This is the formal response from the Labour Group on Suffolk County Council to the Children’s Centres Consultation. If you have tried filling in the official response form and given up in disgust perhaps you would like to sign out petition at http://www.change.org/p/suffolk-county-council-guarantee-to-keep-all-of-suffolk-s-children-s-centres-open-and-active
Labour Group Response
The purposes of a genuine consultation should be:
1. To discover what the affected people feel and believe about a range of options
2. To take the opportunity to find out if there are any options or considerations which the respondents can raise, but which have not yet been considered
We do not believe that the Survey-Monkey consultation initiated by Suffolk County Council fulfils either of these two purposes.
The survey starts by leading any respondent who does not currently have a child who is using a Children’s Centre to feel that they should not respond. This is unreasonable, as even those who do not have children of their own will know friends and relatives who do. In fact, we would all benefit from a healthier, better educated and more equal society, and should all feel able to respond to this consultation.
The survey then fails to mention Ipswich Ormiston Children’s Centre. The administration continues to insist that this centre has not been closed, and that the services are simply being delivered “differently” – if this were the case, it would surely be very beneficial to hear from parents who had experienced for themselves the consequences of this “different provision”. The fact that Ormiston is not included gives the lie both to the idea that it is still in existence, and to the idea that the administration genuinely believes that the “different provision” of services is likely to be at all acceptable to parents.
There are questions about provision of services at other sites, but no opportunity for the respondent to say how satisfactory or otherwise such provision was.
There is a question about willingness to consider services being provided at other sites, but no opportunity for the respondent to explain why the provision of services at those other sites might be unsatisfactory from their point of view.
The respondents are asked if they would be willing to access an alternative Children’s Centre, but at no stage are they asked whether they believe their current Children’s Centre has the capacity to serve any further parents and children. Nor are they asked how they normally travel to their Children’s Centre, nor the distance they normally travel. Given that the original main target group for Sure Start Children’s Centres included a high proportion of parents without access to a private motor vehicle, that is a particularly telling omission.
The other glaring omission is any indication of the socio-economic background of the respondent. While it is very difficult to capture all the relevant information, it would have been a very obvious and normal question to ask whether the respondent was eligible for free school meals, as this is the criterion which is normally used to identify additional needs in education, and parents are used to being asked it.
In general, we believe that the informal conversations we have had with users of Suffolk’s Children’s Centres, and the huge numbers that have been willing to sign petitions either to keep the entire service running or to keep their own local Children’s Centre open, are a far better indication of the public view than a survey which does not allow either of those 2 views to be expressed at all.
We believe that the survey is so inadequate that it must have been designed, at least subconsciously, specifically to prevent any respondents from making their genuine views heard, and should be discounted irrespective of the answers that have been received. We have already spoken to numerous people who say they started to fill in the survey and gave up halfway through in disgust. The likelihood is that the majority of respondents who persevere to the end have a predisposition to agree with your initial proposals, and therefore the survey is very unlikely to be an accurate representation of the views of the majority of Suffolk’s residents.
Sandy Martin, Leader Suffolk County Council Labour Group
Bryony Rudkin, Labour Spokesperson, Children’s Services
Mandy Gaylard, Labour Spokesperson, Localities & Environment
14 October 2014