Bucks children’s centre campaigners lose in High Court

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Campaigners fighting to keep children’s centres open in Buckinghamshire have lost their case in the High Court.

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Campaigners fighting to save Buckinghamshire children's centres from closure outside the High Court this month

The anonymous mother who brought a legal challenge against Buckinghamshire County Council following its decision to close more than half of its children’s centres is now looking to take her case to the Court of Appeal.

On 12 July, judge Mrs Justice Andrews dismissed the claim for a judicial review.

It followed a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice earlier in the month during which the mother’s legal team argued that the council’s consultation was ‘unlawful’ as parents were presented with three choices, but no option that would allow children’s centre services to continue as they are.

However, Ms Justice Andrews dismissed their argument on all grounds, including failure to properly consult, failure to comply with statutory duties and procedural failures in the council decision-making process.

In handing down her decision, she said she was satisfied that the consultation had been entirely fair and that the ‘council carried out the consultation before it made the decision, it took the responses properly into account, and it complied with all its relevant statutory duties’.

The council will now implement its plans to close 19 of its children’s centres in September and turn the remaining 16 into family centres.

The anonymous mother said, ‘I am very disappointed that it has not gone in our favour, but I will never give up fighting for what I believe in. I never thought we would get this far with it going to the High Court, at least our voices were heard and that I tried my best to do good not just for the children’s centres, but for the whole community.

‘I am considering appealing the decision and am still hopeful we could save our children’s centres.’

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Warren Whyte, the council’s cabinet member for children’s services, said, ‘We are very pleased with the court’s decision to dismiss this judicial review. It is regrettable, however, that we have had to contest it at all, as this has been a very costly process – both financial and in terms of the time spent by our team in preparing for this hearing. These proceedings have caused anxiety for our staff and, critically, could have shifted focus and energy away from the children and families who need our support.

‘This has never been about withdrawing any services – quite the opposite; it’s about enhancing how we help families across Buckinghamshire with children of all ages. People who need extra support will be able to get it in a more targeted way under the new Family Support Service.’

James Betts, the public law expert at Irwin Mitchell’s Manchester office who is representing the mother, said, ‘We are naturally disappointed with the outcome and are currently discussing the options with our client including an appeal against the decision.

‘Our client brought this case as the children’s centres in Buckinghamshire have been invaluable to her and her family. She remains of the view that the planned closures will have a major negative impact on her children and other families and young children across the county. We are aware many families have found the situation hugely distressing and it is important that their voices have been heard.’

Alka Dass, Save Buckinghamshire Children’s Centres lead campaigner, said, ‘We are disappointed by the result, but we cannot give up hope. We will keep on fighting and will continue supporting the anonymous mother. We would like to thank her as we would not have had a judicial review launched. It’s not an easy thing to do and it requires commitment, so I sincerely thank her on behalf of Save Bucks Children’s Centres. It’s been a long journey for us as a campaign group, but we will not give up.

‘We need to continue thinking about funding as this is part of a bigger picture, we cannot continue like this any more. I urge everyone to start banging on the doors of their MPs.

‘We will be contacting both Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson to get their commitment if they become Prime Minister. We cannot stop.’

Unison said it was against the closures of the children's centres.

Stuart Kelly, convenor and steward for the union's branch in Buckinghamshire, said, ‘We are opposed to the cuts -we would have liked for all the children’s centre services to be retained.
 
‘We provided support and advice to our members working in the children’s centres.’

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