Somerset Labour can reveal that a hidden agenda of privatisation lies behind Tory plans to close 16 children’s centres in Somerset. A document from the county council says it is looking for “market providers” to run all children’s services from 2019.
Somerset County Council (SCC) is currently running a public consultation on its plans to integrate children’s services, including health visitors and children’s centres. As part of the plan, the current 24 children’s centres in the county would be cut to eight hubs. But people taking part in the consultation have not been told that the ultimate objective is for SCC to give up responsibility for all children’s services and to hand them over to the private sector.
The document obtained by Somerset Labour is an invitation to what is called a soft market testing event in Taunton on September 26th. It says:
“Somerset County Council is seeking to hear from organisations that might be interested in delivering a universal public health nursing (health visiting and school nursing) and targeted early help service (children’s centre services and the troubled families programme) in Somerset.
“Currently, public health nursing services are commissioned from an external provider and early help services are directly provided by the county council. Somerset County Council is exploring options of how these services will be delivered in the future for our population of 0-19 year olds and their families.
“As part of this process SCC would like to hear views from market providers about the future options…… it is anticipated that any new arrangements would commence on 1st April 2019.”
The leader of the SCC Labour group, Leigh Redman, said:
“This document reveals the hidden agenda behind the reorganisation of children’s centres and other services.
“Labour has suspected for some time that the Tory desire for privatisation lay behind the plan to close children’s centres. It is now clear that the Conservative administration at County Hall wants to give up responsibility for children’s services and hand them over to the private sector, with a target date of 2019.
“We have seen with adult education the disastrous effects outsourcing can have. Jobs are being cut and centres are being closed.
“Children’s centres were set up under Labour’s Sure Start programme and have helped many families. It is disgraceful that Somerset County Council wants to walk away from this vital work.”
The West Somerset Labour secretary, Kathrine See, is campaigning to save the children’s centres at Minehead and Watchet. She said:
“I feel that the people of Somerset are being totally misled. The consultation is nothing more than a sham. There is now damning evidence to show that SCC has every intention of outsourcing children’s services and no intention of keeping the children’s s centres. It is even stating a date by which the privatised services should be in place while on the surface holding a consultation to canvass public opinion. This is outrageous.”