Shake-up vote means 38 of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres will be shutting
- Credit: Ella Wilkinson
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.
It will see the council move away from using centres to directly provide services to a new, more targeted Early Childhood and Family Service.
Fifteen centres will survive as bases, with the council promising a targeted service in the community, including in libraries, village halls and people's homes.
But opposition councillors branded the decision a 'kick in the teeth', with fundamental flaws with the new model.
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The budget to commission the 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.'
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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.
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.
Conservative Barry Stone said it was 'selfish' for the opposition 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 is completed. But Ms Tough gave an assurance that professional jobs would not be replaced by volunteers.
The 38 children's centres being axed would be likely to close their doors by October at the latest, although the council hopes voluntary groups will take them on to continue to offer services for young people, with the help of £500,000 in grant funding.
See www.edp24.co.uk for a full list of the centres which will close/survive.