Council leaders have voted to revamp children's services in Buckinghamshire, and close 35 children's centres across the county.
The cabinet at Bucks County Council unanimously signed off switching to the 'Early Help' model, at a meeting on January 8, voting to replace the existing provision with nine hubs aimed at shifting the focus from "reactive to preventative" services.
The council say that, in the next six months, decisions over how the 28 children's centres that aren't converted into hubs will be repurposed will be made.
A new coordinated ‘Early Help service’ is expected to have a service budget of £7.125m, in comparison to a budget of £10.08m for the current services.
According to the exact wording of the recommendation, councillors voted to:
- Accept the proposal to create a new Early Help service, designed inline with the stated key principles and within agreed resources.
- Authorise formal discussions over the next six months with schools, early years providers, partners and the voluntary and community sector about how the remaining 28 Children’s Centre buildings can best be utilised in the future to maximise their benefit for children, families and communities, within agreed resources.
- Delegate further decisions on the detail of the new Early Help Service, including the re-purposing of buildings, to the Cabinet members for Children’s Services, for Education and Skills and for Resources in consultation with senior officers, within agreed resources.
The proposed locations of the new hubs are as follows:
- Aylesbury Southcourt, Aylesbury College Campus, Oxford Road
- Aylesbury Elmhurst, Dunsham Lane
- Burnham, Minniecroft Road
- Chesham Newtown, Berkhampstead Road
- Wycombe Castlefield, Rutland Avenue, Castlefield
- Wycombe Millbrook, Mill End Road
- Wycombe, Hamilton Road
There will also be hubs in Aylesbury, covering the Quarrendon area, and Buckingham - the exact locations of which are yet to be decided.
Cabinet Member for Children's Services Cllr Warren Whyte said: "Putting children and families at the heart of thinking goes way beyond bricks and mortar.
"The provision is to reduce complexity and provide the right support at the right time; it's very important we stop the reactive nature of early help. It's not working as well as it should.
“Some of the campaign groups have been a little bit single-topic, and have forgotten about the outcomes we want to achieve for our children and families.”
“I’m keen now for ideas on how we can continue to keep our Children’s Centre buildings in use going forward; whether that is to support increasing Early Years places, schools, other support and services for children, young people and families, or broader community use.”
Alka Dass has been campaigning against the changes, helping to organise protests like the one in the south of the county this weekend. She said: “I’m not surprised by the decision, I think it was always planned they would agree to the proposal anyway.
“The fact is, the research isn’t complete and we don't know exactly what will happen to the 28 centres that will be closed, which services are going and which are staying.
“Whether Bucks County Council propose to close 10, 28 or 35 centres, the fact is that we should not be closing any children’s centres at all. Money should be invested into these services so that they work smarter and harder and cater for all.
“Our next step is to attempt to ‘call in the decision’ with the help of county councillors, following which we’d have to see what legal routes we can take. This isn’t the end for us.”