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Eight more children’s centres could be spared axe in Norfolk cuts rethink, but anger remains

PUBLISHED: 08:15 15 January 2019 | UPDATED: 15:19 15 January 2019

Families and children protesting against the closure of children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Families and children protesting against the closure of children's centres. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Archant

Eight more children’s centres in Norfolk could be spared the axe, after a rethink by council leaders, but opposition councillors say there remains a risk children will miss out on crucial support.

Stuart Dark, Conservative chairman of the county council's children's services committee.  Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.Stuart Dark, Conservative chairman of the county council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk Conservatives.

In September, Norfolk County Council unveiled proposals which would have seen 46 of the 53 children’s centres in the county closed.

Seven of the existing children’s centres would have remained as bases in each district of the county, with council bosses saying it would bring services out of buildings and into the community.

But today, the council announced updated proposals which would retain a further eight centres. That would see 15 kept and 38 would close.

Council leaders and bosses stress it is just one element of a wider £65m programme of transforming children’s services which has seen millions of pounds of investment - and people need to look beyond the buildings.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesman for children's services. Pic: Labour Party.Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesman for children's services. Pic: Labour Party.

The proposals had been criticised by parents and by oppostion councillors. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backed campaigners when he visited Norwich’s North City Children’s Centre in Angel Road and there have been protests, petitions and marches against the proposals.

More than 1,600 people responded to the council’s consultation over the proposals, with the changes labelled as “short-sighted” and “reckless” by some.

Council bosses said they have listened to the criticisms and are now proposing their revised services includes 15 bases - two in each district and three in Norwich. They provide outreach services in people’s homes and community venues.

And they say they are confident those 38 which would close as children’s centres would remain open to provide services for childnen and families, with other groups and organisations providing services.

Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services. Pic: Liberal Democrats.Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat spokesman for children's services. Pic: Liberal Democrats.

Stuart Dark, chairman of the council’s children’s services committee, said: “We have listened and have updated our proposals.

“I believe we can provide effective, targeted support to children and families, through outreach support in people’s homes and venues across the county, plus 15 early childhood and family bases in the areas of highest need.

“It’s clear people also value sessions that any family can access, so we’re proposing to provide those at our bases and all our libraries.

“We’re confident the majority of the current designated children’s centres will continue to be used by groups, to run services for children and families. We plan to support this with a £500,000 grant fund.

Bosses at Norfolk County Councilo say services will be provided in libraries. Picture: James BassBosses at Norfolk County Councilo say services will be provided in libraries. Picture: James Bass

“This new approach will be more targeted and cost-effective – the amount spent on frontline services should rise to 60p per £1.”

The original proposal had been to retain Attleborough, Holt and Terrington St Clement, but those three are now not proposed to be retained, although Attleborough will operate as a “multi-function hub”.

It followed a council decision in February for the budget for children’s centres to be halved from £10.2m to £5.2m with the contracts with the 12 current providers of the service coming to an end this year.

Mike Smith-Clare, Labour spokesman for children’s services, said: “We feel this is an absolute disgrace. It’s been a stitch-up from the very start.

“People have detailed the impact this is going to have on their lives and they still have not listened. We will continue to fight this.

“These centres should not be bases, being used to rely on voluntary and community organisations. That’s not a strategy. It’s got more holes than Swiss cheese.”

And Ed Maxfield, Liberal Democrat member of the children’s services, said: “The county council’s own analysis shows the value of this service and I am worried that this cut will be a false economy.

“There is a real risk that more of Norfolk’s children will not have the support they need to reach their full potential.”

He said the current children’s centres budget allocates just over £4m for frontline delivery costs, which will reduce to £3.3m under the new model. The family support fund will be reduced from just over £470,000 to £250,000

The proposals will be discussed when the council’s children’s services committee meets on Tuesday, January 22.

The 15 centres which could be retained

Swaffham Children’s Centre, White Cross Road, Swaffham

Thetford Kingsway Children’s Centre, Kingsway, Thetford

Acle Marshes Children’s Centre, Bridewell Lane, Acle

Drayton and Taverham Children’s Centre

Great Yarmouth Children’s Centre, The Priory Centre, Priory Plain, Great Yarmouth

Seagulls Children’s Centre, Great Yarmouth

Downham Market Children’s Centre, Snape Lane, Paradise Road, Downham Market

Nar Children’s Centre, Saddlebow Road, South Lynn, King’s Lynn

Fakenham Gateway Children’s Centre, Norwich Road, Fakenham

North Walsham Children’s Centre, Manor Road, North Walsham

Catton Grove, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross Children’s Centre, Hunter Road, Norwich

