Councillor Emma Corlett of the Norfolk County Labour Party set up the petition in response to local authority proposals to reduce its spend on children’s centres from £10m a year by up to £5.5m over the next three years.
The council, which has a £125m funding gap, is consulting on a review into how children’s centre services are provided, how to focus children’s centre services on vulnerable families, and on the possibility of consolidating children’s centres and libraries in the same buildings.
Together, the council believes these plans could save £2m in 2018-19, £3m in 2019-20 and £0.5m in 2020-21.
The council has contracts with 12 organisations to run its 53 children’s centres on its behalf at a cost of around £10m per year. All of the current contracts end in March 2019.
The consultation closes on 2 January 2018.
Councillor Corlett called the council’s plan to save £5m a ‘false economy’, and said it would ‘shunt’ the cost on to other services.
She added, ‘My local children's centre was a life-saver when my daughter was a baby and toddler. It was motivation to leave the house, to keep some structure to the day and to be able to seek advice in a non-threatening environment. I felt out of my depth as a new parent and the advice and support I received was invaluable. My daughter really benefited from activities with other children, and I was able to maintain some kind of social support network.
‘I’m passionate about the excellent work our children's centres do and the difference they make to the lives of families in Norfolk. It’s in everyone's interest that children in Norfolk are happy, safe and reaching their potential. Our children's centres play a crucial role in this.’
Signatories of the petition were offered the option to give their reasons for signing it.
They include Cathy Eden, who said, ‘Sure Start gave me support and sound advice when I struggled as a parent. They gave me a network and a place to go when I felt isolated and vulnerable as a new mum. It’s unthinkable that this vital service could be at risk.’
Hannah Dunne said, ‘I live in a village, isolation for parents of young children puts the family at risk. Sure Start centres are able to provide support, to prevent problems from growing and identify areas where further intervention is necessary.’
Cliff Goodman added, ‘Children's centres are so important for providing activities and support for parents during the crucial early years during children's development.’
Shadow minister for early years Tracy Brabin posted a photo of her visit to Norfolk’s Earlham Early Years Centre earlier this week, saying, ‘Fascinating to hear from parents at the Earlham Early Years Centre this morning, it’s clear they really value their Sure Start centre! The county council's proposals currently being consulted on are very concerning.’
A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said, ‘We are encouraging residents to get in touch with us to let us know their views on the proposals to remodel the children’s centre service. The aim of these proposals is to make sure we are targeting our work to the families who need the service the most. The consultation runs until 2 January and people can find out more and have their say here: www.norfolk.gov.uk/budget.'