Controversial children’s centre cuts challenged by opposition councillors

PUBLISHED: 07:30 03 September 2020

Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich will close under plans to change Suffolk children's centre.   Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Chatterbox Centre in Ipswich will close under plans to change Suffolk children's centre. Picture: CHARLOTTE BOND

Charlotte Bond

Children’s centres across Suffolk could be thrown a lifeline, after opposition councillors challenged the plans to close them.

Cllr Jack Abbott  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Jack Abbott Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Last week opposition councillors jointly submitted a ‘call-in’ of the Conservative administration’s decision to close and reduce the hours at some of Suffolk’s children’s centres.

Under the plans, Caterpillar Children’s Centre in Woodbridge and Chatterbox in Ipswich would close. Eight centres would be handed back to schools or nurseries they are attached to, and 11 would be turned into part-time hubs. Seventeen would remain open full-time.

MORE: Final decision made on Suffolk children’s centres - these are the changes that will be made

Cllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNCllr Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The changes aim to offer more outreach services to help those in hard-to-reach rural areas and cater for 0-19 year olds instead of the current 0-5 offering.

The new model, called family hubs, should save around £435,000 in building costs which would then be pumped into staffing – helping recruit 12 outreach workers.

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Suffolk County Council’s monitoring officer accepted the call in, giving councillors another opportunity to scrutinise the financial analysis and how the new outreach model would deliver services.

The decision will now be reconsidered by the scrutiny committee on September 11 to consider whether it should go ahead.

The call in was proposed by Labour councillor Jack Abbott and seconded by the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent Group’s councillor Penny Otton.

Mr Abbott, Labour group children’s services spokesman, said: “We have long said that the Tory cuts to Suffolk’s children’s centres lacked detail and evidence, and this successful challenge proves it.

“It is now incumbent on the scrutiny committee to properly investigate these proposals and hold decision makers to account.

“We can’t have a repeat of the school transport fiasco where a flawed policy was waved through, directly leading to the chaos we have seen over the past two years.”

Councillor Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw added: “The cabinet made a mistake last week by pushing forward with these closures, despite a concerning lack of evidence or analysis.

“Ever since these changes were first suggested last year, children’s centre staff, families and councillors have been very vocal about their concerns with the new model. I hope the scrutiny committee will now listen to those concerns and ask the cabinet to reconsider.”

Conservative cabinet member for children’s services and education, Mary Evans, said: “Call-ins are part of the county council’s democratic process. All political groups respect that and I now look forward to attending scrutiny on September 11 where members of the committee will review and discuss the decision further with additional information provided by officers.”

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