New cuts threat for children’s centres

Children’s centres across Oxfordshire could face closure amidst a planned shake-up of Oxfordshire County Council’s (OCC) early intervention services.
County Hall.County Hall.
County Hall.

A report published today (Tuesday) outlines recommendations to make cuts of at least £6m by rolling out sweeping changes to how care and support is provided to vulnerable children and families in the county, creating a new “streamlined” service.

The early intervention services, which includes the running of 44 children’s centres and seven early intervention ‘hubs’, currently costs the council about £16m to run.

Early intervention hubs were established in 2011 and seek to help young people and their families with a range of issues, including substance and alcohol misuse.

But cross party panel of councillors ruled the current number of children’s centres is unsustainable and “alternative options” must be sought. In its place the council plans to develop a series of ‘children & family resource centres’ across Oxfordshire in line with areas of greatest need, while working more with voluntary and community organisations.

The cuts come as part of wider measures being implemented to balance the council’s budget. Between 2010 and 2018, the council aims to make savings of £290m. In addition, post-election budget projections suggest a further £60m of cuts on top of this existing target may be on the horizon.

Cllr Melinda Tilley, cabinet member for children’s services, said the changes would aim to avoid duplication“The council is determined to ensure that Oxfordshire County Council continues to support vulnerable children and their families, despite the challenges we face.

“Given the current indications from government, that there are likely to be extensive reductions in funding available, even greater savings may now be required.”

Cllr Tilley said she believed district and parish councils could have “a big role” to play in the future provision of services in the county.

She added: “I think it has made us think more carefully about how we deliver our services, and how we can deliver them with less money and hopefully better. What we need to do is focus on our most vulnerable people.

“We need a unified service. A seamless service for people from zero to 19.”

There are currently five children’s’ centres operating in or around Banbury. These are: Sunshine, North Banbury, East Street, Britannia Road and Butterfly Meadows.

In 2013 OCC withdrew plans to close some children’s centres amidst widespread opposition from residents and the county’s MPs.

The council’s cabinet is expected to accept the recommendations at its next meeting on June 23 before consulting stakeholders in the existing service including schools, district, town and parish councils as well as voluntary organisations.

Once firm recommendations are fleshed out a public consultation will be held in September.