Centres which aim to give at-risk and deprived families in Notts a better start in life are set to be scrapped by the county council, it has emerged today.
Three Children’s Centres in Ashfield, Mansfield and Broxtowe, will be closed.
The centres, formerly known as Sure Start centres, provide a broad range of services for new families, including breastfeeding support, parent and under-one groups, and perinatal mental health networks.
Labour has said it ‘cannot support these callous cuts’, which it says will hit the most-vulnerable in society.
The Conservatives on the county council had previously said numerous times that children’s centres would not close, but now say these three were underused and that moving out of the buildings will save money which will help ‘protect services’.
The centres were set up by the Labour Government in 1998 with the aim of: “giving children the best possible start in life” through improvement of childcare, early education, health and family support, with an emphasis on outreach and community development.
However consecutive Conservative Governments have questioned the effectiveness of the programme, and funding for the scheme has been reduced significantly.
Responsibility for the centres was also passed to local councils, which themselves dealt with large cuts to their central budgets.
As a result, several of the centres – which were originally known as Sure Start Centres – have already closed nationally.
In one of the three centres which will be closed by the council, services have been reduced to the extent that just two two-hour sessions are being held a week.
Two of the three centres are leased by the council, while the other is owned by the county council.
Conservative-controlled Nottinghamshire County Council says closing the three properties will save £84,500 a year.
It comes as the contracts to run children’s centres are being brought back in house, and the council has said it hopes to save £1 million from the overall budget.
On the ‘implications for service users’ the county council states the target groups that will be affected include: Low income families with identified needs; Families identified as having mild/moderate mental health issues; unemployed single parents; unemployed parents living in rural areas and parents of children with special educational needs and disability.
Labour councillor Liz Plant represents West Bridgford North, and is the Labour spokeswoman for Children and Young People (CYP).
She said: “Since the start of the Conservative administration, the children’s centre services have been gradually reduced piece by piece, and we always knew that the idea was to strip down the services so that the children’s centre buildings would no longer be viable.
“Now, despite the chairman of the CYP Committee, Councillor Philip Owen having repeatedly stated that no children’s centres would be closed, these plans show that the county council is withdrawing its commitment from children’s centres in Mansfield, Huthwaite and Beeston.
“These areas are where we have children with some of the greatest need in Nottinghamshire for early intervention, in order to reduce inequalities and ensure that all our children have equal access to the best start in life.
“Arguing that the service will improve is a fallacy when alongside this we have also seen a reduction in the service budget of £1m.
“We cannot support these callous proposals.”
Councillor Philip Owen represents Nuthall and Kimberley for the Conservatives, and is the chairman of the committee which is expected to approve the decision on Monday, February 10.
He said: “We need to deliver the best possible support to people that we can, while making the best use of our resources.
“Our priority is to give children the best start in life, not buildings.
“We need to deliver the right services at the right time, in the right place, to those that need them most.
“By adopting a targeted approach, which focuses on outcomes, I’m confident that we will be in a more sustainable position for the future.
“By ceasing to use under-used buildings and those that represent poor value for money, we can save funds and help to protect vital services.”