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Children’s centres decision delayed after ‘error’ found in reports

PUBLISHED: 14:47 14 July 2020 | UPDATED: 18:09 14 July 2020

Demostration at Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich to oppose changes to the children's centre.   Treasurer of Trades Council Sarah Sandford and Unison NEC member Polly Smith  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Demostration at Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich to oppose changes to the children's centre. Treasurer of Trades Council Sarah Sandford and Unison NEC member Polly Smith Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

A final decision on the revamp of children’s centres in Suffolk has been delayed after an error was spotted in the council’s reports.

Suffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks said an 'administrative error' found in the children's centres reports meant a decision could not be reached today. Picture: DAVID GARRADSuffolk County Council leader Matthew Hicks said an 'administrative error' found in the children's centres reports meant a decision could not be reached today. Picture: DAVID GARRAD

Suffolk County Council’s cabinet was this afternoon due to agree a shake-up of children’s centres into a new ‘family hubs’ model which would see two centres close entirely, eight transformed into nursery or school places, 11 remain open only part-time and 17 to continue full-time.

MORE: Final children’s centres proposals unveiled

But Conservative council leader Matthew Hicks confirmed an error in the reports meant a decision could not be taken today, and it has now been pushed back to its meeting on August 25.

He said: “Officers have identified an administrative error which potentially affects the site by site data contained within the report. The chief executive has therefore withdrawn the report so that further investigation can be undertaken.

“The report will therefore be presented to the cabinet on August 25, 2020.”

The Caterpillar children's centre is among those earmarked close as part of the revamp into family hubs. Picture: GOOGLE MAPSThe Caterpillar children's centre is among those earmarked close as part of the revamp into family hubs. Picture: GOOGLE MAPS

It has not been made clear what the error in the reports is, but it meant the cabinet felt it could not make a decision until accurate information was presented.

The proposals aim to offer more outreach services in the community to help those in the hardest to reach areas, and extend support for those aged 0-19 instead of just the 0-5 offering in place currently.

But opposition groups have warned that it will cut a lifeline for families who are familiar with and use the centres.

Demonstrators appeared outside three of the county’s children’s centres - Chatterbox in Ipswich, Village Rise in Lowestoft and Hardwick in Bury St Edmunds to oppose the changes, before the decision was then pushed back by cabinet.

Penny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group questioned why the error wasn't explained.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNPenny Otton from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group questioned why the error wasn't explained. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Councillor Jack Abbott, education spokesman from the opposition Labour group said: “What a shambles - it has been clear from the beginning that the Tory plans to cut Suffolk’s children’s centres are deeply flawed, and this latest delay proves it.

“We have found numerous errors and inconsistencies in the evidence that the Conservatives are presenting to support their brutal cuts. Finally, it looks like even they have admitted that their proposals do not stack up.

“When I asked the leader of the council why he had delayed the decision, he refused to give a proper explanation. It is incredibly concerning that he wants to keep the public in the dark when so many people are worried about these proposals. We need transparency, not a rejection of reasonable questions.

Demostration at Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich to oppose changes to the children's centre. Secretary of Ipswich Trades Council Tracy Grant and President Teresa MacKay  Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND Picture: CHARLOTTE BONDDemostration at Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich to oppose changes to the children's centre. Secretary of Ipswich Trades Council Tracy Grant and President Teresa MacKay Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

“Having had more than a year to try and produce something coherent, the Tories announce a delay at the eleventh hour and then fail to explain the reasons why. If they have got their site by site analysis so badly wrong, it undermines the whole process.

“Their plans have no credibility.”

Councillor Penny Otton, children’s services spokeswoman from the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group, said: “It is very concerning that a report with serious errors in it made it this far, and has only been pulled at the very last minute.

“What is even more problematic is that the leader of the council refused to explain exactly what the error was. This proposal will have a huge impact on families in Suffolk, and I think they deserve at least an explanation as to what errors have been made.

Jack Abbott education spokesman for the opposition Labour group at Suffolk County Council.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJack Abbott education spokesman for the opposition Labour group at Suffolk County Council. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“For the past year we have been raising our concerns with the proposal to close children’s centres, so I hope the cabinet will use this opportunity to seriously reconsider whether these cuts are a good idea.”

The revamp of children’s centres into family hubs will see more outreach workers in the community to get to those hardest to reach.

However the plans propose to close two centres entirely – Chatterbox in Ipswich and Caterpillar in Woodbridge.

Chiefs said the move would save around £435,000 in building costs which could be pumped into recruiting family hub outreach workers, and would offer a service more befitting the current needs.


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