COUNCIL chiefs and protesters locked horns during a heated five-hour debate on controversial plans to shake-up the county’s youth service.
The fiery clash erupted after more than 16,000 campaigners signed a petition against Derbyshire County Council’s proposals to axe scores of youth clubs.
Sixteen-year-old protester Greg Roberts presented the Save our Youth Service petition at last week’s unprecidented debate in Matlock.
Cllr Barry Lewis, cabinet member for young people at the Tory-led authority, attacked the “deceiving” petition and added: “It bears all the hallmarks of militant Labour scaremongering.”
His comments caused outrage among campaigners in the packed public gallery.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Roberts, chair of Eckington Youth Forum, said: “I’m disappointed with the council.
“I believe they’ve unjustly treated more than 16,000 people.”
Derbyshire County Council is planning on shutting 29 youth clubs, leaving up to 157 support workers jobless.
The authority is proposing to give cash to voluntary and community groups so they can provide activities for youngsters instead.
Cllr Lewis said the county’s youth clubs were expensive to run and used by just 28 per cent of 13-to-19-year-olds.
He added: “We need to find better ways of delivering high-quality services, so they’re available when and where youngsters need them.”
The council did not vote on taking any action on the petition but recognised the “high level of public concern” about the plans.
Anne Western, leader of the authority’s Labour group, said councillors had ignored the petition and refused to take any action on it.
She added: “It’s absolutely crazy. Where’s the democracy?”
Liberal Democrat Cllr Tony Rogers, who is campaigning to save the Peter Webster Centre in Chesterfield, said: “At a time of economic recession and rising youth unemployment, it’s very important the council keeps, not closes, youth clubs.”