A ROW has erupted over funding for youth services after outbreaks of antisocial behaviour were linked to a lack of activities for teenagers.

A full meeting of Darlington Borough Council saw Labour and Conservative councillors lay the blame on each other’s party for an 84.3 per cent cut to its youth services over the past decade.

The accusations were made as YMCA published data from 84 local authorities on youth services spending for 2019/20 compared with 2010/11, which showed an average drop of 69 per cent.

Over the decade Durham County Council has also cut its youth services spend by 84 per cent, however, the study found Hertfordshire council’s spending on youth services had fallen by 17 per cent and Bracknell Forest council’s spend on youth services fell by just 8.5 per cent.

A Government spokesman said: “Councils, not central government, are best placed to know what their communities need and they take decisions about how much they spend on youth services.”

Tory-run Darlington Borough Council’s community safety portfolio holder Councillor Jonathan Dulston told a full meeting of the authority funding now was being directed towards action to tackle increases in antisocial behaviour, in Faverdale, Haughton East and West, Whessoe, Middleton St George and Lingfield.

He said multi-agency initiatives, such as Operation Staysafe, were helping tackle young people drinking alcohol in the borough’s parks and streets.

Labour councillors responded saying confiscating bottles and making referrals to social services would have little impact on the issue, which had been triggered by “a lack of diversion” for young people.

Park East member Councillor Libby McCollom said groups of youths were gathering on a nightly basis in Darlington town centre, which was a reflection of the £880m cut from youth services by local authorities in England “trying to protect essential services from Tory-enforced austerity”.

She said: “Six hundred youth clubs have closed and youth justice spending, which is vital to reduce reoffending and keep young people out of the justice system in the first place, has been cut by about half since the Tory government took over in 2010.”

Cllr McCollom asked Cllr Dulston if he recognised the damage that the Tory government had done to young people in Darlington since 2010 and the subsequent antisocial behaviour that impacted on all residents.

Cllr Dulston replied: “I don’t believe the decision to cut youth services was necessary. It has been hidden under the umbrella of austerity. You had a choice and you made a choice and that choice was to remove youth services from being on offer in Darlington. “

The council’s former leader Councillor Stephen Harker added Cllr Dulston’s claims were “farcical” as local authorities “up and down the country have had to make the same harsh choices”.

Cllr Harker said most of the council’s budget of around £90m was spent on statutory services - ones it legally had to provide.

Cllr Harker said: “We have very little left for non-statutory services. When I last looked it was around £2.5m. There are many, many things that we do that most residents find it hard to believe are not statutory, such as simple as cutting the grass. Much of the money that we have that is for non-statutory services is spent on things that are frankly essential.”