Norfolk County Council gives green light to children's centre closures

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Norfolk County Council is to press ahead with its plans to close 38 of its 53 children’s centres.

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Campaigner Jon Watson with his partner and children

During a meeting yesterday, the council’s children’s services committee voted through the plans, which will leave just 15 children’s centres remaining across the county.

The changes will be implemented from October.

The move follows a public consultation by the council in September in which it proposed closing 46 of its 53 children’s centres. After receiving more than 1,600 responses, the proposals were amended, giving eight centres a reprieve.

The de-registration of the centres forms part of the council’s plans to create an ‘Early Childhood and Family Service’, focusing on providing outreach within local community venues such as libraries, village halls, schools and in families’ homes.

Norfolk County Council said it is confident that the 38 de-registered centres will continue to be used for childcare, family services and activities by voluntary groups and organisations, and is making £500,000 available to support this.

Committee chairman, Councillor Stuart Dark, said, ‘I’m confident the new service will provide a more targeted, consistent and accessible approach, in line with national best practice.

‘We’ve listened to the consultation responses, so we will offer outreach support in people’s homes and venues across the county, have 15 early childhood and family bases in areas of highest need and run sessions at our 47 libraries. The amount spent on frontline services should rise to 60p per £1.’

Parents who have been campaigning against the closures, called the decision by the council ‘very disappointing’.

Campaigner Jon Watson (pictured), a father of two children who attend the nursery attached to the Bowthorpe and West Earlham Sure Start Children’s Centre, which is earmarked for closure, said he was ‘gutted for his children and the staff, who do such fantastic work.’

He added, ‘There are still many unanswered questions. The council has been unable to answer any questions about staffing levels and how they expect it to work. It was stated at the start of the meeting that that this is not about saving money – even though the budget is being cut to £5 million.

‘They [the council] held a public consultation to obtain the views of individuals, organisations, stakeholders etc. The data they released shows that 68 per cent of those residents who took part opposed their plans, and 54 per cent of organisations opposed them – so why ignore those views?’

Mr Watson has vowed to continue to campaign against the closure of the children’s centres.

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