City and Eaton Children’s Centre, Norwich

Earlham Children’s Centre, Norwich

Diss Children’s Centre, Diss Infant and Nursery School, Fitzwalter Road, Diss

Long Stratton Children’s Centre

The 38 which would still cease to be children’s centres

Thorpe Hamlet and Heartsease Children’s Centre, Wolfe Road, Norwich

East City and Framingham Earl Children’s Centre, Duckett Close, Norwich

Earlham Early Years Centre, Motum Road, Norwich

Bowthorpe, West Earlham and Costessey Children’s Centre, Humbleyard, Clover Hill, Norwich

North City Children’s Centre, Angel Road Infant School, Angel Road, Norwich

Aylsham Children’s Centre and Reepham Children’s Centre, The Pavilion, Sir Williams Lane, Aylsham (two children’s centres use the same building)

Attleborough Children’s Centre, Church Street, Attleborough

Hellesdon Children’s Centre, Horsford Infant School, Holt Road, Horsford

Spixworth and Sprowston Children’s Centre, Sprowston Infant School, Recreation Ground Road. Norwich

Hoveton and Broadland Children’s Centre, Hoveton Youth and Community Centre, Stalham Road, Hoveton

Dussindale Children’s Centre, Woodside Community Base, Witard Road, Norwich

Hunstanton Children’s Centre, Avenue Road, Hunstanton

North Lynn, Gaywood Children’s Centre, Walpole Road, King’s Lynn

Vancouver Children’s Centre, Fairstead Community Centre, Centre Point, King’s Lynn

West Walton Children’s Centre, Ashleigh Infant and Nursery School, School Road, Wisbech

Methwold Children’s Centre, Old School House, Brandon

Emneth Children’s Centre, Hollycroft Road, Emneth

Watton Children’s Centre, Westfield Infant and Nursery School, West Road, Thetford

Thetford Drake Children’s Centre, Drake Primary School, Fairfields, Thetford

St Clement’s Children’s Centre, Churchgate Way, Terrington St Clement

Dereham Central and Dereham South Children’s Centre, London Road, East Dereham (two children’s centres use the same building)

Litcham Children’s Centre, Litcham Primary School, Weasenham Road, Litcham

Harleston Children’s Centre, Harleston Primary School, School Lane, Harleston

Loddon Children’s Centre, Loddon Library Annexe, Church Plain, Loddon

Wymondham Children’s Centre, Ashleigh Infant and Nursery School, Sheffield Road, Wymondham

Hethersett Children’s Centre, Hethersett Woodside Nursery and Infant School, Firs Road, Hethersett

Village Green Children’s Centre, Moorlands Primary Academy, Moorland Way, Belton

Greenacre Children’s Centre, Peggoty Road, Great Yarmouth

Gorleston and Hopton Children’s Centre, Gorleston Library, Lowestoft Road, Gorleston

Caister Children’s Centre, Caister Infant Nursery School and Children’s Centre, Kingston Avenue, Caister-on-Sea

Trinity Children’s Centre, Martham Primary and Nursery School, Black Street, Martham

Stalham and Sutton Children’s Centre, Brumstead Road, Stalham

Mundesley Children’s Centre, Trunch Road, Mundesley

Cromer Children’s Centre, Mill Road, Cromer

Stibbard Children’s Centre, Fulmodeston Road, Stibbard

Wells Children’s Centre, Polka Road, Wells-next-the-Sea

Holt, Wells and Stibbard Children’s Centre, Charles Road, Holt

‘They haven’t really listened’ - father’s anger over children’s centres shake-up

A father, whose family has relied on a children’s centre, said he is disappointed that, despite concessions, council bosses want to go ahead with changes.

Bowthorpe dad Jon Watson, whose sons Callum and Aiden have used the centre at Humbleyard, in Clover Hill, had urged councillors to rethink.

While the revised proposals mean two extra centres will remain in Norwich - the ones at Earlham and at Catton Grove, Fiddlewood and Mile Cross - the one in Bowthorpe remains at risk of closure.

He said: “The fact is that 68pc of people said they were opposed to the proposals and they are still going ahead with them, so they haven’t really listened.

“They say Bowthorpe has poor accessibility to the city, but its right next to a bus stop and they say go to services at Earlham, but most of the services are here.

“We’ll keep fighting. I’m going to look to see if there are any legal options which we could pursue.”

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