MP calls cuts to family services a ‘travesty’
Bermuda Democratic Alliance MP Donte Hunt last night bemoaned the “terrible travesty” of budget cuts in family services as Bermuda grapples with escalating social problems.
And Mr Hunt said civil servants face a massive challenge to fulfil Government's oft-repeated pledge to “do more with less”, claiming that's a target the rest of the world has struggled to achieve.
But Minster of Youth, Families, Sports and Community Development Glenn Blakeney said the programmes that are in place are making great progress, saying: “We remain committed to providing programmes for our youth and support the community.”
They were speaking during the Budget debate on Mr Blakeney's Ministry, which saw its funds for 2011-12 slashed from $71.5 million to $66.2 million, a drop of seven percent.
That includes a cut of $267,000 in Child and Family Services; the Mirrors programme being scaled back; and child day care allowance being limited to those with a total income of $50,000.
Mr Hunt, the BDA spokesman on families, told the House of Assembly: “As our social issues increase, we find our budget decreasing. This is a true travesty, it's terrible, it's unfortunate.
“But in the spirit of doing more with less, we cross our fingers and hope that we can do more with less.
“If we can truly do that, let's write a book, let's write a manual and disseminate it internationally on how we do that.
“I'm being very, very serious. It's a challenge I'm sure that civil servants are up to but a big, big challenge none the less.”
However, Mr Blakeney said despite the challenges presented by the budget cuts, the Ministry would continue to serve the community.
“In challenging times, every challenge presents an opportunity and our Ministry has reset the dial to do more with less,” he said.
He praised the Mirrors programme, calling it a living example of transforming the community one person at a time, but said cuts to the service will result in the cancellation of a residential training session this year, which would have targeted males between the ages of 18 and 24.
Mr Hunt called on MPs to do more promoting family values, saying: “I believe it's the leadership of this Country that guides and should encourage development of children.
“Each individual member should speak to the importance of family, whether it's a lesson learned, what could have been done better, or what they have done encouraging their siblings.”
Mr Hunt suggested Mirrors be taken over by the private sector to increase efficiency and save funds.
“The Mirrors programme is in concept a great programme, with a mandate focused on young people, those who are challenged, those who need assistance. I would encourage those who operate this programme to continue on but be cognisant of the expense and maybe consider moving this great programme to the private sector.
“I know based on research that, especially in the social services arena, often programmes are about three times more expensive in Government than in the private sector.”
United Bermuda Party MP Charlie Swan said: “I have to sympathise with our youth. I believe this Minister last year managed to reduce his budget. Here's it happening again.
“It's a bit of a shame some of this has to fall on programmes impacting on youth. The fact that you have less money to spend means that something suffers, and we see it here.”
Mr Swan described Mirrors as a “very worthwhile programme, serving an honourable and great purpose for those that have taken part”.
Bermuda Cricket Board's grant has dropped from $1 million to $200,000, and Bermuda Football Association's from $1 million to $750,000.
Mr Swan, the Shadow Sports Minister, said: “I've not had chance to speak to anyone to do with cricket, but I did with football and I hope they can weather through.”
Progressive Labour Party backbencher Dale Butler congratulated Mr Blakeney on managing to keep projects going despite the cuts.
Regarding Mirrors, former Rehabilitation Minister Mr Butler said: “It's good to hear that it will not be scrapped. While it may be toned down a bit, it will continue.”
He said the psycho-educational programme was allowing young Bermudians with “unbelievable, unimaginable” problems to get access to some of the best experts in the world.
And he said sports were given good funding when it was available and have to make do with less when it is not.
UBP MP John Barritt said Mirrors had been held up by Government as a showpiece project which is turning young men's lives around. He asked how cuts can be made if money wasn't being wasted in the first place.
Mr Barritt added cash shouldn't just be cut systematically across the board, saying: “I'm an advocate of getting better bang for our buck.”
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