Parents angry over £3m funding cut to Norfolk’s Sure Start children’s centres

Funding for Norfolk's Sure Start centres is being cut.

Funding for Norfolk's Sure Start centres is being cut. - Credit: © ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC

Sessions at children's centres across Norwich and Norfolk are being scrapped or scaled back because of a £3m cut to funding, it has emerged, sparking anger among parents.

Norfolk County Council, when setting its budget and figuring out where to make millions of pounds worth of savings pledged that none of the county's 53 Sure Start children's centres would close.

But the council is spending £3m less to commission the services in those centres, including a £1.8m cut this year, and parents say that has meant some activities and sessions have been shelved.

Amber Bowyer, manager of the North City Children's Centre, based at Angel Road Infant School in Norwich, acknowledged the funding issues when the centre's summer programme of activities was published.

She wrote to parents: 'As most of you know, North City Children's Centre has received a reduction in funding. It has been a difficult term for parents, children and staff as we have had to make last minute changes to our programme and finish some groups earlier than expected.

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'I would like to assure you that we have taken on board all of your feedback and I continue to raise awareness of the impact of our budget reduction.'

Parents took to Facebook to express their disappointment that some of the sessions had been dropped.

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Corrina Brock wrote: 'I really wonder who makes decisions, because it's not people who actually use services like children centres.'

And Karen Medler posted: 'Such a shame there's hardly any groups that I used to go to with the cuts etc!!'

Norfolk County Council, which commissions organisations to run the centres, said councillors had agreed to invest around £30m in the network of children's centre over the next three years.

But as part of the focus on early help, the council wanted services to be more directly concentrated on activities to support and help the families that need them most.

A spokeswoman said: 'At the beginning of 2016 contract extensions were signed with the current providers for a further three years, with an option to extend for an additional year.

'A refreshed service specification focusses on achieving outcomes for children and families, with an emphasis on working with partners from the statutory, voluntary and community sectors.

'In delivering against this specification each Children's Centre Advisory Board will determine the range and balance of activities they will provide based on local needs and engagement with local parents.'

James Joyce, who was chairman of the county council's children's services committee when the cuts were agreed, said: '£30m is a substantial amount of money to be investing in these vital local services and demonstrates our commitment to helping the people in our communities who need the most support.

'It is absolutely right that decisions about how the money is actually spent in local centres are taken locally, but our new funding approach is certainly designed to make sure it's spent where it's most needed in ways that will have the most positive outcomes, and that it's used as effectively and efficiently as possible.'

Dan Mobbs, chief executive of the Mancroft Advice Project, said it was important for the council to invest in supporting younger people, but added the reduction in spending was the result of central government cuts.

He added: 'Children centres are really well placed to support families in difficulties. If we invest money early on before the problems get worse, you can save money later. That seems like a very sensible way to invest money.

'It is a shame that we are going backwards, rather than forwards with something that has been very successful. But we are very lucky none of them have been closed.'

Former council leader George Nobbs said none of the cuts the council had agreed to make were 'ideal or acceptable', but that the government had left the authority with no choice but to make savings.

In January. experts from Oxford University concluded that mothers who had attended centres which were growing and had not been hit by cuts, had improved mental health compared to those attending centres which had experienced budget cuts and were reducing services.

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