View sought on cuts proposed to children's services

Published on 14 September 2016

ALMOST half of Leicester’s children and family centres face closure as the city council considers ways to make additional savings of up to £55 million – on top of the £100 million it has already found.

The council has today launched  a public consultation on proposals that would see £4 million of savings made from its early help services. These include children, young people and family centres, adventure playgrounds and family support.

The council is proposing to reduce the number of children’s centres it operates from 23 to 12. Of these, six would offer the full range of services currently available, and six would offer a more limited range, depending on local needs.

Further savings would be made by reducing the amount of funding given to adventure playgrounds by 50%, with the cuts phased in from spring 2017 to achieve the full reduction by April 2020.

The service currently employs the equivalent of 299 full-time staff (400 people). This would be reduced to 172 full-time posts.

Leicester’s children’s centres are grouped in six clusters across the city, with each cluster having its own telephone advice point. The cuts would see these reduced to one central advice point for the city, although face-to-face support would still be available in each centre.

 Stay and play sessions, which are now available five times a week in most of the clusters would instead be offered twice a week. And activities with parents – currently held every week – would take place every two weeks.

 Other proposals on the table are to only offer family support to families meeting certain criteria; and to reduce the activities around employment, education and training from one a week in each area, to one a month.

Cllr Sarah Russell, asst city mayor for children’s services said she had worked with officers for several months to look at where savings could be made, and the proposals were the least-worst options available.

“The early help service provides a wide range of activities and support to children and families in Leicester” she said. “If there were any other way of making these savings we would take it, but the reality is that with £55 million of cuts to be made, children’s services can’t be protected.

“Funding for schools comes from a different government grant and mainly goes straight to schools, so we can’t look at savings there. And the costs of protecting vulnerable children, which we have a legal duty to do, are actually rising, with no increase in government funding to cover this.

“This means we have to look at our early help service, and adventure playgrounds to find the savings needed. We will also have to review our youth service, and consultation will begin on this next year.

“Before drawing up these proposals we looked very closely at which services people use in each part of the city to get a clear idea of local need. We now really need the views and ideas of our staff and service users to help us shape these proposals before any final decisions are made.”

“City Mayor Peter Soulsby said: “As a result of Government spending cuts we are dealing with the worst financial position we have ever faced.

 “The Government grant we receive to spend on services has been cut by almost 50% since 2010, and further cuts have been announced for the next three years. At the same time we have to spend more on services such as adult social care that we have a legal duty to provide.

 “We are constantly looking at how we can do things more efficiently, but we long ago reached the point where we have any choice but to reduce the services we can offer.”

 A 12-week consultation on the proposals begins today (September 14) and will end on December 6. Full details and a questionnaire are available at https://consultations.leicester.gov.uk

 Meetings are being held with staff working within the early help services and their trades unions as part of the consultation.

If the changes go ahead, the council would look at options for transferring closed children’s centres to other organisations which could provide early years’ services.

 The review of early help services is one of many spending reviews under way at the city council.

 

 

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