There has been a lot of press coverage over the past couple of months, perhaps slightly longer, with regards to children’s centres. I have, as many of my fellow councillors have pointed out, not said very much. There is a reason for that – I didn’t make up my mind about how best to do things until:
a. I listened to those most in the know – that is parents, providers and the council’s professional officers;
b. I looked at what could be done to mitigate the impact of the necessary cuts; and
c. After I consulted with other members of the council, so I could take their views into account.
Now finally I can speak, and give me informed view. Earlier this afternoon I authorised the release of the press statement below.
I am sad to see the funding come out of children’s centres (particularly the one dearest to my heart – Darlinghurt (Leigh), as it is in the ward I represent). I know there will be a lot of arguing to come, and my opposition colleagues will say that this is all wrong and one who may even repeat his comment “I know in my gut this isn’t where to cut from”. However, holding public office does bring with it responsibilities and one of these is the need to balance the books. If only the said opposition councillor could have said “…but I suggest you do it from x, y or z” – instead of which he said “I don’t know where to cut from….”. The joys of opposition, sadly not enjoyed when you form the Administration.
Southend-on-Sea Borough Council recently consulted residents on the way forward with children’s centres and the outcome of this and other feedback will be considered next Tuesday 18th June when the Council’s Cabinet meets.
The main elements of the proposal were to leave five children’s centres untouched and to merge six centres: Friars and Shoebury, Blenheim and Leigh, and Temple Sutton and Hamstel, into three bases – Friars, Blenheim and Temple Sutton with some increased funding to those centres.
Based on the findings of the consultation, a report to the Cabinet will recommend merging Friars with Shoebury and Blenheim with Leigh – with a decision on Temple Sutton and Hamstel delayed until September 2013 following a further period of public consultation.
With regard to the delay of the central of the three proposed mergers James Courtenay, Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s Executive Councillor for Children and Learning, said:
“We spoke with our children centre providers and put together a set of proposals.
“These were designed to maximise the children’s centre offer that can be delivered by making the most of the centres we have, as well as using buildings freed up to help us roll out more two-year-old free nursery care across Southend, despite a reduction in funding .
“I am grateful to those who participated in the consultation. The Council has listened to the feedback from parents, residents, centre staff and councillors and there was concern, particularly expressed by parents, that the proposed merger between Temple Sutton and Hamstel could be done in a better way.
“I am happy to take those ideas on board and for the Council to review its proposals and re-consult parents and residents, coming back to decide how to deliver the remaining saving at its September Cabinet.
“Whilst in an ideal world I would not want to lose this level of funding from children’s centres across the town, these are tough times and the Council passed its budget in March, which necessitated a reduction in funding of £224,000 to children’s centres, to balance the books.
“I am also pleased to announce that I will be recommending to Cabinet that further assurances are put in place to ensure that children’s centre services are delivered from a range of venues, not just the site on which they are based. This will, in many cases, mean that some services can be accessed at a nearer venue than where parents and children currently go.”
Notes to journalists:
The Council’s Cabinet will consider recommendations that:
- Leigh and Blenheim Children’s Centres are merged into one Children’s Centre based at the Blenheim site
- Friars and Shoebury Children’s Centres are merged into one Children’s Centre based at the Friars site.
- Further consultation will be undertaken regarding Hamstel and Temple Sutton Children’s Centres.
- no changes are recommended to any other Children’s Centre.
The full details will be available from tomorrow, Tuesday 11th June, when the Cabinet papers are published online at www.southend.gov.uk.These include the results of the consultation.