Nottinghamshire County Council met on 19 March to discuss changes to provision of services within Children’s Centre’s across Nottinghamshire.
Controversial plans to change the way children’s centres are run in Nottinghamshire were approved at the meeting.
The centres currently offer free support for youngsters and their parents throughout the county from 58 centres.
The Conservative-led county council wants to increase the number of volunteers running the service, and says a new, more-targeted approach will mean the most at-risk families get more support.
But Labour, which is in opposition, says the council is taking £1m from the budget, and that the changes are the ‘beginning of the end’ for the centres.
The Labour Group at Nottinghamshire County Council said:
‘In reality, these proposals which have sadly been passed under the Conservative administration, mean that by 2020 the budget available to run services at Children’s Centres will be cut by almost £1m.
‘In order to do this, it will be necessary to run the existing services not by trained professionals, but by a group of volunteers who have been ‘recruited’ to run activities in Children’s Centres. This is concerning not only because it will mean a lack of a skilled professional workforce available for specialist services, but also as it raises questions around ensuring safeguarding of our children, at a time when these concerns should be priority
Councillor Liz Plant, who represents the Labour Group for Children and Young People’s Committee at Nottinghamshire County Council was disappointed with the entire proposal, and said
“This is about providing the best possible care for our service users in a tough economic climate, which this proposal fails to do. Some aspects of the proposal are arguably putting our youngest and most vulnerable members of society at increased risk, and most certainly depriving them of access to on hand trained Early Year’s professionals who would previously have been available in our Children’s Centres”
The council says there will still be full-time staff at each of the universal sessions, but that it wants more of them to be led by volunteers.
In a heated meeting today, Labour’s John Peck, who represents the Sherwood Forest ward, said: “We simply don’t trust children’s centres in the hands of Conservatives. Looking at the evidence across the country, with the sort of cuts that have been taking place within public services and local government in particular, we’ve seen that children’s centres have been an easy hit. Children’s centres have been closed in vast numbers across the country, and in some areas local authorities they have almost disappeared altogether.
“We think they perform a hugely important service, and while you’re not closing them in this particular report, we don’t trust what you might do in the future. We know it’s up for review in 2020, and we know that is all up for grabs, I suppose, in the future. We think this is the thin end of the wedge.
“Just like the NHS, children’s centres are not safe in Conservative hands.
But his claims were angrily rebuffed by Philip Owen, the chairman of the committee which approved the changes.
Councillor Owen, who represents the Nuthall and Kimberley ward for the Conservatives, said: “I have to say I’m a little surprised at your hostility towards this report, I’m afraid you have simply misunderstood the budgeting process, because we are being accused of cutting £1 million from the service, and quite clearly that is not the case.
“We’re simply bringing the service more in house. On the one hand you criticise us for putting services out of house, and now you’re criticising us for bringing them back in house. So I wish you’d get your position straight on what you really do want.
“There is no cut to the budget whatsoever. A couple of years ago (When Labour was running the council) £3m was taken from the contract and you didn’t bat an eyelid, so I really find it total hypocrisy.”