UNION leaders say thousands of young people in Wiltshire could lose a vital lifeline, if swingeing cuts are made to the county’s youth services.

Wiltshire Council is promising a public consultation on proposals it will put before youth workers tomorrow.(JAN31) But Unite claims they could result in all 144 members of staff being made redundant and the closure of all 24 youth centres, including Malmesbury.

It says the unitary authority is aiming to cuts £500,000 from the integrated youth services budget next year and is considering four different options, including keeping the youth team with a reduced budget, outsourcing youth work, turning the work over to the community and setting the workers up in a staff mutual to carry on the job.

Unite regional officer Alan Tomala said: "We face the real possibility that by the end of August we will have no youth workers, empty youth centres boarded up and young people hanging around outside them with nothing to do”

Although the council is intending to consult the youth, he was critical of it for not staging public meetings in the different community areas.

“The council knows these will be unpopular cuts, so it is trying to avoid difficult questions at public meetings. The county’s young people will suffer, if councillors are allowed to sneak these plans through,” he said.

“We would urge young people, their parents and the wider community to let their local councillors know that this is not acceptable and we should be investing in young people, not cutting their services.

“The council would prefer the community led model option which will see professionally qualified youth workers removed and replaced by a small grants budget in each area board across Wiltshire.”

But the union maintains there is no evidence the community-led model will work and says there is no alternative plan if volunteer groups do not come forward to take over.

There were more than 31,000 visits by youngsters to youth centres in the county and 3,500 were advised by the service on employment, housing and personal problems.

A final decision on the proposals is expected at the April 22 cabinet meeting.

In a statement this week Wiltshire Council said council leaders had reviewed a report that included options for “ ensuring sustainable provision which reflects the modern lives and needs of young people while encouraging more of them to access activities within their local communities.”

It added: “Currently, a small percentage of Wiltshire's young people access council youth services, while many are actively engaged in community, voluntary and commercially-provided activities.

“We must focus on what young people in local communities need and want in the future, while retaining the support and provision for those who need it most.”

Public consultation starts at the beginning of February.