Dear Cabinet members
When the County’s Labour Councillors decided to call in your previous decision to Scrutiny, we did so with a very real hope that you might change that decision, either fully or in part. We had hoped that we could encourage you to take seriously the purpose for which Children’s Centres were created in the first place.
The report you commissioned made it clear that the fundamental purpose of Children’s Centres was to enable children – especially children from less advantaged families – to reach school with a grounding which did not debar them from achieving their full potential in the education system.
However, in the evidence that you have used to justify the closure of 9 of the existing children’s centres in Suffolk, there is
• no map of deprivation to show where the centres are most needed
• no criteria for closure which mention the families most in need
• no measurement of the actual benefits – the outcomes – that families and children are currently getting from the centres
• no study of the effects on families of the closure of the Ormiston Centre in Felixstowe Road Ipswich, the one Centre which has already been closed.
A good example of the positive effects which you have chosen not to consider, is the outcome of the Financial Inclusion Advice Service in Children’s Centres, which has gained well over £1,500,000 per year for the most vulnerable families, and helped prevent 40 families across the county from becoming homeless.
In addition to failing to mention this service, and failing to take into account the fact that it has had the second highest impact in Suffolk in the Meredith Road Centre, which is one that you propose to close, you have also failed to notice that there are probably at least 40 children still living with their parents who would have had to be taken into care if this service had not existed. The cost for these 40 extra children would be around £1.5m.*
The line has always been that this is about buildings not services, but services such as the FIAS service are being cut and will have a hugely detrimental impact on those families that need Children’s Centres most. Children’s Centres enable families to access services they did not necessarily know they needed – by closing the centres you will lose that.
You have not even consistently applied the criteria which you stated you were using to determine which centres should be closed. Meredith Road is the 16th most costly per child and Brett River is the 26th most costly per child. Meredith Road is also based in one of the most deprived areas in Suffolk, provides joint services with the NHS, and has more families using it than 33 of the other Centres. Quayside has 22 other Centres which are less well used, and is the 18th most costly per child to operate. It is impossible to design any sort of scoring system which would suggest that Meredith Road and Quayside centres should be closed, and you do not try to do so.
It is not too late to change your minds. Suffolk County Council Labour Group would strongly urge you to keep all the Children’s Centres open. If you close the 9 Centres that are under threat now, the parents and families of the children that are benefitting from them will not thank you for doing so.
Councillor Sandy Martin, Leader, Suffolk County Council Labour Group
Councillor Bryony Rudkin, Spokesperson for Children’s Services, Suffolk County Council Labour Group
*The average cost per child in care per year in the UK is approx. £36,000 per annum.