A THREE-MONTH saga on the future of children’s centres across Somerset is ‘a complete mess’, it has been claimed.
In November last year, Somerset County Council announced money-saving proposals which they said would see fewer managers and admin staff and services moved to ‘unsuitable’ buildings.
At the time, cabinet member for children and families Cllr Frances Nicholson apologised for ‘a period of great uncertainty’ but said underperforming centres ‘must be addressed’.
Last week, the council said its original decision to ‘de-designate’, stripping the facilities of their children’s centre title, had been misinterpreted.
But county councillor Mike Rigby, who covers the Lydeard Division, said the latest announcement was ‘dressing up’ the closures.
He said: “If the council didn’t want people to worry about closure of their children’s centres, then it shouldn’t have proposed to close any of them.”
Cllr Rigby is concerned the £250,000 building in Bishops Lydeard, which was purpose-built as a children’s centre four years ago, will only be open one day a week compared to five days a week at present.
He added: “You can dress that [reduced opening times] up how you like but I fail to see how that can be described as anything other than closure.
“The original plans, hopefully now entirely abandoned by the council, had identified Bishops Lydeard Children’s Centre as one of the centres to close.”
Eighteen of the county’s 41 centres are expected to be affected by the restructure, which could see services merged into five areas.
The council continues to stress that communities with children’s centre activities will continue to have those activities, either in the current building or other nearby venues.
Despite last week’s announcement that no centres will close, the council says consultations are yet to start.
Cllr Rigby said he found it hard to believe how “half a plan” could be made before talks with the public begin.
At last month’s scrutiny committee, Cllr Nicholson said de-designation was about changing the way services are administered and that 30 full-time roles will be created. But Cllr Justine Baker, shadow cabinet member for children and families, said she was worried the number of administration staff would be cut, and that family support workers could end up absorbing some of their roles.
She added: “It is so confusing and it has been a complete mess – if the parents and public outcry with the backing of local media had not done what they have done they would have closed the buildings.”
A spokesman for Somerset County Council told the County Gazette this week: “The consultations will be about the best ways of providing children’s centre services in the communities, not closing buildings or ending services.
“Whatever the outcome, services will still be provided through the current children’s centre buildings and other suitable local venues.”