Labour has defended its proposed changes to the 12 children’s centres across Brighton and Hove while the Greens have criticised “massive cuts”.
Councillor Tom Bewick said that there was some misunderstanding about what was meant by the proposed mergers of children’s centres. The mergers would reduce the number from 12 to seven.
Councillor Bewick said that the name – children’s centre – had a specific meaning in law for somewhere that provided a range of universal services.
Even though five of the 12 buildings would no longer be designated or called children’s centres, families would still be using those five places. And services would still be provided from them and/or public buildings near by, although fewer services than now.
The Labour councillor said that services would have to be more focused and targeted as Brighton and Hove City Council tried to plug a £68 million budget gap.
He said that the huge funding shortfall was the result of the government giving councils less money in grants. As a result, councils like Brighton and Hove were having to make some difficult decisions.
On Monday (16 November) the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee voted to start a consultation about the future of children’s centres in Brighton and Hove.
The Greens are concerned that the changes will prove counterproductive, costing taxpayers more in the long run.
Councillor Alex Phillips, who speaks for the Greens on children and young people, said that these were “the most short-sighted cut being proposed by the Labour council so far”.
She said: “The revised plans are still extremely damaging for children and families and will only serve to drive up costs in the long run.
“We already know this from the consultation last year which convinced councillors to save the centres.
“These proposals will see much-reduced services and staff and the remaining children’s centres will be unable to cope with the demand.
“They will most affect families who cannot afford to travel and who are least able to advocate for themselves.
“Once again Labour seems to be going after the poorest rather than considering how to spread the burden of cuts more fairly.
“I appreciate the funding constraints the council is now operating under but it doesn’t change the fact that preventative services save money in the long run.
“At a time when child protection costs are rising dramatically, we must do everything we can to intervene early or the entire system could collapse. Failing to invest in early years will only hurt council finances in the long run.”
The consultation started yesterday (Tuesday 17 November) and runs until Sunday 20 December. To take part, click here.
One parent, Leila Erin-Jenkins, who co-founded the Brighton Children’s Centres Campaign, said: “We are disappointed that a consultation proposing a 35 per cent cut to children’s centre services has been approved.
“However, we are confident the members of our campaign will use this opportunity to make clear their views on these devastating cuts to children’s centres.
“We urge residents of Brighton and Hove, parents, carers and anyone else who understands how important these services are, to fill in this consultation, to join our Facebook group and to sign the petition we will shortly be releasing on our page.
“Finally, we hope the council listens to the opposition to these cuts which will undoubtedly be the result of this consultation.”
Councillor Bewick said: “We need to make sure resources are targeted at the children and families who need them most.
“I would encourage everyone to respond to the consultation so that the committee can take account of people’s views when we make decisions about the future of children’s centres in January.
“With the budget cuts we are facing we have to make some very difficult decisions. Doing nothing is simply no longer an option.”
The council proposes to keep seven children’s centres as main sites and designated children’s centres. They are
- Roundabout (Whitehawk)
- Hangleton Park
- Conway Court (in partnership with Sussex Community NHS Trust)
- Portslade (with reduced opening hours)
The council proposes to keep some services running at four sites but to remove their designation as children’s centres by merging each of them with one of the remaining seven children’s centres. They are
- The Deans (Rudyard Kipling Primary School) to merge with Roundabout
- West Hove (West Hove Infant School) to merge with Conway Court
- Hollingbury and Patcham (Carden Primary School) to merge with Hollingdean
- City View (in partnership with Sussex Community NHS Trust) to merge with Tarner and/or Moulsecoomb
As part of the changes the council will review the existing City View catchment area to consider how it should be divided between Tarner and Moulsecoomb.
The council proposes to merge the catchment area for the Cornerstone Community Centre, at St John’s Church, in Palmeira Square, Hove, with Tarner.
The council also proposes “a revised core offer of services”. It will include
- open access baby groups in venues across the city
- one open access drop-in group in venues across the city with priority for families with identified needs and children under two
- more parenting talks and discussion groups to reach more parents at an earlier stage and fewer longer parenting courses
- promoting volunteering and community or parent-run groups
- evidence-based interventions delivered in groups and home visits for families most in need
- improved support for families with young children facing multiple disadvantage as part of the Stronger Families Stronger Communities Programme
- more focus on support for training and employment
The council said that the 12 children’s centres in Brighton and Hove serve a population of 14,745 children under five.
They cost £2.4 million a year to run, with 80 per cent of this – or £1.9 million – going on staff costs.
The council had proposed removing the children’s centre designation from four of the 12 children’s centres a year ago but relented after a campaign. Instead, councillors allocated one-off funding of £670,000 for the current – 2015-16 – financial year.
The proposed changes reflect the loss of that money plus a further cut of £176,000 in the budget for the next financial year – 2016-17.
The overall cut of £846,000 is about 35 per cent of the current budget. It will be achieved primarily by reducing the number of staff.
The council also expects to spend less money on running costs, supported childcare and third party payments.
Councillor Bewick spoke about the changes in an interview on The Vote on Latest TV last week. The programme can be found on YouTube – see below.
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