High court to rule on council's children’s centre closure

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A high court judge is to decide whether the move by Buckinghamshire County Council to close 19 of its 35 children’s centres is unlawful.

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Campaigners from the Save Bucks Children's Centres campaign outside the Royal Courts of Justice

A parent from High Wycombe who brought a legal challenge against the local authority, following its decision to close more than half its children’s centres, has been granted an order for a judicial review by a high court judge. The two-day hearing will take place at the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 2 and 3 July.

Barrister Stephen Broach, who is representing the mother, has put forward the argument that the council’s consultation process was ‘unlawful’ as parents were presented with three choices, but no option that would allow children’s centre services to continue as they are.

Buckinghamshire County Council announced in March that it would close 19 of its children’s centres in September and turn the remaining 16 into ‘family centres’, offering a different model of provision.

The Save Bucks Children’s Centres campaign group, which the mother from High Wycombe is part of, claims that the closure of the children’s centres will impact low-income families the most, as they will have to travel further to access services at the remaining centres.

According to James Betts, the public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester Office, who is representing the mother, if the judge hearing the case next month finds that the council’s actions were unlawful, the decision to close the centres could be quashed and overturned.

He said, ‘Strong legal arguments have been made and we have been granted permission by the High Court to proceed on every ground argued. We are pleased the court agrees our client has an arguable case that needs to be considered further.

‘The judge has said the case needs to be heard urgently.’

The mother from High Wycombe, who remains anonymous, said, ‘I am very happy with the outcome, it's been a long process and I'm delighted that parents' voices are finally being heard. I just want to make sure we do the best we can for our children and the staff from the children centre that have supported me in my journey as a mother and helped give my children the best possible start.

‘The support children centres provide is irreplaceable and it is great that this decisions means there is now a chance the council's decision could be overturned.’

'It's been a long journey for us as a campaign group'

Alka Dass, lead campaigner of Save Bucks Children’s Centres and co-founder of National Save Our Children's Centres, said, ‘After fighting this battle for the last two years, I feel like parents can now see the finishing line and can see an outcome. I am ecstatic and cannot believe how far the campaign has come. The fact that this order has been granted for a judicial review gives all parents hope that the children centres could be saved.

‘It’s been a long journey for us as a campaign group. Parents have fought hard with protests, petitions, a legal challenge before with a letter and now finally the judicial review. We are very grateful to this mother who has launched this legal challenge.

'Children’s centres are a vital service for parents and families. They help make children school ready, help parents to become better parents, provide guidance as well as early intervention and prevention. These are all important factors to consider but we must remember, a children’s centre is not a centre without the staff that run it. This isn’t just about buildings but about having that support and expertise and just knowing someone is there to help you and listen.

‘The cuts being made by councils are very short-sighted and the costs will build up in response as the support centres provide help ensure parents can get help when it is needed before things get worse. We ask this council, and others, to invest in children’s centres to help ensure all children are able to have the best possible start in life. This case shows how important children centres are and shows parents in other counties where children centres may be at risk that there are things that can be done.'

The Save Bucks Children’s Centres campaign group is urging as many people to pledge their support by attending the hearing on 2 and 3 July.

Warren Whyte, cabinet member for children’s services said, 'The county council cannot comment further on the legal proceedings. We can confirm that work will continue on implementing our plans to deliver a new family support service in the meantime. Children’s centre services will continue, from all current sites, until the end of August.'

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