Derbyshire councillor blames financial pressures as ten Children’s Centres face possible closure

Derbyshire County Council’s children services chief has blamed financial pressures and rising costs for the proposed closure of ten Children’s Centres across the region with potentially 132 job cuts to help the authority meet a £3.9m savings target.
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The Conservative-led council’s Cabinet will decide upon the proposed changes and new service model for the authority’s Early Help and Children’s Centres at a meeting on Monday, April 29, at County Hall, in Matlock, despite the majority of responses from a recent public consultation voicing opposition to most of the plans.

Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Children and Families, Cllr Julie Patten, said: “It is with much regret that we find ourselves in the position of having to put these proposals in front of my cabinet colleagues.

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“We are facing pressures like never before, demand for social care support and spiralling costs of private placements for children in our care, that we have no control over, is costing the council dearly. We need to be able to balance our books, and unfortunately we must refocus the Early Help service.”

Derbyshire County Council'S Bolsover Children'S Centre, Based At The Adult Community Education Centre, On Castle Street, BolsoverDerbyshire County Council'S Bolsover Children'S Centre, Based At The Adult Community Education Centre, On Castle Street, Bolsover
Derbyshire County Council'S Bolsover Children'S Centre, Based At The Adult Community Education Centre, On Castle Street, Bolsover

Council officials revealed at a recent scrutiny meeting that plans include reducing its current 22 children centres across the county to 12 with ten possible closures at centres in Holme Hall and Old Whittington in Chesterfield, Alfreton, Ironville, Langley Mill, Bolsover, Hadfield, Gamesley, Matlock, and Charnos in Ilkeston.

The 12 proposed retained centres include Heanor, Glossop, Fairfield at Buxton, Brimington near Chesterfield, Birdholme in Chesterfield, Alice’s View at North Wingfield, Shirebrook, Creswell, Eckington, Cotmanhay at Ilkeston, Long Eaton and Woodville.

Officials have said the proposals follow changes in 2018 when the authority reduced the number of children’s centres from 56 to the current 22 and the council has stated the latest planned closures will be at locations that are either less well-used or where they are close to other larger centres.

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The council stated the proposals are aimed at refocusing the service to offer a response to statutory expectations combined with some practical family support and services for children from birth to five-years-old.

The Entrance To Derbyshire County Council'S County Hall, Off Bank Road, In MatlockThe Entrance To Derbyshire County Council'S County Hall, Off Bank Road, In Matlock
The Entrance To Derbyshire County Council'S County Hall, Off Bank Road, In Matlock

It claims that like many authorities across the country Derbyshire County Council is facing budgetary pressures far greater than experienced before due to factors beyond its control and it needs to save £3.9m from the Early Help and Children’s Centres’ budgets.

In addition to the planned centre closures, the council is proposing a swathe of changes to ensure its Early Help and Children’s Centres’ service remains affordable within its budget.

The proposed new service, if approved by the Cabinet, would include: Parenting assessments when needed by the courts and social care colleagues; Family Time with supervised sessions with parents and their children as directed by the courts; Work to track and support school leavers if they do not find a place at college, sixth form or a job with training; Group work with vulnerable young people in their communities; Family Help with support for families following a referral; Support for other organisations to deliver Early Help services in the county; Parenting programmes; And Support for expectant parents and families and for children from birth to five-years-old.

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UNISON Union representative Dave Ratchford told the scrutiny meeting the council’s plan was to see 60 per cent of staff in the Early Help department made redundant which would see 132.5 full-time jobs scrapped out of 221.5 full-time roles.

Concerning the proposed service changes, Cllr Patten added “We recognise that this means that many of our colleagues will lose their jobs, and we will not be able to provide the same level of service as we have done. We will do all we can to find alternative jobs for those at risk of losing their jobs.

“But we will still be able to keep 12 children’s centres open and carry on delivering those services which we have to legally. We have also found some extra funding so we can deliver more services to more families who need them.”

Cllr Patten also recently told concerned opposition Labour Group Leader Joan Dixon that Bolsover Children’s Centre’s earmarked closure was down to the financial challenges and this centre’s limited use.

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She added that due to ‘significant financial challenges’ faced by the council, the authority does not have the resources to maintain the current number of centres but for centre-users in the Bolsover district units will still be available at Creswell, Shirebrook, North Wingfield and in Eckington.

Cllr Dixon has been working with Bolsover District Cllr Donna Hales and other Bolsover councillors to oppose the earmarked closure of Bolsover Children’s Centre which is currently based at the Adult Community Education Centre, on Castle Street.

Opposition Reform UK Cllr Philip Rose, who represents Alfreton and Somercotes, has also argued that Alfreton and Ironville children’s centres should be retained with the area being one of the most deprived in the county.

The council stated that it has taken on board all the comments from the original consultation which attracted over 2,000 responses but the final proposal for the new service does differ from the original proposal in the consultation.

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It claims that more support will be added for families with children under the age of five with additional support for partner agencies as well as a parenting programmes for families with children aged over six.

Derbyshire County Council’s Early Help teams and Children’s Centres’ provision delivers a range of services including health visitors, speech and language development, healthy eating, parenting, school readiness, family support, parenting groups, and improvements for family relationships.

The council’s Early Help service is delivered through its Children’s Centres and in families’ homes, and the centre buildings used by the council teams provide support groups and activities and they are also used by other organisations to help children, families and the community.

Other services operating from the same buildings as the children’s centres are not being affected by the proposals, according to the council.

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The proposed changes to the council’s Early Help Services and Children’s Centres comes at a time when the council is also considering ‘re-purposing’ two care centre services for disabled children – The Getaway, in Ilkeston, and The Outback, in Chesterfield – which have recently become subject to an extended public consultation.

Derbyshire County Council is also considering other proposals under a public consultation that could see a number of Day Opportunity and Short Break support services discontinued for adults with learning disabilities with the possible closure of related centres.