Cash-strapped council chiefs could controversially shut scores of children’s centres across Derbyshire.
A total of 32 of the centres are earmarked for closure under fresh cost-cutting plans outlined by Derbyshire County Council (DCC).
They are Crich, Belper, Blackwell, Whaley Thorns, Arkwright, Dronfield, Clowne, Bakewell, Chapel, Harpur Hill, Wirksworth, Coton in the Elms, Etwall, Long Eaton (rural), Sandiacre, West Hallam, Somercotes, Chesterfield town centre (Queen’s Park), Brimington, Newhall, Stonebroom, South Normanton, Ripley, Hasland, Brampton, Clay Cross, Tupton, New Mills, Killamarsh, Eckington, Gamesley and Kirk Hallam.
DCC needs to cut £70million from its budget over the next two years as a result of Government austerity. It has already made £170m of savings since 2010.
On the streets of Bakewell this week, residents told of the importance of the town’s children’s centre – and called for it to be protected from the contentious cuts.
Hilary Wright, 78, of Wyedale Drive, said: “We all know why this is happening – it’s because of the Tory Government.
I’m very, very sad and concerned about these proposalsConservative Councillor Judith Twigg
“Whoever voted for them should be ashamed at what’s happening.
“Children’s centres are vital facilities and here in Bakewell we definitely don’t want to lose ours.”
Pensioner Peter Anthony, of Vernon Green, said: “DCC should be looking at cutting other things – not children’s centres.
“It’s beyond the joke, it really is.”
Joanne Fletcher, 36, added: “I think this news is a real shame for the kids as they make friends at children’s centres.”
Conservative Councillor Judith Twigg, who represents Bakewell on DCC, said: “I’m very, very sad and concerned about these proposals.
“The children’s centre is so important to many people in Bakewell.
“As well as providing a range of vital services, it’s a place for children to meet other children and parents to meet other parents.
“Social isolation is an issue in Bakewell but the children’s centre brings people together.
“It’s a hugely valuable part of the town and I would hate to see it go.
“The council should not be considering cutting it.”
Coun Caitlin Bisknell, DCC’s deputy cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We don’t want to be in a position where we have to consider closing children’s centres.
“However, the huge cuts to our budget mean we have no choice but to consider reviewing the way we offer these types of services to families across Derbyshire in the most effective way.
“These services would still be available but instead of being based at a building they would be available within the community to make sure we continue to prioritise families that need help the most.
“We will make every effort to ensure that those families most in need receive services and will work with the voluntary sector to provide other services.”
Coun Anne Western, leader of DCC, added: “Cutting services is the last thing anyone involved in local Government wants to do – these are quality services that have taken years to build up, run by skilled and dedicated staff and valued and relied upon by local people.
“But the harsh reality is that by 2020 the funding we get from Government will be more than a third lower than in 2010. And we’re not alone. This is a problem facing councils up and down the country. We’re facing the Government’s austerity cuts for the seventh year running and they’re really starting to bite hard.
“We’ve done everything we can to keep services running while our budgets are cut back year-on-year and we’re not just sitting back and accepting the situation – we’re putting measures in place to put us more in control of what Derbyshire people want to see happen in the future and less reliant on Government money, which can only be a good thing.
“But despite all of this, it isn’t enough to wipe out the cuts – I’m afraid dealing with cuts on this scale isn’t simply about a bit of budget trimming and doing things even more efficiently.
“Sadly, it’s inevitable that more and more people will see changes to the services they use. We simply have no choice but to make cuts. If we don’t balance our books then the Government would take over.”
There are currently 51 children’s centres across Derbyshire. They provide a number of services, including childcare, early education and child and family health support.
As well as considering closing the children’s centres, DCC is planning to make cuts in a number of other areas – including reducing the money available for Aiming High short breaks for disabled children and young people, slashing funding for community transport services from July and restructuring staffing in the countryside service.
A DCC spokesman said: “Residents will get the chance to have their say about many of the proposals and all comments will be taken into account before any decisions are made.
“Thousands of residents have already commented on earlier proposals to cut services and their views helped the council to make difficult decisions.”