The team behind Blackpool Youth Question Time, which I blogged about last week have posted some videos of the events on their YouTube channel. For those of you who were a bit bewildered by my last blog post on this topic, or found it too long to read, why not watch the videos below and see what to make of the event for yourselves.
On Thursday of this week, I was invited to attend the first ever Blackpool Youth Question Time, held at the City Learning Centre, on Grange Park in Blackpool. I was invited as one of 5 allocated places for Blackpool & The Fylde college, and was asked by the College’s Student Liason Officer, as part of my responsibilities as a Students’ Union exec member. I was really pleased to be invited to the event and found the evening really interesting.
The event was organised (I think) by the team behind @rubothered on behalf of Blackpool Council.
The panel was chaired by the head of ‘Employability’ at Blackpool & Fylde College, Chris Thomas and was made up of the following people;
Conservative Councillor Paul Galley (PG)
Liberal Democrat Councillor Douglas Green (DG)
Labour Councillor Chris Maughan (CM)
Member of Youth Parliament for Blackpool Lauren Anderson (LA)
Blackpool Young Persons Council Chair Nicole Burke (NB)
It was great to see the young ladies charged with representing the ‘youth’ of Blackpool, speak so coherently and passionately about the issues affecting young people in the area.
The format of the evening was that there would be two sessions, with a short interval in between. In the first session, questions from young people who were unable to attend were asked, which included questions on tackling racism and youth unemployment. Both serious issues affecting many young people across the Fylde.
In response to the question on youth unemployment;
CM said that cuts made by the previous administration of as much as 50% to youth funding meant that it was difficult to offer the level of support to young people the Labour party would like. However he insisted that support would still be provided and that vulnerable young people would be made the priority.
PG, who runs a private recruitment company said that the key would be to identify a 30 year plan, which would see the Fylde coast linking current education to the skills required in the future. He also said that schemes like the Princes Trust would be a good example to follow and that young people needed to be ‘inspired & nurtured’ to raise their aspirations and help them to start businesses of their own.
NB responded by asking what could be done now to help 16-17 year olds struggling to find work, with services such as Connexions being cut, she felt that young people weren’t getting the careers guidance they needed, and would often leave the town to seek employment elsewhere.
DG said an emphasis needed to be placed on schemes such as apprenticeships, but that would be difficult since many of the companies that used to offer apprenticeships such as BT were no longer public sector companies. He also said that the onus should be placed on young people to try to seek employment, and that the culture of having things handed to you on a plate was to blame.
LA insisted that careers advice was what was lacking, particularly in schools, she agreed with DG that young people should be pushing themselves to create opportunities but more companies in the town were needed, that offer more than just seasonal work.
During this discussion, Paul Maynard Conservative MP for Blackpool North was invited to contribute and said that we need to diversify the economy across the Fylde coast and work across councils to get successful schemes such as apprenticeships set up. He also talked about private sector services, such as BenEast who can offer careers advice and guidance for young people.
The next question was about tackling racism between young people?
DG said that there needs to be better education in schools about the affects of racist behaviour, and that parents should take responsibility for teaching their children about this issue. He also said that peer pressure could be used in a positive way to get the message across that it isn’t acceptable to be racist.
NB said that the message needed to be spread further and that young people of Blackpool needed to work together to do this.
LA said that she thought the punishment for any racist attack should be the same, no matter whether you’re the England football captain or an everyday person. She also said people needed to be made aware of the consequences of being racist.
PG said that the country as a whole needed to work together to embrace multiculturalism.
The Chief Constable for Lancashire Police was brought in on this topic and reiterated that there is no place in society for any form of hate crime and discrimination, and that so far raising awareness of the issue has helped reduce incidents of this type. He also stated that it was important that schools and colleges had good anti-bullying procedures in place and that young people are made aware that the Police will take action on these types of offences.
After these questions, there was a brief interval. In the second half, questions on transport, cuts to youth services and changes to the bus timetables and routes were raised by members of the audience.
The first question was about what specific youth service provisions are there for people with disabilities?
A lady in the audience (I didn’t catch her name or role) responded that new provisions were being made at Mereside called ‘Aim Higher’ which is a facility opening fully in March specifically for young people with disabilities and their siblings and parents. The facility offers the area’s first soft play centre for disabled youths as well as many other fantastic opportunities for disabled young people.
Another audience member added that there are plenty of voluntary youth organisations working in conjunction with local authorities, such as; boys ‘n’ girls club, Tramshed and Tiggers.
The next question was from a colleague of mine on the Students’ Union, Sam Richardson who asked whether there were any plans to support students with the cost of transport in Blackpool, by introducing a student fare or extending the existing Wave Card provision. Sam put this question into context by bringing up the cuts to EMA which meant that many students found it increasingly difficult to afford the cost of getting to college.
CM responded by agreeing that he thought the cuts to EMA were appalling and that in his experience he and his brother would never have been able to get to college without it. He said that at present Blackpool Council, who are the majority stakeholders in Blackpool Transport were in reviews to see if and how changes could be made to make the cost of travel more affordable.
NB said that lots of young people found the cost of travel a huge barrier to accessing services and employment, not just education. She said that the Blackpool Young Persons Council (BYPC) were in talks with Blackpool Transport about trying to extend the Wave Card to 19 year olds.
PG said that the EMA would be replaced by a 16-19 ‘bursary fund’ which would helps those who most needed support and pointed out how lucky he thought we were in comparison to some places were the buses stop running at 5pm.
During this discussion, the audience heard from Trevor Roberts from Blackpool Transport, who agreed to sit down with BYPC and try to extend the Wave Card, he also said that since September 2011, they have been working with Blackpool & Fylde College and Blackpool 6th to offer reduced fares, but that perhaps more information needed to be provided about how these fares can be accessed. He also brought up that Blackpool Transport has only increased its prices once in the last three years, and that was down to the rising cost of fuel, as opposed to increasing profit margins.
The final question of the evening was asked about why youth groups have been cut, and often youth workers moved to other jobs?
DG put the onus on the economic climate, saying that cuts were having to be made and that all areas were bound to suffer.
PG said that in his ward they were allocating more of their budget to youth services than in previous years, and that the 30 year plan he talked about earlier would help support young people.
LA said it was appalling that no consultation had taken place with the young people who were going to be affected by the 50% cuts to youth services.
CM explained that the 50% cuts to youth services were made before Labour took over in May 2011, and that young people were always going to be a target for cuts. He also explained that once the budget had been set, there was nothing they could do to put that money back into youth services, as it was being spent elsewhere, but that it would be reviewed at the next budget.
That was all of the questions that were asked on the night, and my recollection of the answers provided. I thought the panel were excellent and it was great to see so many people in positions of power, who can make changes and decisions to help young people in Blackpool in attendance. As I said earlier, I thought Lauren and Nicole both did an excellent job of representing the young people in Blackpool, who often get a bad press.
It was really enjoyable to see so many people coming together from different sectors and services to try and improve the lives of young people in Blackpool, and I sincerely hope that there will be another ‘youth’ question time soon.