3 February 2015

Big response to city’s children’s centres consultation welcomed

More than 820 residents have responded to Brighton & Hove City Council’s consultation on children’s centres which closed yesterday.

The proposals set out in the consultation have been put together by children’s services in the context of rising costs and the council losing around £100m of government funding over the next four years.

A report on the proposals and the responses to the consultation will be considered by councillors when they meet on February 26 to set next year’s council budget.

Options councillors will consider include a 5.9% increase in council tax that would trigger a city-wide referendum, a ‘threshold’ council tax rise of 2% – the maximum that is possible without triggering a referendum – and no council tax rise at all.

All options require overall savings across the council of at least £21m in the 2015-16 financial year.

Pinaki Ghoshal, Brighton & Hove City Council’s Executive Director of Children’s Services, welcomed the high number of responses from residents. He said:

“The proposals made in the children’s centres consultation are not set in stone. The whole point of the consultation has been to seek the views of families, staff and partners and give them serious consideration before the budget-setting council meeting on February 26.

“The proposals are part of a drive to focus council resources on services that will deliver the best outcomes for those families who need most help.

“The consultation document proposed reducing the numbers of designated Children’s Centres from 12 to eight by merging some of them.

“However, this does not mean that we would be ‘closing’ any of the centres.  The title ‘Children’s Centre’ is a statutory legal definition. Under the proposals four of the 12 centres would lose this specific legal status – West Hove, City View, Cornerstone and Hollingbury & Patcham.

“All of these buildings would remain open and would continue to provide some services for young children including health visiting. Cornerstone is a community centre that runs a wide range of services.

“We have been working very successfully for a number of years to develop the capacity of local parents and carers to run or assist on a volunteer basis at groups that operate at children’s centres.

“Many parents have found this role very enjoyable and fulfilling, and in some cases the training and experience they have gained has enabled them to find paid employment. We want to increase the number of parents able to volunteer in this way. We would continue to offer rooms at all our centres free of charge to parent-run groups. We are not trying to stop these groups happening and we hope they will continue to operate. 

“With a reduced staff team there would need to be a greater focus on providing support to families with the highest levels of need whilst supporting parents to run universal activities where they are able to.

“There are also a number of community groups running across the city, and we would also be supporting parents to attend these.

“It would remain the case that every child or parent who is assessed as needing a service will receive one. We would be offering an enhanced universal service through health visiting with an increase in the number of contacts with families.

“Increasing the number of health visitors in the city is the key to us being able to make sure that everyone who needs a service is identified and that nobody goes ‘under our radar’.

“Health visitors have just started to offer new face-to-face development reviews for all children and their parents /carers at one year old, and at two years old. We believe this will ensure that we identify at an earlier stage families who need help.

“We will continue to offer groups and home visiting to the families who need most help.

“We have based our proposals on the knowledge that some of our centres are much better used than others and that some parents already travel to children’s centres in different areas.

“We have made the proposals about mergers after considering what would be reasonable in terms of distance and convenience for parents.”