Council cutbacks ‘turning village into a ghost town’

DENABY is being turned into a ghost-town because of council cutbacks, residents fear, after yet another community resource faces the axe.

In the week the village’s library was finally closed, Doncaster Council chiefs announced the opportunity centre, which provides training and advice to the unemployed and houses the South Yorkshire Credit Union- is under threat of closure.

Doncaster Council has reviewed the borough’s 11 opportunity centres, as it looks to make savings in the 2012/13 budget. It found the average cost of a user finding employment from the centres was £1,200.

In a report presented to councillors, officers have projected a budget shortfall of £231,000 if the current model stays in place.

Seven centres - including Mexborough- have been saved by integrating into libraries. Councillors agreed the remaining four, including Denaby, must find alternative facilities or face closure next March.

It is understood that Conisbrough Library could house an opportunity centre.

Conisbrough and Denaby councillor Christine Mills said: “We are trying everything we can to keep the service going in our community. I think it is very important for local residents to have something available to them to provide that kind of immediate support towards finding employment and training. It is a very important route to get that kind of advice.”

If the centre closes, it is unclear what will happen to the South Yorkshire Credit Union, which has an increasing number of members.

Denaby shopkeeper Joanne Lewins, said virtually all of her customers relied on the centre for their banking needs. She said: “This news is absolutely shocking. Denaby had just got back into having some amenities and this will just set us back, particularly in this terrible economic climate. It is no wonder people around here are bitter. It’s just not fair.”

Julie Grant, Doncaster’s assistant director of customer services and ICT, said borough -wide only 267 out of 2,212 people using the service between April and October found employment.

Her report added: “Unfortunately the take-up is still extremely low. It has cost £1,194 to get each one into employment.”

But Coun Richard Cooper-Holmes, vice-chair of the council’s regeneration and environment overview and scrutiny panel, believed the figures had been portrayed negatively by council officers.

He said: “If you have a look at what employment companies like A4E and Serco are paid to get unemployed people into a job the figures are about a third of those. So that’s a really good result”.

Scott Cardwell, the council’s assistant director for development, said the scheme’s funding had been slashed from £7 million to £2 million per year.

He added: “Big changes since the opportunity centres were initially envisaged have been forced by public sector cuts. They have pulled the rug from under the model.”

The cost of the Denaby Centre, which opened in June 2010, is £43,020 per annum. From April-Oct 2011, the number of people forecasted to be supported at the centre, was 154, while the actual figure was 247. The of people helped into jobs through the centre was forecast at 14, but only 9.5 got work and the number completing education or training was only four.

In Mexborough, the number of users supported was 160, with five being helped into jobs and 11 people being directed into education or training.