Pen Green's children's centre one of 17 at risk in Northants

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A flagship children’s centre run by Pen Green is at risk of closure under a £3m cost-cutting exercise by Northamptonshire County Council.

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Dr Margy Whalley, head of Pen Green Centre in Corby

Pen Green Children’s Centre is one of 17 set for closure as the council aims to reduce its budget spend from £10.1m to just over £7m because of reduced Government funds.

The council, which currently funds 50 children’s centres, has said the proposals are ‘a result of cuts made to the budget, intended to meet austerity targets.’

According to charity 4CorbyChildren, budget cuts of 25 per cent will hit four children’s centres in Corby, of which Pen Green is one.

Centre director Margy Whalley said, ‘With the cut in the budget we will get £211,000 to run the centre. The staff budget there is £212,000, so what about rent and running costs?

‘I have to believe there will be the integrated services for children and families that every child deserves, but they are dying a death. For the first time in my life I am not optimistic. I am realising in my lifetime England will never have them through a proper system, taxation, where everyone pays for them.’

The children’s centre is part of the Pen Green Centre, which also comprises a research arm and nursery school, was set up as a ‘one stop shop’ for families over 30 years ago and was one of the first government Centres of Excellence. It is just the children’s centre which is affected by the council’s plans.

The council says it is considering retaining existing Pen Green staff ‘where possible’ and maintaining existing services on an outreach basis. But Dr Whalley said, ‘The centre is right in the heart of a very challenged community and a locality model in that community is vital.’

But Corby is relatively lucky, being one of the areas that the council plans to focus its investment.

Cuts in other areas of the county, such as East and South Northamptonshire are more severe. Overall, eight children’s centres are to close fully, while services some from a further nine are set to be provided elsewhere, such as in libraries.

A spokesman for 4CorbyChildren said, ‘Corby is a town that can ill-afford further disadvantage for its children, [and is] ranked within the lowest quarter nationally for multiple deprivation. The heritage of well established children’s centres and local support is something to be cherished and preserved.’

A petition against the children’s centre cuts set up by the charity has reached nearly 1,000 signatures.

County council deputy leader Heather Smith said, ‘Reduced funding from central Government and unprecedented demand for public services means the county council will have to make £65m savings in the coming financial year, including a £3m reduction in children’s centre services.

‘A great deal has changed since Children’s Centres were first introduced in Northamptonshire more than a decade ago. They now bring together a range of support including health visiting, childcare, family support and adult learning. We want to make sure that we can continue to provide this support, but we need to do it with less money.’

The children’s centre consultation closes on 28April and a final decision will be made in May. A public rally on the issue will be held by 4CorbyChildren on Saturday, April 2.

The consultation can be found here

 

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