Children’s Centres: we’re OK but what about the others?

DSC09180I met the senior officer responsible for the roll out of CCC’s new strategy for children and families’ services. This will involve the ‘redesignation’ (that seems like a euphemism for closure to me) of several Children’s Centres across Cambridgeshire. Although no services will cease some will be delivered in different ways and some will move to different, often less convenient, locations. There will be a saving of nearly £1million/year.

Lots of concern has been raised, there have been on-line petitions,  and consequently there was an exceptional item on last month’s County Council agenda to agree the plan. As would be expected it was reconfirmed with a block Tory vote supporting it. Maybe disappointingly some councillors spoke in support because it would be good for their patches regardless of the impact on others which might not have done so well.

I’ve been concerned, and did vote against the plan, because it seems to have been driven by the need to save money, £1 million is a nice round number to save, whereas good quality management principles would tell you that if you do that performance will deteriorate. By contrast if you aim to improve performance generally costs get reduced.

I have also been concerned that savings would additionally accrue from reductions in management ‘overhead’ and by reductions in fixed costs by moving buildings which might simply be a paper saving.

The consultation document said the following about the Histon centre:

  • We will de-designate the Histon Children’s Centre. We are working with the nursery school to maintain outreach activities from the site.

That worried me so I sought a briefing from officers to found out what that really meant.

My briefing was a good one: complete and comprehensive. The headline is that although the Histon Children’s Centre will be ‘re-designated’ the fundamental level of service delivery will not change when the new regime is implemented. The same level and type services will be delivered in the same places. There may be changes to reflect changes in demand but the fundamental service delivery will not change.

It had been suggested that some services would move to south of the A14. This will not happen.

The above notwithstanding money will be saved. How?

  1. the service will not have a 100% lock on the building in Histon but will only rent it for the time that it needs. That will of course deprive the pre-school of income but I was told that this would not be a problem because the school has a need for this extra resource.
  2. the management structure is being cut back. This is where I have a problem. In future there will be just on super-manager who looks after all of South Cambs supported by two ‘early help assistant managers’. These people don’t just manage the delivery of the service, they also manage a workforce and a number of pretty substantial third party providers. That looks like a weak management structure to me considering the complexity of the service that is to be managed.

That leaves me ‘satisfied’ that our services in Histon & Impington are not at risk but it leaves me uncomfortable about CCC’s ability to manage it. I also leaves me no less concerned about the impact of the proposed changes on other, less fortunate, parts of the County.


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