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SIDMOUTH: Council absolutely committed to future of children’s centres

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

PARENTS of young children in Sidmouth 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. Sidmouth’s centre, which currently helps to provide 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 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 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.” Already a problem 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. 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. There are 559 children under five in Sidmouth, 89 per cent of whom are registered with the centre. The centre costs just over £78,500 a year to run and is likely to be cut because of the town’s low ranking on the deprivation scale – it is judged to be the least in need of services 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. “This is the time to have a really close look at those buildings that we did not really need in the first place. “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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