New Drive To Save Norfolk’s Careers Service
Union bosses offer proposal plan to save jobs getting axed at Connexions, while Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, replies
“We are still in the consultation process and we are still listening to people with regards to the options available.”
Now where have we heard that load of old rubbish before…
A new drive has been launched to save a vital career service as hundreds of youngsters desperately scramble for limited jobs and university places.
Union bosses have revealed new proposals to help save half of the under threat jobs at Connexions which could in turn help keep the career service for young people alive.
The news comes as hundreds of teenagers across Norfolk last week celebrated the county’s best ever A-level results – the biggest year-on-year increase for five years.
But for many those celebrations turned into panic as figures reveal that more than 170,000 people are set to miss out on a cherished university place nationally and that six students are fighting for each spare university place.
The knife-edge situation is illustrated locally, with Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca) full to the brim and the University of East Anglia had just 70 places available through clearing after seeing a 30pc rise in applications for this year’s courses.
This year, hundreds and thousands of students across Norfolk have been lucky enough to be able to turn the Connexions service for career advice and to be steered in the right direction.
But next year, students may not be so fortunate as the service is facing a 50pc budget cut with 65 jobs expected to go. It is expected that the service will become more online and telephone based.
Norfolk County Council says it has to make £2.8m of cuts in the Connexions service in this financial year as part of a £10m package of savings.
County Hall says those cuts need to be made because in-year grants from the government have been slashed – with more than £4m taken from area based grants used to support services to children.
Fears have been raised, however, that Norfolk’s youngsters are taking a “disproportionate hit” in terms of where the cuts are being made.
The proposals being put forward by trade union UNISON could help safeguard Connexions and stop 30 jobs from being lost.
It is hoped they will be considered at a meeting of the full county council on September 6.
Jonathan Dunning, UNISON Norfolk branch secretary, said: “We’re hoping they will incorporate our proposals into the report which will go before the council. Our proposals mean Connexions will be left in a state where it can still be a credible service.
“The current proposals, we believe, means it will struggle to deliver the level of service to Norfolk’s young people, because it seems to be relying on a web-based service. That won’t reach some of the young people in parts of Norfolk where the broadband service is poor and access to computers is limited.”
Under the union’s proposals, it is suggested to bring in planned changes to the Connexions structure earlier – in December, rather than January – to enable savings of £2.1m to be made in a full financial year.
That is above the £1.4m the council missed out on after the area budget grant was reduced, but below the £2.8m the council has said it wants to save.
The union says the £700,000 left in the Connexions budget by not cutting £2.8m, plus an additional £250k from not filling new four new management level posts in finance, can be used to provide specialist one to one support for young people and will save about 30 of the under threat jobs and the subsequent redundancy costs.
Paul Morse, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at County Hall, said: “I feel as though young people are taking a disproportionate hit in terms of where cuts are being made.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction by the Tories and they don’t realise the breadth of services that are provided by Connexions.
“It’s ironic that at the moment there’s a focus on young people getting their exam results and, whether they be A-levels or GCSEs, and there’s an emphasis on the fact that there’s a definite shortage of places within education and there’s a difficult labour market which means that it’s the time when our young people need Connexions more than ever.”
Connexions, which gives career advice to young people aged 13 to 19, has six centres across Norfolk: Norwich, North Walsham, Thetford, Great Yarmouth, King’s Lynn and Dereham.
From April 09-10, the service saw 45,000 youngsters across the county and took as many calls. The figure does not include visits to schools, colleges, homes and training centres.
In Norwich alone, more than 1,600 young people walk through the doors of the centre in just one month.
The service does not only help with careers advice but helps point youngsters in the right direction to overcome or deal with a range of issues including homelessness, drugs, teenage pregnancy and sexual health.
Norman Lamb, Lib Dem North Norfolk MP, said: “I went along to the Connexions centre in North Walsham and I met with a large number of youngsters there and couldn’t help but be impressed by the stories they had to tell about the value that they had gained from the service and the type of support that they get.
“It’s very easy to lose a service and then it’s gone for good. There’s an opportunity for reflection now and everybody would be impressed by the county council if they took a step back and thought again about the alternatives being put forward.
“Everybody understands that the savings have to be found, we are not in denial about that at all, but let’s think very carefully about the damage that’s being done here and whether it’s possible to find another way forward.”
A County Hall spokesman said the suggestions from UNISON would be “carefully considered”.
Conservative county councillor Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children’s services, added: “We are still in the consultation process and we are still listening to people with regards to the options available.”
Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP for the Conservative Party, said: “It’s important to have information, guidance and advice for young people and everyone concerned about Connexions should be talking to the county council as it’s a local authority decision, although their funds have been drastically cut as a result of the irresponsibility of the last government.
“I’m doing that as well on behalf of people who have been in touch with me. It’s important to retain as much of the front line service as possible with the funds available but be realistic that some very difficult decisions have to be made because of the financial situation.”
Last month, young people joined forces with redundancy-threatened workers and union activists to save the careers service from the drastic cuts. They protested outside County Hall, but the cuts were still approved.