Pledge that council cuts will not harm child protection work in Norfolk

Vulnerable children in need of protection will not be put at risk by controversial plans to cut nearly �60m from county council services and axe the equivalent of 750 full time jobs, it was claimed yesterday.

Norfolk County Council's ruling cabinet recommended the budget plans which include a series of cuts across all departments and jobs losses.

The council's children's services department is one of those taking the biggest hit with 470 posts earmarked for the axe including frontline social workers, social care managers, as well as the closure of the Unthank Family Centre in Norwich and the break up of a specialist family conferencing team to help problem families stay together.

Yesterday dozens of council staff were joined by members of the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, and members of the Norfolk Coalition for Disabled People for a protest outside of County Hall, urging the administration to rethink the cuts and job loss plans particularly those for children's services.

Jonathan Dunning, secretary of Norfolk Unison, said: 'We are still struggling with the logic to effectively disinvest from prevention. They are cutting all the services which are all about working with families to help them bring up the child and maintain them as a family unit. The people who are going to suffer from that are first of all the children, the staff who will lose their jobs, and the wider public if they are to pick up the cost of expensive out of county placements.

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Alison Thomas, cabinet member for children's services, said she had a lot of sympathy with the plight of staff at risk, but the administration had put together proposals which would help those most in need and also redesign the service.

'There's no doubt this has a been a difficult challenge, and there has been no easy answers, certainly within children's services there have been some very difficult decisions,' Mrs Thomas said. 'These are very difficult times, all members will be aware there are large numbers of job losses proposed within the children's services department. I take no personal pleasure in making recommendations that affect people's jobs and livelihoods.

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'I have personal experience with my family - that's why we moved to Norfolk because my husband lost his job. I am fully aware and supportive of the situations, they will find themselves in.

'What we must do is support all our staff, those who are at risk of losing their jobs, and those who will continue. This is the very first part of the big picture, services aren't going to happen overnight, they are extremely complex, and we have got a very professional team dealing with this as we speak.'

Labour's Bert Bremner also questioned whether the Unthank Centre decision was driven by a desire to make money by selling off the city centre site, while Green councillor Stephen Little questioned what he impact of the changes would be, and what would happen to joint work currently carried out with nearby schools and medical practices.

Mrs Thomas said the decision was about prioritising the service and the Unthank Centre's location had no bearing on the proposals.

'We aren't actually stopping the service. There has been a confusion. The activities provided in the Unthank Centre are in Norwich. Some young people have to travel considerable distances from far reaching parts of the county, such as Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn. There will be specialist advisors within locality teams that will hopefully provide their thinking at a much earlier stage, getting involved at the very beginning, rather than waiting for problems to escalate.

'It's almost impossible for anybody to accurately predict what possible repercussions there might be in the changes to the service. We have equality impact assessments, which have informed our decisions, at this moment in time we are looking to redesign the services, with the budget we have available.

'Our response has been to make sure service we have is the best we can provide. Child protection is something that's very high on my agenda. I would certainly take no decisions that I felt would risk child protection.'

The budget proposals will be considered at a full council meeting on February 14.

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