County council majority agree to consult on the future of children’s centres in Suffolk
09:03 18 July 2014
Suffolk’s children’s centres are to come under scrutiny over the next five months as the county tries to trim its budget by a further £1.6million over the next three years.
A review and public consultation looking at the future of children’s centres in Suffolk – including the Roman Hill Children’s Centtre in Love Road, Lowestoft and the Reydon and Southwold Children’s Centre at The Firs in Reydon – was agreed at the county council meeting yesterday.
A consultation document prepared for yesterday’s full meeting of the county council suggested that nine of the 47 children’s centres in Suffolk could be merged with other centres.
However Gordon Jones, cabinet member for children’s services, insisted helping families and children was the council’s top priority.
Former Labour minister Frank Field MP has agreed to be a consultant to the county as it seeks to change the way it delivers some of its services,
Mr Jones said: “Like many people up and down the county, we strongly value the good work carried out by our children’s centres and the services they provide. However, we believe that more can be done to ensure that these services are as effective as they can be and reaching all those who would benefit.
“Supporting parents and their children in early years is of profound importance to us and goes above and beyond the normal run of party politics. That’s why we have sought the knowledge and support of the right honourable Frank Field MP in this consultation – someone who has, over many years, taken a deep interest in this issue and is a much respected expert in the field of early years, and breaking the cycle of poverty and deprivation.
“We want the precious resources we direct towards early years care to be focused as much as possible on the services that will make a difference, and not on buildings. Our aim through this consultation is to hear the views of people across Suffolk about the children’s centre services and how they feel the services should be shaped. I urge all those using these services to share their views and engage fully with us.”
However the Labour opposition are not convinced, Ipswich councillor Mandy Gaylard pointed out that a children’s centre in her division – one of the most deprived areas of Suffolk – was being suggested for closure while those in more affluent Needham Market and Debenham would be retained.
Council leader Mark Bee insisted the vote was only about holding a consultation – and said there would be more opportunities to discuss the issue over the next few months. The motion was passed by 44 votes to 14 with one abstention.
Any final decisions will be made by county council’s cabinet in December 2014, following analysis of the consultation responses. Any changes will be implemented from April 2015.