No redundancies for children's centre changes in Suffolk, says council
PUBLISHED: 17:00 09 January 2020 | UPDATED: 08:07 10 January 2020
Plans to revamp Suffolk's children's centres - which could see two closed - are not about saving money, council leaders are insisting.
Proposals unveiled last year aimed to close a number of children's centres in the county, instead offering an outreach service.
Those plans were mooted to be generating up to £1million in savings while offering a better service for those who were hardest to reach.
Today, Suffolk County Council's Conservative cabinet member for children's services, Mary Evans, confirmed there would be no job losses and the reorganisation was not about generating savings.
She said: "It's about strengthening our core service.
"There are no cuts as such - any money saved goes back into the service and there are no job losses.
"The whole purpose is to help the most vulnerable and disadvantaged which is why we want to do more outreach work."
Mrs Evans said none of the services provided at children's services would be lost, and additionally the new family hubs would cater for 0-19 year olds instead of just early years.
That means hubs are likely to feature sessions such as youth groups, work for excluded pupils, and mental health access alongside the normal services for 0-5 year olds that children's centres provide.
The plans, which go out for public consultation tomorrow, will see two of the 38 current centres close entirely - Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge, two centres which are currently within schools will be returned to those schools, seven become nurseries and 11 become part time.
Sixteen will be full time under the plans.
Mrs Evans said the seven nurseries would provide between 10 and 20 places each, to help meet the shortage of nursery places in the county.
The Chatterbox provision is in an ailing building in north Ipswich that is no longer considered appropriate, and will likely be sold, while the Caterpillar lease ends in two years, where it will not be renewed.
According to the council, the outreach service will run the same sessions the centres currently do, such as baby massage and post-natal support, but from village halls and libraries instead.
The public consultation launches at 9am on Friday and runs until 5pm on Sunday, March 1.
Feedback will then be collated and a report presented to cabinet for a decision, likely to be from May this year.
Labour group reaction
Councillor Jack Abbott, Labour education spokesman at the council, said there were still fears about the impact of the changes.
He said: "As we feared, the Conservatives' final proposals are every bit as damaging as was first revealed last spring.
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"No amount of Tory spin or rebranding changes the facts before us. This isn't an expansion, but a ruthless withdrawal of absolutely vital early years provision. Eleven children's centres will close and nearly a dozen more will have their opening hours reduced - this means that more than half of Suffolk's children's centres will face some sort of cut.
"Our children should never be subject to an either-or choice and the council must start recognising the damage they are doing by not investing properly in early years.
"These cuts represent one of the biggest attacks on public services our county has ever seen. I will be doing everything I can to oppose these plans which will do so much damage to children and families."
Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group reaction
Councillor Penny Otton, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: "We mustn't forget that the Conservatives are still planning to close children's centres or make them part time.
"I'm glad the Conservatives have now said they won't be looking for financial savings, but I would like reassurance that there won't be any reduction in service quality either. Currently it sounds like they're planning to spend the same amount of money but for a wider range of services, which will mean funding is spread much more thinly.
"I sincerely hope that, after this consultation, the Conservatives will amend their plans to ensure that no centres are lost."
How have the proposals changed since 2019?
-Last year the council could not rule out the threat of redundancies. They have now confirmed there will be no job losses.
-The plan was meant to save up to £1million when announced last year, but now has no savings targets. All money saved will be pumped back into the service, according to the team.
-Wooden House in north Ipswich was originally in line to be re-purposed as a special educational needs assessment centre but will instead be a part time family hub.
-Dragonflies in Halesworth was due to be re-purposed as a nursery, but will instead run as a part-time family hub.
Public drop-in events
As part of the consultation, a series of drop-in events for the public have been organised at the following locations:
Tuesday, January 21, 10am-12pm - St Marks Church Hall, Lowestoft
Tuesday, January 28, 10am-12pm - Whitton Clinic, Ipswich
Tuesday, January 28, 2pm-4pm - Stevenson Centre, Great Cornard
Wednesday, January 29, 10am-12pm - Woodbridge Library, Woodbridge
Thursday, January 30, 10am-12pm - The Apex, Bury St Edmunds