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OTTERY: Council ‘absolutely committed’ to future of children’s centres
Tuesday, 27 May 2014
PARENTS of young children in Ottery St Mary have been assured that Devon County Council is “absolutely committed” to children’s centres and will not be “selling off” buildings, following a review into its provision of services. The county authority announced last month that it would be reviewing its approach to children’s centres, with many buildings set to be closed and services targeted at families in the most deprived areas. Ottery’s centre, which currently provides family support services and play sessions for children under five, is among those outlined for closure, with up to 100 families set to be affected by the changes. And at a consultation event held in Ottery this week, parents were given the opportunity to question county council bosses on the changes. Speaking at the event, Councillor James McInnes, Devon County Council cabinet member with responsibility for children and young people’s services, said: “I can assure parents in Ottery that we are absolutely committed to children’s centres and any change in this part of Devon would be two years away. “The council is facing financial difficulties and every area is having to be looked at, but we are in a unique position because the proposals will allow us to keep front line facilities open for children aged 0-5.” The county council is proposing to target services through a smaller number of buildings and some concerned residents feel the added cost and complication of arranging transport will limit their ability to access the centre. Jai Prettejohn, who currently works part-time while raising her two-year-old daughter, said: “Transport is a big issue – the proximity of the centre to my home is really handy and it will become more difficult to make arrangements. “The cost of parking and fuel is so high that it would make a big difference to my work-life balance if I had to drive somewhere. “A friend of mine is looking to buy a house and wants to stay in Ottery but feels she may have to move because of these changes.” 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. Those concerns have also been echoed by Mandy Lane, Operational Lead at the centre, who said accessing services by public transport with young children was already a “big problem” for parents. Ottery town councillor Jessica Bailey has also voiced concerns about the future of the building itself. Speaking at a recent town council meeting, she said: “100 families a week access the services and I am really concerned that it will become much more difficult for the people who most need them. “Is closing buildings going to mean staff costs go up? What will happen to the buildings? Will they stay empty? “When you have got young children it can be a difficult time and I think this valuable service should continue to operate from its current premises.” The children’s centre in Ottery costs just over £94,500 a year to run and is likely to be cut because of the town’s low ranking on the deprivation scale – 40th out of 43 locations in Devon. But Val Smith, Children’s Centre Development Manager at Devon County Council, said outreach services would continue to be delivered across the patch through a range of buildings and in people’s homes. She said: “The money will be spent on delivering services, not necessarily on keeping buildings. Some of the most effective children’s centres in Devon do not have a building. “We are not going to just sell the buildings off - we want to look at how these buildings can be used slightly differently.”
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