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Fresh children's centre controversy as councillors walk away from "underhand" policy making

PUBLISHED: 18:17 11 April 2019 | UPDATED: 18:17 11 April 2019

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said her party could no longer be part of a PDP intending to cut children's centres in Suffolk. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Labour group leader Sarah Adams said her party could no longer be part of a PDP intending to cut children's centres in Suffolk. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Archant

Opposition groups have pulled out of a cross-party task force at a Suffolk council over controversial plans which threaten children's centres.

Cllr Andrew Stringer of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said the plans were Cllr Andrew Stringer of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said the plans were "underhand". Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

A cross-party policy development panel (PDP) was formed in February by Suffolk County Council to review the way the 38 children’s centres operate.

It emerged this week that among the options on the table were plans to cut up to half of the facilities, which provide free advice, support groups and play sessions.

Now, the Labour and Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent groups at the council have pulled out of the PDP, claiming that they cannot support the “underhand” attempts to push through cuts.

In a joint statement, respective group leaders Sarah Adams and Andrew Stringer said: “We have tried to engage with the family services PDP but it has become increasingly apparent that there is little in the way of policy development – rather than improving family services, the focus is now solely on closing children’s centres.

Council leader Matthew Hicks said no decision had been made. Picture: GREGG BROWNCouncil leader Matthew Hicks said no decision had been made. Picture: GREGG BROWN

“We have tried to input into this process in order to remind panel members of the value of children’s centres, but this seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

“The purpose of PDPs should be to develop an evidence-based, outcomes-focused policy that would deliver more effective family services across Suffolk.

“However, we are extremely disappointed that this particular PDP has been hampered by a complete lack of supporting documentation and evidence.

“Although the initial terms of reference for the PDP sought to improve collaborative working across the public sector, at no stage were any documents to support this provided to the panel.

“Both of our groups value the services delivered by children’s centres and believe that these services should be expanded, not contracted.

“We would have happily worked with the administration to create a policy that delivers better services for Suffolk families.

“We wholeheartedly believe that more outreach services should be provided, but with only a few weeks to go before the report is due to be published, nothing has been provided other than a list of centres that will be culled.

“A secret meeting, away from the eyes of the public, is not the correct place to be making this sort of decision. “Attempting to formulate a policy in this way suggests to us that this was a calculated and underhand move to railroad children’s centre cuts through.

“We cannot simply stand by and be complicit in this action. Therefore, we will be withdrawing our representatives from the family services PDP with immediate effect.

“We would have wholeheartedly supported the administration in developing a better model for family services, as we have with other PDPs such as the recent SEND panel, but it is clear that this is simply not going to happen.

“If the Conservatives wish to close children’s centres, it will not be in our name.”

Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks reaffirmed his commitment to the panel continuing, and stressed that no conclusions had been reached yet.

He said: “The cross party family services policy development panel is still running its course and looking at many options around future delivery. It has not yet reached any conclusions despite the alleged leaks to the contrary.”

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