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West Somerset children's centres under threat
4:00pm Thursday 12th September 2013 in News
VITAL support for families with young children in West Somerset could be at risk if plans to shake-up the way children’s centres are run go ahead.
But Andy Lewis, of West Somerset Labour Party, claims officials have already discussed the possibility of closing 27 of the county’s 41 centres, which he says would include two in West Somerset.
He said: “The county council has begun one of its ‘public-but-secret’ consultation exercises. On the website, the council is asking for views. But little or no publicity has been given to this.
“The questions asked in the consultation are loaded – and it makes me wonder whether minds have already been made up.
“Voluntary organisations have been told this – with the suggestion that they can pick up the slack. But voluntary groups live a hand-to-mouth existence, in part because of uncertainties about funding from local authorities.
“These cuts come at a time when planners have warned of a boom in the number of young children, which will cause childcare services to be overstretched.”
Services provided at the centres include parenting advice, support for young children to get a healthy start in life, helping parents find work and training and childcare.
It is the childcare element which is critical for many parents, according to Jan Ross, chair of the charity CLOWNS.
She said: “It is incredible news that the council is planning to ‘de-register’ 27 children’s centres.
“We all knew there were more cuts on the way and I can understand that overheads on the buildings are hugely costly when there may be other ways of supporting people.
“The CLOWNS outreach van, which provides activities and support for families in more rural areas without access to the buildings, was identified as the fifth children’s centre.
“So it will be interesting to see what happens, but we are hoping any changes could mean more funding is used for mobile centres like ours. We know we can go out and deliver the family support that’s needed – it’s tried and tested.
“But I am particularly worried about the childcare element that is delivered in most of those centres. People in these rural areas with full- and part-time jobs depend totally on them to look after their babies and young children so they can work.”
A spokesman for Somerset County Council, said: “Somerset County Council wants to make it clear that that there are no plans in place to close any children’s centres in Somerset but it is our priority to ensure that a greater proportion of our resources goes on front-line delivery, rather than management and buildings.
“We are proposing to continue all the activities our children’s centres provide but will be looking hard at where potential savings can be made and this may lead to delivering the same services in a different way.
“We are looking at how to do this in the most efficient way and that might mean sharing buildings such as village halls, libraries or GP surgeries to keep costs down.
“We are in the process of a public consultation that will last until October 28. The results will be collated and a recommendation will be put forward to cabinet in November.
“We are asking parents and members of the public for their views by visiting www.somersetconsults.org.uk/consult.ti and completing our online questionnaire.”
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