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OTTERY: Children’s centre could be next to face closure
Thursday, 01 May 2014
Ottery St Mary Children’s Centre could be the next major public service to face closure as Devon County Council continues to cut costs. The town’s youth centre and library are both under review already, and the Sure Start centre has now been added to the list of public services highlighted for cutbacks. The centre currently provides early childhood services for families during pregnancy, birth and in the early years of a child’s life up to the age of five. Action for Children, which runs the centre on behalf of the council, also provides advice and guidance for parents about how to access additional services. But following a public consultation lasting until June, the county authority could decide to close the centre and gear services towards those most in need. Mandy Lane, Operational Lead at the centre, said: “Parenting is a life-changing time and we know that families are more mobile now and tend not to be living close to a small network of friends and relatives. “The centre provides that network and helps people to socialise with others – it can normalise things as a parent. “We are very well supported by Devon County Council in general and they have always been pro-children’s centres – some counties have already wiped their centres. “But the proposals will mean a change in services and what families are able to access, and centres could be identified for closure so that front line staff can be kept.” The council is proposing to keep children’s centre buildings only in the most deprived areas and instead look to transfer some buildings for use by other early childhood services, such as pre-schools. Centre opening times could also be reduced and options for outsourcing services to other providers in the local community will be considered. Councillor Claire Wright, Ottery’s representative on the county authority, said the latest proposals for cutbacks were stretching the town’s services “beyond breaking point”. She said: “The centre only opened two or three years ago and thousands of pounds were spent on making the building suitable. It seems a complete waste of money, as well as being dreadful for local families, that it is now at risk of closure. “Ottery children’s centre has helped so many families and some who would have been in a desperate position if they had not been able to turn to staff here for help.” In the last five years, Devon County Council’s budget for children’s services has been cut by around 15 per cent and it is due to be slashed by the same amount again over the next three years. Councillor Wright stressed the Government’s withdrawal of funding from the council over the past four years was to blame for the cutbacks. Councillor James McInnes, Cabinet Member with responsibility for Children and Young People’s Services, said: “We remain fully committed to delivering high quality, multi-agency services for children under five, and particularly to those families in greatest need. “And we will continue to support the delivery of local services, either directly from children’s centres or through a range of outreach services. “Clearly some efficiencies can be made in the way we contract for these services but this review offers a genuine opportunity not only to protect children’s centres into the future but also to redesign current services to better meet local needs across the county, including in rural areas.” The consultation ends on June 6th and a final recommendation will be considered by cabinet on July 9th. Full details of the proposals can be found at www.devon.gov.uk/toughchoices.
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