Somerset County Council is backing down from a plan to axe more than half of its children’s centres. In a move welcomed by Labour, the county says 23 centres will stay open, providing help for families under the Sure Start programme.
The latest plan is a major change from the proposed cuts put forward by the county’s Tory leadership in the summer. At that stage, a report to councillors proposed de-registering 27 of the 41 centres across the county. That would have left just 14 – nine fewer than now proposed.
‘Danger of the closure plan’
The Labour Party in West Somerset led the way in highlighting the danger of the closure plan. The branch lobbied Dulverton councillor Frances Nicholson – who is in charge of children’s services – urging her to reconsider the drastic cuts originally proposed. Labour also urged supporters of children’s centres to make their views clear during a public consultation.
The new proposal includes extra money “to recognise rurality” – in other words, to help areas like West Somerset. Three of the centres in West Somerset, at Alcombe, Williton and Watchet, now look likely to stay open. Councillor Nicholson is due to announce a decision on the new package next Monday (November 18th )
‘Vital role played’
Minehead South Labour councillor Maureen Smith said: “We are glad that the county council has recognised the vital role played by children’s centres. And we welcome the news that the problems of rural areas such as West Somerset have been understood. The Sure Start programme is one of the best achievements of Labour in government. The centres in Alcombe, Watchet and Williton will continue to do valuable work for families with young children.”
A spokesman for West Somerset Labour Party added: “The County Council must be held accountable for the poor Ofsted inspections which have led to this review. However, following consultation it is good news that children’s centres have been recognised as a vital hub from which essential services can be provided.”