In the council’s budget setting process, Labour and other opposition councillors put forward a budget amendment that would have meant no cuts to children’s centres this year, and massively reduced the need for savings in future years. The Conservatives rejected this plan, and instead committed the council to making savings that would total £224K a year within two years. In real terms, this equates to a cut of around 20% and comes on top of previous big cuts.
I think our children’s centres do vital work in the community. This is what I said in my budget speech:
My key concern is about children’s centres. The £55K saving in the budget is to be part of annual savings of £224K. This is a huge sum of money. It is 16% of the planned budget in cash terms. After inflationary pressures are taken into consideration this will probably amount to a real terms cut of around 20%.
Let us not forget that we have already seen a large sum of money taken out of the children’s centre budget with a management restructure and the downgrading of two smaller centres. I simply do not believe that you can cut a budget by a fifth in real terms without real services being affected.
These centres are a lifeline to many families. They are not just about childcare, though affordable childcare is a key issue for our economy and our society. They are not just about advice and support, though these are vital. Advice and support can break a cycle of bad parenting that has continued through generations. They can offer practical support to get parents back to work. They can fulfil a vital health roles and contribute to better educational outcomes. Whenever I visit Summercourt in my ward or any of our children’s centres, you can feel a warm loving and supportive environment. I’m also struck by the fact that our staff are not only very committed to what they do, they are extremely knowledgeable about children’s health and educational well-being.
It is an unpleasant fact that however much the government seek to manage the statistics, more children are growing up in poverty. We need more of these services not less.
Let’s not forget, going back to hard numbers – the cut to the children’s centres is about a 5th in real terms. If the administration believes our children’s centres are so inefficient that these savings can be made purely through efficiency gains, let them say so. And if the savings can be found, with our proposal at least some of them can be re-invested, because these services are going to be needed more not less in the coming year.
There is to be a consultation from Southend Council starting soon. Southend council consultations do not have the best reputation, and of course our children’s centres are spread through the borough, so I want to make sure that everyone knows what’s going on and how to respond, and that we can take action if any centre is threatened with closure.
That’s why I’ve set up a Facebook group here and will be looking to build up contacts over the coming months.