Figures released by Oxfordshire County Council today (Friday) show it ‘does not envisage closures for any children’s centres or early intervention facilities’ despite seeking to make savings of £3 million across all children’s services in the 2017/2018 financial year.
What appears to be a u-turn comes after the fears of losing children’s centres sparked ferocious debates at Talking Oxfordshire meetings held across the county as well as several demonstrations against potential closures. A review due to begin soon will now look at how the council can make the estimated savings without affecting the number of centres and frontline services.
The council will need to save £64 million across all areas over the next five years, due to central Government cash cuts.
Council leader Ian Hudspeth said: “We are setting out financial plans for the next four years up to 2018 and we only plan to make new savings in these areas in the 2017/2018 financial year. That gives us three years to carefully come up with a plan that seeks efficiencies while at the same time protecting the frontline.
“We heard the passion many local people have for work done by children’s centres and early intervention hubs throughout the Talking Oxfordshire meetings during October and we’d like to be able to harness those strong feelings to find ways to get the community more involved. We were given all kinds of ideas during Talking Oxfordshire - such as increased use of volunteers or new sources of funding. Our review will include a thorough analysis of whether such things are viable and would deliver savings.
“In essence, children’s centres and early intervention hubs have a bright future in Oxfordshire. We all want them to remain open and at the same time we all know that savings are needed. So if everyone can pull in the same direction over the next few years we can get to 2017 with a coherent plan that protects the frontline as well as making a contribution to the large savings target the council has to meet.”
Having seen a document shared with council staff, The Banbury Guardian previously reported how proposals could see only one centre remaining in Banbury and back in October council press officer Paul Smith said: “We will not be able to afford the widespread coverage that exists at present with 45 children’s centres. We are likely to be proposing the closure of a number of children’s centres as part of wider savings plans linked to this year’s budget-setting process.
“No decisions have been taken about exactly how many children’s centres would close or which.”
However, today, Mr Hudspeth said the document shared with council staff only outlined the ‘worst case scenario’ and today’s proposals are the first ones relating to the provision of children’s centres in the county.