Local Children’s Centres saved from merger

From Brighton & Hove News

Two children’s centres which were facing closure under plans to merge them with larger centres are no longer at risk under revised budget plans.

The original plans to merge Hollingbury & Patcham and City View centres were part of the Green administration’s substitute budget which would be implemented should a referendum be held and voters reject plans for a 5.9% council tax rise.

But following what the council called “overwhelming feedback”, the council today said these cuts would no longer form part of that substitute budget, which would instead use one-off early years funding to keep them open.

However, the West Hove and Cornerstone children’s centres would still have services such as new parent courses and stay and play sessions cut and be downgraded to linked sites.

And while Labour today pledged to table amendments to keep all four centres open, it is not known how the Conservative’s preferred option, a council tax freeze, would affect them.

Founder of the Brighton Children’s Centres Campaign Leila Erin-Jenkins said: “We are not happy with this as it is still a cut, just a slightly lesser one. It’s just not good enough and it only solves this for one year.

“And this one-off early years funding, is this not robbing Peter to pay Paul? This looks like a cut in another area that will affect children, it’s a red herring in our opinion.”

“There is still a million being cut from social work teams, this is still a major concern to the group.”

Pinaki Ghoshal, Brighton & Hove City Council’s Executive Director of Children’s Services, said the council had listened to parents.

He said: “We have listened to parents, staff and partners and what we have been told is that our children’s centre services are highly valued. Parents strongly argued that universal groups are effective in reaching all parents including those who need most support.

“We have now adjusted our proposals in response to this feedback. We will offer drop-in groups for parents with babies that are not yet crawling but will no longer offer separate courses for new parents. The savings we have to make mean that we have to reduce the number of Stay and Play groups that we run.

“These proposal will now go to budget-setting council meeting on February 26.”

“No children’s centre will be ‘closed’. The title ‘Children’s Centre’ is a statutory legal definition. Under the revised proposals two of the 12 centres would lose this specific legal status and those are West Hove and Cornerstone.

“All of these buildings would remain open and would continue to provide some services for young children including health visiting. Cornerstone is a community centre that runs a wide range of services.

“We have been working very successfully for a number of years to develop the capacity of local parents and carers to run or assist on a volunteer basis at groups that operate at children’s centres.

“Many parents have found this role very enjoyable and fulfilling, and in some cases the training and experience they have gained has enabled them to find paid employment. We want to increase the number of parents able to volunteer in this way. We would continue to offer rooms at all our centres free of charge to parent-run groups. We are not trying to stop these groups happening and we hope they will continue to operate.”

However, the changes were dismissed as not going far enough by Labour group leader Warren Morgan.

He said: “This is a minimal and knee-jerk response by the Greens to Labour’s pledge to fund all services at risk using the money they set aside for a referendum.

“Labour is committed to defending family services.”

The original proposals set out in the consultation were put together by Children’s Services in the context of a funding gap of £100 million over the next four years due to rising costs and the council losing government funding.

The council’s priority has been to maintain services for those families in greatest need of support. Proposals included reducing the number of designated children’s centres from 12 to 8 and time limiting groups open to everyone with an eight week course for new parents and a term long course for children under two.

The consultation closed on 2 February with 842 responses. A summary of the consultation is being published on the council’s website. The majority of responders disagreed with the rationale and the proposals. Half of all responders agreed that children and families who need more help should be given priority for services.

Hollingbury and Patcham, and City View will be retained as designated children’s centres while Cornerstone and West Hove will be re-designated as linked sites. This means that they will continue to offer provision for young children and their families.

All designated children’s centres will offer an on-going, open-access drop-in group for non-mobile babies. There will be fewer stay and play groups across the city but each children’s centre will offer one open access group, with more groups in areas where children have the lowest education and health outcomes.

Council staff will continue to provide home based interventions for families with the highest needs and funding will be retained for childcare places for children with child protection and early help plans. Transition funding will also be offered for voluntary sector partners.

The revised plans include one-off funding from the Early Years element of the Dedicated Schools Grant set aside for early years work.

This funding means that the impact in the proposed reduction of the council’s funding for children’s centre funding falls from £779,000 to £510,000.

The DSG will fund child care places for children with Early Help and Child Protection Plans for 2015/16. The use of childcare places will be reviewed as part of the children’s services value for money programme.

The Brighton Children’s Centres Campaign are still intending on holding a protest march next Thursday, 26 February, starting at New Road at 4pm and travelling along Western Road to Hove Town Hall for the 4.30pm full council meeting.

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