Not according to the County Council, but does that stack up?
Yesterday’s cabinet meeting agreed to go to “consultation” on a report which would see the number of Children’s Centres in County Durham reduced from 43 to 15 as the service is directed to run more services from local community facilities, rather than relying on parents to come to relatively expensive fixed centres. The full report can be read here.
The gist of the argument is that the service is intended to:
- Maintain its services
- Maintain its full staff complement
- operate out of a wider range of buildings, but fewer fixed facilities
- Reach a wider range of parents and families
all this whilst saving around £1 miilion.
The argument is that traditionally footfall in the centres has not reached as many of the “hard to reach” families which the service is primarily aimed at. Recently they have been working hard to get the teams into more local facilities (Church halls, Community Centres, doctor’s surgeries, One-point hubs etc.) and this has resulted in them reaching a higher proportion of “hard to reach” families and children than previously, but the other side of the coin has been that the usage of the centres themselves has declined. In short, the service has been carrying a high cost overhead for fixed buildings whilst seeking to re-focus its operation closer to people’s homes.
The proof of the pudding will, of course, be in the eating. For Consett if the plan is implemented (and I think you will know that consultation following a Cabinet decision never changes the decision) it will mean the closure of the Benfieldside and Leadgate Children’s Centres. I’ll collect a lot of flack for using that term “closure”, because the plan is to “transfer” control of them to other organisations (like, say, schools or current day-care providers) so that the buildings themselves remain open, and it may be possible for them to continue to be used to provide Early Years Services. The details of that, however, are all up in the air so I don’t think you can count on them and I’d be inclined to see it as “closure” until someone proves that the “transfer” route actually works to provide continuing services on the existing sites.
One interesting sidelight is that there is a risk of substantial claw-back of finance if some of the buildings cease to deliver early years services to children. That’s because many of these centres were set up with funding from Europe, designated specifically for the development of improving Early Years provision. That, at least, creates a real motive to retain services in them. Who said we get nothing from Europe?
The details of the consultation are not yet out, but when they are (due from July 31st.) it will be accessible from the Consultations page of the Durham County Council website . I have also been assured that a paper questionnaire will be provided to all users of the existing centres.