A spokesperson for the council in October said it (Oxfordshire County Council) was ‘facing the heavy burden’ of an additional £61m of cuts to its budget, and as a result would not be able to afford to continue to run all 45 of its children’s centres.
It was thought that the two children’s centres in Witney, the Prime Minister’s constituency, were among the centres at risk.
However, in what appears to be a u-turn decision, the county council, which this month published its budget proposals, now says it does not envisage closures for any children’s centres or early intervention facilities.
It follows months of campaigning by parents and residents to save the children’s centres from closure, including a petition with thousands of signatures. Local newspaper reports suggest the Prime Minister David Cameron signed the petition in Witney.
In order to save £3m across its children’s services, the council will instead look at better linking and integrating early intervention services, children’s centres and children’s social care to create a more ‘cohesive child and family focused service’.
Councillor Ian Hudspeth, leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said, ‘We heard the passion many local people have for work done by children’s centres and early intervention hubs through the Talking Oxfordshire meetings during October. We’d like to be able to harness those strong feelings to find ways to get the community more involved. We were given all kinds of ideas during Talking Oxfordshire, such as increased use of volunteers, or new sources of funding. Our review will include a thorough analysis of whether such things are viable and would deliver savings.
‘Children’s centres and early intervention hubs have a bright future in Oxfordshire. We all want them to remain open and at the same time we all know that savings are needed.
‘The council absolutely recognises the important work of early intervention services, including children’s centres and their value to many families. I am confident that we can maintain our focus on early intervention to help children and families. There are such obvious and strong links with children’s social care that it makes sense to come up with a long-term plan to better link these services.’