Liberal Democrats object to County Council report on closing Children's Centres.
The September Cabinet Advisory Group report did not have the agreement of the Liberal Democrat Group, and the 15/16 budget was not supported by the Liberal Democrat Group.
None of the three options listed in the Cabinet report of 15 Sept, on which the consultation was based, provided a workable solution. In each case the risks outweigh the economic benefits.
6-7 centres across the whole county are not the answer. The value of children's centres is that they are run locally and are easily accessible to those who need them. The term 'universal service' is a misnomer when used as a justification for removing provision. All the centres are different, and people's needs are different.
The many moving emails of support we have all had from centre users are clear about the importance attached to the care and advice received from experienced, professional staff. This work could not be done by volunteers.
Oxfordshire is ranked 1st amongst statistical neighbours for the proportion of children centres judged to be good or outstanding. It would be short-termism in the extreme to close these centres. Their value is not just in ensuring 'school-readiness' but in whole family support, contributing to the success of the thriving families programme. We note the case of services for older people, where years of reducing services and accumulating unmet need led to the Care Act of 2014 formalising Adult Safeguarding Boards with a remit that includes prevention. Do we want to repeat this cycle with children's services? We cannot accept the lack of justice, or the potential financial future implications which would result in taking away the budget for less needy families in order to shore up services for the more needy.
The County's current financial position is the direct result of national government policy. It is disappointing that the intervention of the MP for Witney was seen as undermining the Oxfordshire Cabinet's case for closure rather than as a wake-up call to the Cabinet to find another solution.
There need be no enforced closures. Piecemeal funding of individual centres by accumulations of small grants from various local sources will prove unsustainable. It is also likely to lead to a postcode lottery of provision.
Securing the permanent future of the centres will take time. We therefore believe that full funding should be guaranteed for a further two years while alternative funding streams and viable economies are actively sought and made. The centre managers have already made suggestions for management efficiencies, the streamlining of some services and introducing charging mechanisms where feasible. All these should be properly evaluated and acted on.
Activities provided by other agencies at the children's centres - for instance, pre- and post-natal care, adult learning, debt & benefits advice - should be set on a formal footing and appropriate contributions made towards running such activities from Council premises.
We propose a formal public approach to the five district councils in Oxfordshire, asking them to contribute realistically to the funding of the Children's Centres in their areas, and for this to be recognised by appropriate participation in the running of the centres. We believe that the district councils have 'wellbeing' responsibilities within which this work would fit.
Cllr Richard Webber
Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, Oxfordshire County Council