Lancashire County Council’s cabinet voted to approve a plan which will ultimately see the total number of centres reduced by 19.
That leaves seven other buildings to be identified out of a list of 14 which will now be subject to “further consideration” before a final decision is reached.
Following a public consultation, some centres which were originally planned to stop offering the service have been given a temporary reprieve – but others which were intended to remain in use are now at risk. The changes are part of a Â£1.25m reduction in the county’s children’s services budget.
By the end of the process, there will be 57 sites from which services can accessed, compared to 76 at the moment. Four years ago, there were 133 buildings providing assistance to children, teenagers and their families.
Cabinet member for health and wellbeing on the Conservative-run authority, Shaun Turner, told councillors that 97 percent of the work done by the family wellbeing service was now delivered directly into residents’ homes.
“This isn’t about running services down, it’s about making them more effective,” County Cllr Turner said. “We were overstretched…and we have developed a more flexible service to get out to rural areas.”
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali welcomed the fact that over 50 centres will be retained, but decried the “government cuts” which he said had forced him to reduce similar services during the previous administration.
He also read out a letter from a woman who uses the Chai Centre in Burnley, which was due to cease offering the service, but is now on the list to be considered further.
“Becoming a mother opens a woman to vulnerability, anxiety and the pressure to be a perfect mum. So many will slip through the net if the Chai Centre closes, because they won’t have the confidence to go elsewhere,” it read.
Preston City Council responded to the consultation by warning that the changes could have a “devastating impact on local communities…as the most vulnerable children and families will lose out the most”. Two of the city’s centres – in New Hall Lane and Sharoe Green – will stop offering services, while the Ashton and Riverbank centres are now being given further consideration.
Local authorities are obliged to provide “sufficient” children’s centres and recreational opportunities for young people, although there is no exact definition of how to meet that criteria.
Some of the buildings where the family wellbeing service will no longer be provided are used for other purposes and so will not close completely. Where the service has been delivered via schools, county hall has committed to work with headteachers whose income may be reduced as a result of the changes.
Cabinet members were told that there was risk of government clawing back any grant money which had been used to establish those children’s centres which were now due to close. The potential cost to the county was expected to be Â£2.5m, but a report noted that it had not been possible to identify any other council where government had taken such action.
Out of more than 700 respondents to the public consultation, 22 percent said that they would never visit a children’s centre if the one which they currently used closed; 14 percent said they would do so less often.
The future of the 14 buildings being given further consideration will be decided by cabinet at a later date.
WHAT DOES THE CHILDREN AND FAMILY WELLBEING SERVICE OFFER?
Children and families which may be in need of help are identified at the earliest opportunity, with the aims of:
***Safeguarding and supporting the vulnerable
***Supporting family life
***Preparing for work
***Improving community safety
***Promoting health and wellbeing
Sites confirmed to stop delivering children and family wellbeing services:
Coppull Children’s Centre (0-11)
Fairfield Children’s Centre (0-11)
Great Harwood Young People’s Centre (12-19+)
Appletree Children’s Centre (0-11)
Halton Library and Children’s Centre
Earby Community Centre (12-19+)
Colne Young People’s Centre (12-19+)
Sunshine Children’s Centre (New Hall Lane Drop-in) (0-11)
Sharoe Green Library and Cherry Tree Children’s Centre (0-11)
St John’s Children’s Centre, Skelmersdale (0-11)
Rothwell Drive Neighbourhood Centre (0-11)
Fleetwood Children’s Centre (0-11)
Sites previously planned to cease children and family wellbeing services, but now subject to further consideration:
The Chai Centre (0-11)
Whitegate Children’s Centre (0-11)
Walton Lane Children’s Centre (0-11)
Ashton Young People’s Centre (12-19)
Ribblesdale Children’s Centre (0-11)
Willows Park Children’s Centre, Longridge (0-11)
Whitworth Children’s Centre (0-11)
Buildings previously intended to continue delivering children and family wellbeing services, but now subject to further consideration:
Stoneyholme and Daneshouse Young People’s Centre (12-19+)
Padiham Young People’s Centre (12-19+)
The Zone (12-19+)
Riverbank Children’s Centre (0-11)
The Zone (12-19+)
Longridge Young People’s Centre (12-19+
Whitworth Young People’s Centre (12-19+)