase in anti-social behaviour if centres shut because young people may go down the wrong path if they have nothing to do and then it will be the taxpayers left to pick up the bill.”
The council aims to shave £4.5m from the youth services budget, arguing that only one in five of 73,000 young people living in Staffordshire currently use council-run clubs. Around £1.5m will be cut from the libraries budget over the next three years.
Lichfield district councillor Sue Woodward said she was concerned for the future of libraries across the county.
She said: “Libraries are not just used to borrow books any more, they are used by different people from the community to meet and take part in different groups.
“What concerns me is that it is the vulnerable and the disadvantaged that seem to be the ones hit hardest under these cuts.”
As well as the library moving from the Shire Hall in Market Square, Stafford, the art exhibition space there will be ‘vacated’ under a council review of its art provision saving up to £218,000 a year.
Currently, temporary displays in the Great Hall feature visiting exhibitions and material from the Staffordshire County Museum Collection. But it has been decided that the Shire Hall will not close altogether, for the time being. Stafford Central county councillor Maureen Compton, who has battled to save the Shire Hall, said: “I welcome the news today that Shire Hall is not going to be sold off because we had 2,800 people sign our petition to keep it.
“I think the wise thing to do now would be for the council to have a consultation with the public to see what they want to do with it and how they want to make good use of it. Having said that, I am still very worried about these cuts and how they are going to affect people and I am waiting to find out more like so many others are.”
The William Salt Library in Stafford will also be closed and historic documents moved to Staffordshire Record Office as part of plans to merge the county’s archives into a single archive building in a bid to save £75,000. Campaigners have vowed to continue their fight to save council-run day centres across the county for adults with disabilities after it was announced they would be closed, moved or downsized.
Campaigner Dave Bailey said his son Stuart, aged 46, is a regular user of Chase Day Services in Longford Road, Cannock, which is to close, with services moved to a smaller building.
Mr Bailey said: “These cuts are extremely disappointing and I am very unhappy that they have been approved by the council. The council says cuts to day services is not about money but it is just trying to gloss over the issue. This is not going to work at all, it is going to have a devastating effect on the lives of so many service users and carers and I am worried for Stuart’s future.”
A centre for adults with learning disabilities in Histons Hill, Codsall will close, while eight other centres in Staffordshire will also either close, move or downsize.
Councillors have insisted that services for those with more complex needs will continue to be provided by the county council. Finance boss Ian Parry defended the decision to approve the cuts, saying it was not a case of ‘simply cutting or closing.’
He added: “It is going to be a challenge but this is something we have to do.”