Council faces backlash over children’s centre proposals

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CONTROVERSIAL proposals which could see the closure of almost all of Stratford District’s children’s centres have met with a fierce backlash after being presented in the town.

Around 50 residents attended a meeting at Holy Trinity Parish Centre on Monday to hear Warwickshire County Councillor Jeff Morgan outline the authority’s proposal.

The Conservative-run council says that as part of a “challenging savings programme” they are proposing to convert 12 of the county’s 39 existing children’s centres into family hubs, where 0-19-year-olds and their parents can access a range of services.

Under the plan put forward, only Alcester would be retained as Stratford district’s family hub.

However, such a move would potentially lead to the closure of the remaining 27 centres in Warwickshire, including Badger Valley in Shipston and centres in Stratford, Lighthorne Heath and Wellesbourne.

Stratford parent, Dominic Skinner, said: “I think this proposal is completely insane and short-sighted. I’ve got two young children and we used the children’s centres in Stratford when they were younger, they are a great resource, especially for first-time parents and offer fantastic support.

“When you add this proposal to the cuts that are proposed for local schools I’m worried that a whole generation of children could be lost. As a parent it does make you worry about the world your children are growing up in. I appreciate that the council wants to make savings but they should be putting more money into helping children and parents, not taking it away.”

Another parent from Stratford, Hannah Alexander, said: “This is a huge concern. Lots of families will be put at risk by the proposals. The public needs to engage with the consultation and let Warwickshire County Council know their concerns.

“The implications will be massive for families, for some of whom the centres are a lifeline.”

Michelle Dowler from Stratford, said: “It’s fortunate if you happen to live in Alcester. I just don’t understand why such an essential service would be cut, it makes absolutely no sense. It will mean a lot more pressure on the GP surgeries and A&E departments as concerned parents will turn to them instead of having the choice of attending children centres.”

The council insists that these centres may not close immediately but could be retained as outreach hubs, whilst others could be run by outside organisations in the future.

But Cllr Jenny Fradgley, from Stratford District Council’s Liberal Democrat group, who attended the meeting, said: “The idea of having just one centre in the district is a complete non-starter for me, we need at least one in every population centre.

“If you take a look at a map of the district you’ll see that Alcester isn’t at the centre, it will be a long way for a lot of people to travel, it’s more than 20 miles from Lighthorne Heath for example.

“I think there should also be a conversation about what role the Parenting Project will now play because it has been building up relationships with people across the district for a number of years. What will happen if the council runs the centres in-house?

“The access that children’s centres provide to high speed broadband is also important and helps to combat rural isolation.

“This is being driven by the Conservative government’s program of austerity and in some ways the county council is caught in the middle, but it’s clear that services will be affected. This consultation will have to take on board the views of parents and the children’s centres themselves if we are to make the best of this difficult situation we face.”

Fellow Lib Dem, Cllr Kate Rolf, added: “I have many concerns regarding these proposals but my main one is siting the main hub at Alcester. This will prove inconvenient for so many users of the facilities. Many families will struggle to get to Alcester, particularly if they live south of the district and have no personal transport.

“In many cases users will have to get on more than one bus to get to Alcester and with children in tow it could prove impossible. It could also prove inconvenient and time consuming to the professionals travelling from Alcester to some of the outreach centres. This will not be a good use of their valuable time and expertise.”

Earlier this month a motion put forward by the Labour group, to extend the council’s consultation into children’s centre changes beyond the 11th September deadline, was defeated by the ruling Conservatives.

Labour district councillor, Jason Fojtik, said: “I think it’s absolutely outrageous that they are cutting money from such an essential resource which supports young people and their parents. The proposal to broaden the age range to 0-19 is also a backwards step, it is specifically 0-4-year-olds who require the most support so we can get every child on an equal footing by the time they begin at school. Broadening this age range just dilutes the support available to 0-4-year-olds.

“I will be opposing this proposal along with the local Labour group.”