Three-quarters of Cambridgeshire children's centres face axe

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Cambridgeshire County Council is proposing to cut its number of children's centres from 40 to ten by April 2018.

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Under Cambridgeshire County Council's proposals, 30 centres could be re-designated or used for something else

The county council, which needs to make savings of £1 million in 2018/19, is due to put out the proposals for consultation next week (17 July).

According to a draft consultation document, the remaining centres would either be used for something else or re-designated to provide additional childcare places for two, three and four-year-olds. Among those that would be re-designated is Homerton Children’s Centre, home of Homerton nursery school, which was awarded a Centre of Excellence status in 2003.

However, Cambridgeshire County Council confirmed to Nursery World that the proposals only relate to children’s centres not nursery school or childcare provision delivered at the centres.

A council spokesperson added, ‘These proposals could free up space to enable the nursery school [Homerton] to extend their outstanding early years offer to more local families.’

The council’s plans also include the creation of up to 12 Children and Family Zones that will be used to deliver services for families, particularly those living in rural locations, details of which will be outlined in the council’s consultation which closes on 22 September.

A petition against the closures of the children’s centres has been launched by Cambridge Liberal Democrats and campaigners. The petition, which argues that the council’s proposals would ‘lead to a significant reduction in support for families across Cambridgeshire’, has attracted 1,166 signatures.

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesman said, ‘This consultation is a chance for communities across Cambridgeshire to give us their views on these proposals. No decisions regarding children centre services will be taken until the consultation responses are reviewed later in the year. 

‘Families have told us it is difficult for families to access childcare across the city, particularly in areas surrounding Homerton and this need is only going to increase when the 30 hours free childcare provision is introduced from September. 

‘We believe that providing children’s centre services from a range of other locations in Cambridge would be more efficient and would better target those families that need it most.’

Cambridgeshire County Council is one of a number of local authorities considering closing some of its children’s centres due to reduced Government funding.

Just last month Nursery World reported that the future of more than 90 children’s centres across three local authority areas was uncertain. Enfield London Borough Council is also considering closing three of its four children’s centres.

A Government consultation on the future of children’s centres was expected in 2015. A Department for Education spokesperson confirmed to Nursery World that the consultation is still to go ahead.

Speaking at a parliamentary debate on children’s centres on Tuesday (11 July), the children and families minister Robert Goodwill also said he was aware of plans to consult on the future of children’s centres.

When asked about the closure of children’s centres across the country, Mr Goodwill said that it is for councils to decide the best solutions for their area.

He added, ‘Some councils are merging centres to deliver services more efficiently. Where councils decide to close a children’s centre, they must demonstrate first that children and families, and particularly the most disadvantaged children and families, will not be adversely affected. Secondly, they must demonstrate that they still meet the duty to have sufficient children’s centres to meet local need.’

However, one council, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is bucking the trend by investing over £11m in its 23 children’s centres, despite experiencing a 10 per cent reduction to its children’s centre budget.

Councillor Miranda Williams, cabinet member for children and young people at the Royal Borough of Greenwich Council said, ‘At a time when many children’s centres across the country are closing due to funding cuts, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is continuing to invest significantly in vital Early Help resources. The children’s centre contract extension from October 2017-September 2019 will cost £11,293,380. Whilst there is a 10 per cent reduction in the direct budget to children’s centres, there is not a 10 per cent reduction in the service offered.

‘Our children’s centre funding will equate to £260 per child from birth to the age of four, which is well above the England average of approximately £196.’

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