Decision made to shut 38 of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018
A decision has been made to shut 38 of Norfolk County Council's 53 children's centres - to the fury of campaigners who battled to keep them open.
After five hours of debate and discussion, the council's children's services committee voted by nine votes to four to agree a shake-up, which will see the council move away from using the centres to directly provide services to a new, more targeted Early Childhood and Family Service.
To the anger of parents, who packed the public gallery and protested before the meeting, the committee has recommended that all but 15 centres be closed.
Those centres will service as bases, with the council saying they will provide a better, targeted service in the community, including in libraries, village halls and in people's own homes.
The budget to commission those services has been cut from £10.2m to £5.2m, although the council insists it should be seen amid a bigger package of investment.
Sara Tough, director of children's services at County Hall, said: 'This is not a proposal to close children's centres to save money.'
She said it was a redesign of the service to better support children to hit developmental milestones, prevent children experiencing neglect and harm and increase social mobility.
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More than 1,600 people responded to the council's consultation over the proposals, which were branded 'reckless' and 'short-sighted' by some.
Council officers say they are confident the 38 children's centres which would shut will continue to be used for childcare and family services and activities, used by voluntary groups and other organisations.
They are making £500,000 available to support them in doing that.
Lex Thomson was one of the parents opposing the closures.
She told the committee if the centre she uses in Thorpe Hamlet shuts, she would face a walk of more than an hour, or two buses, to reach the City and Eaton base, which is earmarked to stay open.
Colleen Walker, Labour county councillor for Great Yarmouth's Magdalen ward, said: 'The public are incensed by the complete lack of empathy shown by this Conservative run council.'
But Conservative Barry Stone said he could not understand why the opposition were against a proposal he said would bring a better and fairer service.
He said it was 'selfish' for them to be trying to maintain the current funding and distribution in a predominantly rural county, where centres are hard for many to get to.
Labour leader Steve Morphew questioned how many jobs would be lost. Officers said they could not answer that before the tender process for the new service was completed.
But Ms Tough gave an assurance that professional jobs would not be replaced by volunteers.
Lib Dem Ed Maxfield asked, with £1m to be cut from frontline delivery costs, whether that would be put back if the outcomes are not what the council is seeking to achieve? Sara Tough said she would not make that exact commitment, but that investment would be continuously reviewed.
But, when Mr Morphew questioned how success would be measured, officers said they could not provide that at the moment, but work would be done to define it.
The 38 children's centres being axed would be likely to close their doors by October at the latest.
Reaction: What they said after the meeting.
Conservative children's services committee chairman Stuart Dark said: 'We've had a long and detailed debate today and committee has backed our proposals.
'I'm confident the new service will provide a more targeted, consistent and accessible approach, in line with national best practice.
'We've listened to the consultation responses, so we will offer outreach support in people's homes and venues across the county, have 15 early childhood and family bases in areas of highest need and run sessions at our 47 libraries. The amount spent on frontline services should rise to 60p per £1.
'It's our intention that the majority of the current designated children's centres will continue to be used by groups, to run services for children and families. We will support this with a £500,000 grant fund.'
Mike Smith-Clare, Labour's spokesman for children's services: 'It's a real kick in the teeth and I think this is a shameful decision. We have highlighted the holes and flaws which exist in the documents and there has been a lack of clarity in response to the questions we have posed. This isn't the end of it.'
Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services: 'The key point for me has always been that we are taking £1m out of the front-line services. We need to look to find a way to put that money back in to ensure services are there for the families who need it.'
Jon Watson, whose family have used the children's centre in Bowthorpe. which is facing closure: 'I am disappointed. There are still so many unanswered questions. They still can't say how many staff will be in these centres, which seems ridiculous when they've agreed to this change.
'And they say the buildings could still be used by voluntary organisations to provide some services, yet in their own documents they say there's unlikely to be the volunteers to do that in Bowthorpe. They just contradict themselves.'
Lex Thomson, who spoke in support of the centres at the meeting, tweeted afterwards: 'An absolute disgrace. The council are failing Norfolk's families.'
