Children’s centre cuts

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

CUTS of £3.5m will be made in the running of Sheffield’s 36 children’s centres next year, which will result in 50 job losses, it was announced this week.

But the council promised not to close any of the centres - and the savings would be made by reducing management, administration and premises costs to protect services to children.

It said it wanted to make the centres, which provide services ranging from midwifery to education for 9,000 under-fives, more accessible and effective.

Jayne Ludlam, the council’s interim executive director of children’s services, said: “We have been looking at reorganising the service for some time. Our registration numbers at children’s centres are not what they should be. We haven’t reached the number of vulnerable families we want to. It is important because the educational ability of children at just 22 months affects their outcome in life.

“It can even determine whether they end up in care or the criminal justice system. We probably need to reach twice as many youngsters through these centres as we are at present and are looking at how we can best do that.”

The council is planning to offer ‘outreach’ services from centres, and will also consider providing evening and weekend services if parents request them.

“We know there are areas where we could improve,” Ms Ludlam said.

Around 700 parents took part in a consultation before the council drew up its strategy, which is due to be confirmed by the council’s cabinet next Wednesday.

Savings are to come from a large-scale reorganisation of the sites.

The 36 centres, which are run by the council and other bodies including the NHS, are to be reorganised into 17 areas - some containing at least two centres.

At centres where management costs are high, managers will be asked to reduce them.

Ms Ludlam said: “Early years has been significantly protected from previous cutbacks and we have carried out detailed analysis before deciding where to act to reduce costs.

“We are prioritising services to children and families and looking at how to organise them so they have maximum impact. No sites will be closed and we aim to offer a more flexible, but similar service to at present.”

Ms Ludlam said a restructure of children’s centres had been on the cards for years, including under the Liberal Democrat administration between 2008 and 2011.

No savings have yet been made because “the service is complicated and we wanted to get our plans right”.

Further cuts of £3.2 million will be made to the council’s wider £2m early years services’ budget, on top of the children’s centre savings.

Grants to 16 providers of childcare will cease but the organisations will instead receive funding from the Government, depending upon how many children are enrolled.

Some of the funding cut from council children’s services departments is being re-used to pay for the Government’s guarantee of free childcare for two-year-olds.

Coun Jackie Drayton, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “It’s heartbreaking for me to have to bring forward these proposals to make draconian cuts. This is certainly not something I came into this job to do.

“But we are still trying to provide activities in all areas for families who need them.”

Coun Colin Ross, Sheffield Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Children and Young People, said: “Just last week Nick Clegg secured over £5 million to provide free childcare for two-year-olds across Sheffield.

“Yet, unfortunately, the massive deficit left by the last Labour Government has still left local councils facing some tough decisions. As a result it’s vital that the council makes sure that its priorities are the right ones.

“Yet Labour councillors are still committed to squandering millions of pounds on Town Hall makeovers and trade union officials, which could be better invested in the future of young people.”