Item 4 on the Children & Young People’s Committee agenda today was ‘to update Members on the Children’s Centres public consultation’. It was a little more than that because it moved forward a proposal to remodel the County Council’s delivery of children’s services in order to save £1million and to launch a consultation.
The proposal, if it goes through, will result in the closure or redesignation of many centres as the number is reduced from 40 to 10. At the same time 12 ‘children and family zones’ will open in other council buildings and there will be further unspecified ‘pop-up ‘ provision.
It all seems a bit rushed and it’s open to criticism on several fronts:
- the council papers and the consultation document are bereft of data. No evidence is provided to justify this proposal;
- there’s no explanation of the impact that the proposed changes will have on service delivery. All that we know is that it will save money. We do not know if children will get better, the same or inferior support;
- the proposed new pattern of delivery removes the local element from it. People make most use of children’s centres when they are close and convenient. In future some parents will be a bus or car journey away from their nearest centre;
- it’s a false economy. Saving money at the risk of letting at risk children and families slip through the safety net just means that much higher costs, in the NHS, social services or the criminal justice system, will be incurred later; and
- the consultation itself is far too vague and unclear for meaningful responses to be collected.
Add to this the political point that this is unnecessary because the ‘necessary’ savings are only needed because the Tories chose not to exercise the freedom which they had to raise council tax earlier this year (a 2% rise would have raised £5million).
The proposal hits us in Histon. The current provision is to be ‘redesignated’ without saying what this means. The service offered will no longer be ‘full’ but ‘this is likely to remain as an outreach delivery location’ . How can you make a meaningful comment on such an unclear description of the future?
The committee meetings was depressing. Labour and Lib Dem councillors recognised the value of a review but insisted that the proposed consultation document was poor and that the consultation itself would take place at the wrong time. They proposed that it be delayed to allow more consideration for the underlying data and evidence base and for it to take place in term time when a higher repose might be expected. Sadly the Tories voted en bloc. It was doubly sad to see the Tory chair also voting. In my book it’s the chair’s job to forge a consensus, not to use his/her vote to influence the result.
The consultation is due to run from 17 Jul until 22 Sep 17.