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Closure of 38 Norfolk children’s centres condemned by city council leaders

PUBLISHED: 20:29 29 January 2019 | UPDATED: 20:37 29 January 2019

Protesters against the closure of Children's Centres march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Protesters against the closure of Children's Centres march through Great Yarmouth. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The impending closure of 38 of Norfolk’s children’s centres has been condemned by city council leaders.

The impending closure of 38 of Norfolk’s children’s centres has been condemned by city council leaders.

Norfolk County Council’s children’s services committee last week voted by nine votes to four to agree a shake-up, which will see the Conservative-controlled council move away from using the centres to directly provide services to a new, more targeted Early Childhood and Family Service.

Five centres in Norwich City Council’s boundaries will shut, with three remaining open as bases for outreach work.

The county council says that will lead to better targeting of families in most need, with workers going to their homes, to libraries, villages halls and other community facilities.

But Karen Davis, the city council’s cabinet member for social inclusion, blasted the decision at a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday night.

She said: “I will absolutely condemn the closure of the children’s centres.

“Once again, we see the Tories making short-term decisions which will have a long-term impact on the children of our city.

“The county council has given no details about how what remnants of a service will be weighted by deprivation and need - and there is no clarity on what the criteria will be to access the new service.

“Some areas of high deprivation, such as Tuckswood and Heartsease, will see their communities removed from easy access to children’s centres.

“Without transport, or the money for public transport we will see vulnerable people unwillingly disengaged from the service.”

The county council has said it hopes the buildings which close as children’s centres would be taken on by groups, such as voluntary organisations still providing services for children and young people, with £500,000 available to adapt or upgrade them.

But Ms Davis said that was not enough.

She said: “That is £13,000 per building earmarked for closure. With early years providers struggling to make ends meet and the pressure on school budgets increasing, that does not seem a realistic prospect.”

The county council has reduced the budget to commission services from £10.2m to £5.2m, but says that should be seen in the context of wider investment in children’s services.

Contracts to run services in the centres expire in the months ahead and the county council hopes a new service will be in place in November.

But Ms Davis said she had “concerns” about that new model being in place by then.

The centres which will remain open are: Catton Grove, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross Children’s Centre; Norwich City and Eaton Children’s Centre and Earlham Children’s Centre.

Those which would shut are: Thorpe Hamlet and Heartsease Children’s Centre; East City and Framingham Earl Children’s Centre; Earlham Early Years Centre; Bowthorpe, West Earlham and Costessey Children’s Centre and Norwich North City Children’s Centre.

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