The 15 centres which would be retained
Swaffham Children's Centre, White Cross Road, Swaffham
Thetford Kingsway Children's Centre, Kingsway, Thetford
Acle Marshes Children's Centre, Bridewell Lane, Acle
Drayton and Taverham Children's Centre
Great Yarmouth Children's Centre, The Priory Centre, Priory Plain, Great Yarmouth
Seagulls Children's Centre, Great Yarmouth
Downham Market Children's Centre, Snape Lane, Paradise Road, Downham Market
Nar Children's Centre, Saddlebow Road, South Lynn, King's Lynn
Fakenham Gateway Children's Centre, Norwich Road, Fakenham
North Walsham Children's Centre, Manor Road, North Walsham
Catton Grove, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross Children's Centre, Hunter Road
Norwich City and Eaton Children's Centre
Norwich Earlham Children's Centre, Norwich
Diss Children's Centre, Diss Infant and Nursery School, Fitzwalter Road, Diss
Long Stratton Children's Centre
The 38 which would cease to be children's centres
Thorpe Hamlet and Heartsease Children's Centre, Wolfe Road, Norwich
East City and Framingham Earl Children's Centre, Duckett Close, Norwich
Earlham Early Years Centre, Motum Road, Norwich
Bowthorpe, West Earlham and Costessey Children's Centre, Humbleyard, Clover Hill,
Norwich North City Children's Centre, Angel Road Infant School, Angel Road, Norwich
Aylsham Children's Centre and Reepham Children's Centre, The Pavilion, Sir Williams Lane, Aylsham (two children's centres use the same building)
Attleborough Children's Centre, Church Street, Attleborough
Hellesdon Children's Centre, Horsford Infant School, Holt Road, Horsford
Spixworth and Sprowston Children's Centre, Sprowston Infant School, Recreation Ground Road, Norwich
Hoveton and Broadland Children's Centre, Hoveton Youth and Community Centre, Stalham Road, Hoveton
Dussindale Children's Centre, Woodside Community Base, Witard Road, Norwich
Hunstanton Children's Centre, Avenue Road, Hunstanton
North Lynn, Gaywood Children's Centre, Walpole Road, King's Lynn
Vancouver Children's Centre, Fairstead Community Centre, Centre Point, King's Lynn
West Walton Children's Centre, Ashleigh Infant and Nursery School, School Road, Wisbech
Methwold Children's Centre, Old School House, Brandon
Emneth Children's Centre, Hollycroft Road, Emneth
Watton Children's Centre, Westfield Infant and Nursery School
Thetford Drake Children's Centre, Drake Primary School, Fairfields, Thetford
St Clement's Children's Centre, Churchgate Way, Terrington St Clement
Dereham Central and Dereham South Children's Centre, London Road, East Dereham (two children's centres use the same building) Litcham Children's Centre, Litcham Primary School, Weasenham Road, Litcham
Harleston Children's Centre, Harleston Primary School, School Lane, Harleston
Loddon Children's Centre, Loddon Library Annexe, Church Plain, Loddon
Wymondham Children's Centre, Ashleigh Infant and Nursery School, Sheffield Road, Wymondham
Hethersett Children's Centre, Hethersett Woodside Nursery and Infant School, Firs Road, Hethersett
Village Green Children's Centre, Moorlands Primary Academy, Moorland Way, Belton
Greenacre Children's Centre, Peggoty Road, Great Yarmouth
Gorleston and Hopton Children's Centre, Gorleston Library, Lowestoft Road, Gorleston
Caister Children's Centre, Caister Infant Nursery School and Children's Centre, Kingston Avenue, Caister-on-Sea
Trinity Children's Centre, Martham Primary and Nursery School, Black Street, Martham
Stalham and Sutton Children's Centre, Brumstead Road, Stalham
Mundesley Children's Centre, Trunch Road, Mundesley
Cromer Children's Centre, Mill Road, Cromer
Stibbard Children's Centre, Fulmodeston Road, Stibbard Wells Children's Centre, Polka Road, Wells-next-the-Sea
Holt, Wells and Stibbard Children's Centre, Charles Road, Holt