New data reveals reality of funding cuts to youth services in Sheffield

The number of youth work sessions commissioned by Sheffield Council has nearly halved in the past five years, new figures have revealed.

By Alana Roberts
Wednesday, 22nd July 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 8th April 2021, 6:08 pm

Results of a Freedom of Information request submitted by The Star show Sheffield Council spent £2,929,940 in 2015 on its core Youth Contract with Sheffield Futures.

But, in 2016 the spending dropped to £2,792,697, including £32,069 for additional sessions commissioned that year.

Since 2017, it has however remained stagnant costing a total of £2,714,624 per annum in the three-year period up to the beginning of 2020.

Councillor Julie Dore, Leader of Sheffield City Council

Despite this, the number of youth work sessions taking place in the city as part of the contract has continued to decline – with 777 fewer sessions now taking place compared to three years ago.

Sheffield Council says the contract value covers a range of activities, not just youth work sessions, but it was unable to breakdown the amount of the contract specifically going to youth work sessions.

According to the figures, a total of 2,900 youth work sessions were conducted across the city as part of the council’s core contract with Sheffield Futures in 2015, equal to an average of nearly 56 sessions per week.

The majority, 1,136, of these took place in the east of Sheffield, whereas 1,013 were held in the north of the city, 633 in the west, and 118 in a category defined by the authority as ‘others’.

Sheffield Council is going to bring its youth services back in house after its contract with Sheffield Futures ends

The numbers have decreased every year since, with 2,584 conducted during 2016; 2,465 in 2017; and 2,259 in 2018.

Last year, however, saw the biggest drop, with only 1,688 youth work sessions being held – an average of just 32 sessions per week.

Of this total, 636 were in the east of Sheffield, 688 in the north, 323 in the west and 41 were ‘others’.

Youth services can include enrichment activities often based around youth centres, as well as targeted provision for vulnerable young people, including teenage pregnancy advice, youth justice support, and drug and alcohol misuse services.

Murals by UK artist Marcus Method outside of Woodthorpe Youth Club which is run by Sheffield Futures

They are seen by those working in the sector as vital and can help reduce the risk of young people being exploited by gangs.

Over the past decade, however, funding for local authorities from central government has dramatically declined – with studies suggesting correlations between funding cuts and the rise in knife crime.

Sheffield Council blamed the severe cuts to funding for the decline in the number of youth work sessions being held in the city in recent years.

Leader at Sheffield Council, Julie Dore, said: “To put the reduction seen in Youth Services delivery into context, funding for young people nationally has suffered significantly from austerity and cuts in central government funding over the last decade.

Youth sessions run by Sheffield Futures include activities such as snooker

"Across the country we have seen a reduction in community services including support to young people. Funding has been cut by 70 per cent nationally and in some areas funding for youth services has ceased altogether.

“In Sheffield, where we have had to deal with some of the most severe funding cuts in the country, Youth Service delivery has been impacted with resources falling from £12 million in 2010 to a little over £2.5m in 2020.

"As a result of these cuts we have had to increasingly focus our resources on targeted activities for young people rather than open access youth clubs to best accommodate the shortfall in funding.

“Despite the cuts coming from central government, the future of our young people is a key priority for us in Sheffield. We have prioritised investment in our young people through the new plan launched earlier this year which will invest an additional £2m in additional services for young people per year.

“As we move to deliver services in-house, some of the funding will be invested in increasing youth work delivery and Cabinet has agreed that young people have been disproportionately impacted by 10 years of austerity and are keen to redress the balance by investing more in services for young people.”

Sheffield Futures has provided youth services in the city on behalf of the council for the past 18 years.

Young people during an activity with paint run by Sheffield Futures

But, following a decision by Coun Dore to bring the service in-house, the contract will come to an end in September.

The authority instead says it will invest an extra £2million in young people and will offer more ‘wraparound care’ with better integration of services including schools, safeguarding, youth justice and mental health.

Sheffield Futures says the Youth Services contract fund covers a wide range of services, including open access youth work, but the contract value has reduced year and year over the last decade.

Gail Gibbons, CEO of Sheffield Futures said: “Each year, commissioners at Sheffield Council has asked us to reduce the youth work element of the contract because this is the only element of delivery which is ‘non-statutory’.

"In recent years, the council has also asked us to divert staff away from youth work delivery and increase our one-to-one support work instead, as there has been growing need for intensive support for many young people.

“We understand that the council has had to make difficult funding decisions over the last ten years in response to cuts at national level. However, we are very disappointed that the council has only decided to reinvest in youth work at the point of taking the contract back in house.

“In our view, good quality professional youth work is an essential piece of the jigsaw of specialist support services needed to ensure that all young people thrive and achieve their full potential – no matter what challenges they face along the way.

"Youth workers provide informal education and enrichment activities outside the classroom; supports young people’s health and well-being; help keep young people safe; and help divert young people away from crime.

"Despite the significant challenges faced by dwindling council funding, our council funded youth service has continued to deliver excellent youth work. Sheffield Futures has also secured additional funding for youth work from a range of new funders such as South Yorkshire Violence Reduction Unit, South Yorkshire Police Crime Commissioner and Home Office and from our own fundraising efforts.”