22nd Nov, 2017

'Radical' children's centre plans to get the go-ahead

‘RADICAL’ plans to scrap a number of Warwickshire children’s centres have been given the go-ahead.

Out of the 39 current children’s centres, 14 will be turned into all-purpose ‘Children and Family Centres’, providing services to those up to the age of 19 instead of just children under five.

Another 16 of the centres will be no longer run by the council but staffed by volunteers providing ‘outreach services’ – although it is unclear what these services will be.

The plans are part of a £1.1million cost-cutting scheme by Wawickshire County Council after the authority was faced with a £67million cut in government funding.

And yesterday (November 9) councillors approved plans to redesign services, with some changes following a consultation.

An additional two centres will remain in Stratford district including Stratford and Lighthorne as well as Alcester, and centres in Shipston and Southam and Kenilworth’s St John’s will now be used as a base to trial outreach services.

In Warwick district the centre at Kingsway is now expected to stay open instead of the one in Syndenham. Centres at Lillington and Westgate in Warwick will also remain open.

But not everyone was convinced by the new plans.

Stratford District Council leader Chris Saint feared cuts to services in Stratford district left children vulnerable and branded the revisions as ‘little more than a gesture’.

And Matt Western – who has been working alongside campaign group ‘Save our Children’s Centres’ – has presented a number of petitions to parliament which included over 7,000 signatures.

Mr Western said: “The residents of this county are losing the most valuable layer in a child’s education – the provision for the first 1001 days.

“No matter what is said, we would lose two thirds of the specialised centres and the funding would be blurred by provision for young people up to 19.

“Warwickshire has the power and resources to defer this decision and prevent the closure of up to 25 children’s centres and give it time for a full review including other funding methods.

“I appreciate revenue budget finances are tight due to the Government cut, but we have £10million usable reserves that can be used in the short-term and are available for such issues. We are Warwickshire and we can afford it.”

Following the decision, Warwickshire County Council spokesman for children’s services Jeff Morgan said the plans meant prioritising services rather than buildings which were expensive to maintain.

He added: “We know that currently children’s centres aren’t suitable for everyone, and that the system needs a radical rethink in order for us to do the best for the most people. Any period of change is unsettling and we have taken every opportunity to listen to people’s concerns and offer reassurance where we can.

“The consultation had an incredible response which clearly demonstrates how important and valued our early years services are. We have listened to people, taking on board what they value the most and this has been reflected in the plans. We are committed to building on the successful foundations laid by our children’s centres as we begin work with partners and community groups to reshape our offer to Warwickshire families.”

The plans are expected to be in place by October 2019.

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