Cabinet received a report which outlined a revised set of proposals on how children’s centre services could be run in the future.
On the 18 November 2013, Cabinet had agreed to a public consultation on a proposal to change the way early years services were offered in Peterborough, including children’s centres. The proposal was to create four super hub children’s centres with a wider reach, three outreach centres and to re-designate the remaining eight children’s centres for other uses. The consultation ran from the 2 November 2013 to 8 January 2014.
The report informed Cabinet of the outcomes of the consultation and brought a revised set of proposals, for Cabinet’s approval, on how children’s centre services could be run in future.
The Chairman advised that there had been recommendations made by both the Creating Opportunities and Tackling Inequalities Scrutiny Committee and Full Council in response to the issue. It was usual practice for Cabinet to take recommendations from Scrutiny and Council as a separate item of business, however as the recommendations related directly to the ‘Vision for Early Years Services Including Children’s Centres’ report, they would be considered as part of the report.
The Chairman further advised that there were two members of the public present who had been permitted time to speak in objection to the proposals.
Mrs Angela Brennan addressed Cabinet and in summary, highlighted key points of concern as follows:
· Lack of financial clarity as to where money was being spent at the current time;
· Lack of clarity around such areas as repayments of grants and the cessation of staff contracts;
· The need for the right infrastructure to be in place, due to an increase in population and the baby boom;
· The Local Authority’s duty of care to the people and the projects that could wait if they were to be at the cost of such vital services;
· Sufficient children centre provision being a statutory duty on Local Authorities under Section 5 of the Childcare Act 2006 and amended by Section 198 of the Apprenticeships Skills, Children and Learning Act 2009;
· The scope to better utilise existing centres and to bring more money in;
· Closure not being considered unless all other options had been exhausted;
· Exploration of all other angles by the Council, ensuring work was undertaken with those people best equipped to provide alternatives;
· The long terms costs, which would outweigh the savings being made in shutting the centres;
· The impact on society, leading to a drop in school readiness, further demands on the NHS, stigma and further class divide;
· The positive contributions that the children’s centres had had on improving outcomes for children; and
· The positive support offered by staff who were well trained in watching for signs, mentoring and supporting any issues.
Mrs Faustina Yang addressed Cabinet and in summary, highlighted key points of concern as follows:
· Hampton was a big community with lots of young people and lots of new and young parents;
· More houses were due to be built, with more new parents and children moving into the area;
· Concerns around how the options available to the Hampton Children’s Centre would work;
· More information was required as to the nature of the transport support that would be provided;
· There was no direct bus route from Hampton to Orton and buses would get busy with a number of buggies on board;
· There had to be equal opportunities for all mums and their children;
· Knowledge and expertise would be lost; and
· Further detail was required in relation to the ability to safeguard and protect.
The Legal Officer read out the recommendation agreed by the Creating Opportunities and Tackling Inequalities Scrutiny Committee at the meeting held on 6 January 2014 which stated;
“It is recommended to Cabinet that they defer any decision making on the proposal to close children’s centres until further alternatives and proposals have been thoroughly explored and considered”.
The Legal Officer read out the recommendation agreed by Full Council at the meeting held on 29 January 2014 which stated;
“It is recommended that Cabinet defer any decision making on the proposals to close the children’s centres until further alternatives and proposals have been thoroughly explored, considered and consulted on”.
Councillor Scott introduced the report and in the first instance, thanked everyone who had participated in the consultation. She advised that ‘doing nothing’ was not an option as the proposals were part of the Council balancing its budget.
In making her speech, Councillor Scott addressed the recommendations arising from the Creating Opportunities and Tackling Inequalities Scrutiny Committee, which had been directed to the Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and the Director of Communities, requesting that further information be provided around the following areas:
· A detailed financial breakdown of how it was proposed to save the £1.28m (now £1.18m);
· The equality impact assessment;
· What had been changed following the consultation;
· Consideration of deferred costs arising from the proposal; and
· Confirmation about current funding of children’s centres.
Councillor Scott further highlighted; the substantial reduction in Council funding of 40% in the last five years; the government initiatives introduced to support families; the extent of the consultation that had taken place and feedback received; the amended proposals following consultation and support and services for the proposed re-designated children’s centres.
In summarising, Councillor Scott acknowledged that the amended proposal did not reflect what the majority of the parents who had engaged with the consultation process wanted, which was to keep all of the childrens centres open. This way forward could not be recommended as it was thought that the level of income required could not be achieved to secure the savings. The amended proposal would however ensure that the families most in need would receive support and that all families would have access to the services that they most valued, such as health services and child development sessions.
Cabinet considered the report and RESOLVED that:
1(a) The modified proposals for the delivery of the Children's Centres as set out in the report be approved; and
1(b) The budget to be recommended to Council for the 2014/15 financial year be amended accordingly to reflect the savings arising from the redesigned children's centres.
2. Subject to Council approving the Budget, inclusive of the recommended budget in relation to the future delivery of the Children's Centres, the Director for Communities be authorised to:
(a) create four children’s centre hubs, three outreach hubs and re-designation of the other eight children’s centres as set out in the report;
(b) vary or terminate the contracts with Barnardo’s and Spurgeons to deliver the redesigned centres; and
(c) develop alternative ways to support families in areas where children’s centres are proposed to be de-designated.
REASONS FOR THE DECISION
The proposals for children’s centres would ensure that services were maintained for vulnerable families and communities and identified savings were mainly achieved. It would also ensure in addition, the re-designated children’s centres would provide a much needed increase in premises for childcare as well as maintaining health services and still offering parents access to some support services.
ALTERNATIVE OPTIONS CONSIDERED
Given the reduction in the city council’s central government funding, doing nothing was not an option. Given the other funded services for the under fives, e.g. free childcare, it was considered that a reduction in children’s centre costs was appropriate. However, parents had been listened to and it was recommended to reduce the original recommendations by the sum of £100k to enable parental requests for support to be responded to.