FEELINGS are running high about the fate of West Somerset’s Children’s Centres. More than 50 people turned out at Alcombe Children’s Centre on Tuesday morning to protest about Somerset County Councils plans to drop the number of Children’s Centres in the county from 24 to eight.

The council say more support would be offered through community venues, in people’s homes and online - concentrating council spend on supporting families rather than running expensive buildings, at a time when Government funding has been reduced.

However West Somerset Labour Party secretary, Kathrine See, said people were right to be worried, with Alcombe Children's Centre one of those at risk.

“The Children’s Centres were designed to be hubs of activity, information and support for families ensuring that all children have opportunities. The County Council fully intends to steal those opportunities and outsource services in order to save money,” Mrs See said.

Somerset County Gazette:

“West Somerset has the lowest levels of social mobility in the entire country. This means that children grow up in West Somerset are less likely to do well at school, go to university or get a good job when compared to their peers nationally. It is totally unjustifiable that the County Council is even considering cutting back on Children’s Centres.”

The Somerset Labour party has also this week accused the Conservatives on Somerset County Council of wanting the ‘privatise’ early years provision in the long term.

They say the County Council has already been inviting private companies to express an interest in delivering early years services at a ‘soft marketing’ event on September 26 where interested parties where given an anticipated date of April 1 2019 when an outsourced service contract would begin. 

Mrs See added: “At the event it was confirmed that the intention is to rent space in community buildings rather than have permanent ownership and maintenance of SCC buildings. So in fact the entire public consultation is nothing more than a sham”.

Somerset County Gazette:

However the Conservatives on Somerset County Council dismissed this claim, describing it as ‘ridiculous’.

The leader of the Conservative group on Somerset County Council, Cllr David Fothergill said: “It is quite disgraceful that party politics are being used by the Labour Party to unsettle hard working teams at such a crucial time with the imminent arrival of Ofsted to inspect our children’s social care teams. 

“There is not a shred of truth in this ridiculous accusation – in fact it is virtually the opposite. I am so very disappointed I have asked for an urgent meeting with the opposition leader, Cllr Leigh Redman.”

The County Council plan is to fully join-up the getset service (which includes Children’s Centre support for 0 to 4-year-olds and support for families with children aged 0 to 19) with the support offered by health visitors and school nurses.

Details of the proposals and a questionnaire to complete can be found online somerset.gov.uk/familysupportandchildrenscentres.

These eight centres would act as main ‘hubs’ for services and coordinate the work in the surroundings area. The other 16 buildings that currently have Sure Start Children’s Centre status would continue to offer early childhood services including education and nursery places to help meet the demand for spaces.

Cabinet member for Children and Families, Councillor Frances Nicholson, said: “We know the subject of change to this support, especially children’s centre services, is very emotive and we want as many people as possible to share their views.

“Buildings don’t support people, staff and the support they deliver do - the services will remain, it is how and where they are delivered that may change.

“By working differently, we believe we can help children and families achieve better outcomes and make our money go further.”