Lack of cash delays children’s centres

STEVE DOWNES Needy children and parents in three Norfolk towns could see lifeline services downgraded and delayed because of a £2m shortfall on a network of children's centres.

STEVE DOWNES

Needy children and parents in three Norfolk towns could see lifeline services downgraded and delayed because of a £2m shortfall on a network of children's centres.

Plans for centres at Caister, Stalham and Swaffham have been put on hold as officials try to find ways to develop them more cheaply.

They are part of a £10m-plus project to build or establish 26 new centres by April 2008, to supplement the 16 that are already in place across the county.

Education officials drew up a starting budget for the scheme, but more detailed work found it would cost £2m more.

Caister, Stalham and Swaffham are now “under review”. They are likely to be delayed until at least September 2008 and could lose some of the services originally planned.

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Chris Hey, Norfolk County Council's children's services head of planning and buildings, said: “Because of the compressed timescale, our starting budget estimates were inevitably done without the full site facts. Some of the figures for some of the projects have now come in higher than that.

“Our intention is to seek to provide additional funding from the council's own resources to meet those needs.

He added: “Members have asked us to review projects at Caister, Stalham and Swaffham to ensure they demonstrate value for money.

“We're not scrabbling around in crisis. We are looking to top up the original budget figures. It's not withdrawal of children's centre commitments for those three areas.

“We will look at the demand in those areas and make sure that what we come up with matches that.”

More than £8m of the funding has come from the government, which wants to see a children's centre in every community in the country by 2010.

The centres provide a host of services under one roof for under-fives and their families, including early learning, full day-care provision for working parents, child and family health services, parental outreach and family support.

The first tranche of centres was set up in areas with the highest levels of deprivation. Now councils have been told to establish them in all towns and larger villages.

Of the projects planned, 20 involve capital investment by the county council. They are at:

t Costessey Infants

t Diss Infants

t Cavell First, Norwich

t Stalham First

t Drake Infant, Theford

t Westfield Infants, Watton

t North Walsham Infants

t Vauxhall Centre, Norwich

t Belton Primary

t Caister First

t Charles Road, Holt

t Litcham Primary

t Hunstanton

t Martham Primary

t Angel Road First, Norwich

t Swaffham Infants

t St Clement's High, Terrington St Clement

t Wells

t Fakenham Infants

t St Michael's Family Centre, King's Lynn.

Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said: “The plans were drawn up in all good faith and then, when they got costed out, we found we can't afford all of it. It's not that anyone's been inept.”

She said she was “absolutely confid-ent” that Caister, Stalham and Swaff-ham would get excellent facilities.