Proposals to close almost all Norfolk’s children’s centre branded ‘reckless and disgusting’ by MP
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Proposals which would see all but seven of Norfolk’s children’s centres close have been attacked by two of the county’s MPs.
Liberal Democrat North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb used his platform at the Liberal Democrat annual conference in Brighton to brand the move “reckless and disgusting”.
Consultation started yesterday over Norfolk County Council’s proposals to shut 46 of Norfolk’s 53 children’s centres as part of a review of the service.
Seven of the existing children’s centres would remain as bases in each district of the county, but council bosses say it will bring services out of buildings and into the community.
In February, Norfolk County Council agreed that the budget for children’s centres, used by 23,000 families over the past 12 months, would be halved from £10m to £5m, with the contracts for the 12 current providers of the services coming to an end next year.
And the launch of consultation over proposals yesterday revealed the potential scale of closures, although council bosses say it will mean more support can be provided to children and families most in need and reach people who currently do not use services.
The council says schools, village halls, libraries and other buildings would be used to provide the services people currently get at children’s centres, along visits to people’s homes and better online advice.
But Mr Lamb attacked the proposals at the Lib Dem conference. He said: “Norfolk Tories plan a 40pc cut to children’s centres’ funding.
“It is reckless and disgusting. They know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
And Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South criticised the proposals, which follow the county council’s previous decision to end the Connexions youth service.
He said: “They took an axe to the youth service. They got rid of careers advice for school and college students. And now they want to shut almost every children’s centre in the county?
“What exactly have Norfolk’s Tories got against our children and young people? Locally, Norfolk Tories blame it on reduced funding from central government even though it’s their own party running the country.
“Nationally, Tories say the cuts are necessary to get rid of the deficit even though they’ve given their supporters in big business a tax giveaway of £110bn since 2010.”
But Penny Carpenter, chairman of the children’s services committee has stressed the move is about getting the right help to children and families as early as possible.
She said: “By spending our money on frontline services, rather than buildings, we’ll be able to provide more focused one-to-one and group support, with a more consistent service across the country.
“About a quarter of those families who live in areas of greatest need are not accessing children’s centres services at the moment and we want to develop a service that gives them the support and help they need for their children.
“We’ve agreed significant investment over four years to develop new ways of working. This includes a range of projects to help support families to keep their children safe at all times.”
The impact on the staff who work in the children’s centres is not yet clear, but officers gave a pledge that front-line services would be protected.
The council has said the buildings which would be vacated could be used by other groups and that the review is not motivated by a desire to cash in by selling properties.
If agreed, the changes would come in from October next year.