Parents urged to input on children’s centre closures

13:00 07 May 2014

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Mums and dads in Sidmouth are being urged to have their say as budget cuts threaten the closure of children’s centres across the county.

Devon County Council (DCC) is consulting on how to make savings as its funding from Government is slashed by £110million over the next three years.

Bosses want to focus on those in greatest need and spend their remaining budget on service provision rather than administration or buildings – leaving the future of many centres uncertain.

Peter Sullivan, the former manager of Stowford Community Centre, which houses Sidmouth’s Children’s Centre, said: “DCC is again looking at making cuts that affect the most vulnerable in the community – there must be other things they could cut.

“To take the service away from main towns will have a detrimental effect.”

He fears there could just be one centre for the whole of East Devon – but said the information available is too vague to know DCC’s intentions.

DCC’s children’s centre budget has fallen 15 per cent to £8.6million over the last five years, and is being squeezed by another £1.2million over the next three years.

It currently has 34 centres across the county but is no longer required to have a set number.

DCC is assessing need based on ‘indices of deprivation’ – so while Sidmouth may be relatively well off, it has not been identified as being in greatest need of support.

It is seeking community groups to take over the provision, and asking schools and pre-schools to consider expanding to accommodate ‘much-needed’ spaces for vulnerable two-year-olds.

Newton Poppleford resident Carly Ireland, who uses both Sidmouth and Ottery’s at-risk children’s centres, said: “My toddler’s two and a half now, we’ve been going since he was seven weeks old – and I can’t emphasise enough how important it’s been.

“I think my experience of motherhood would have been quite different if I hadn’t had classes available. There’s not really any other mechanism for meeting other young mums. It’s really essential.”

Councillor James McInnes, DCC’s cabinet member for children and young people’s services, said: “We remain fully committed to delivering high quality, multi-agency services for children under five, and particularly to those families in greatest need. But we have to think again about the best way to provide this support to families for less money.

“This review offers a genuine opportunity not only to protect children’s centres into the future but also to redesign current services to better meet local needs across the county, including in rural areas.” The consultation ends on June 6. To contribute, visit new.devon.gov.uk/childrenscentrereview.

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