THE political row over children’s centre services in Somerset reached Parliament this week.
Education Minister Elizabeth Truss told a special House of Commons debate on Somerset’s children’s centres that funding for early intervention had increased from £2.1billion to £2.5billion during this Parliament, and that a fund had been created for local authorities looking to reconfigure services.
Following the debate, Taunton’s LibDem MP Jeremy Browne said: “It is clear the Government is providing sufficient funding for children’s centres. The problem is with Conservative-controlled Somerset County Council which has an agenda to close children’s centres.”
In response, Somerset County Council said its original proposal to “de-designate” 18 of the county’s 41 children’s centres, meaning the same services could be run elsewhere, had “in some cases been mistakenly interpreted as closure”.
A county council spokesman said: “There are no proposals to close any of the children’s centres in Somerset. Every community that currently has children’s centre activities will continue to have them. They will be provided through the current children’s centre buildings and other suitable local venues.”
The council says consultations on the future of children’s centre services are likely to start later this month.
Earlier in the week, Somerset County Council cabinet member for children and families, Frances Nicholson, said de-designation was about changing the way services are administered and that 30 full-time roles will be created.
She said: “We’re a county with large rural areas and, in one case, 64 people used a centre in 12 months, so to keep the building open all week, when it may only be used by one person, is nonsense.
“The centres may stay open or be used by a nearby school, but they’ll probably be on a smaller number of days a week – rurality has been taken into account.”
Cllr Justine Baker, shadow cabinet member for children and families, said she was worried the number of administration staff would be cut, and that social workers could end up absorbing some of their roles.
“It could be catastrophic for some of the centres,” she added.